Pharyngula

I’ll be brief. I’m sure you all find these things as tiresome as I do. Once again, we’ve got a couple of indignant wanna-be bureaucrats of atheism complaining about those cranky, rough-hewn gnu atheists. Chris Stedman and Karla McLaren are shocked that people don’t realize their hectoring is good for the movement. So they whine about how everyone is mean to them.

In this past year, a sociologically fascinating “many approaches” meme has permeated the atheist and skeptical movements. Increasingly, anyone who questions the fiercely uncivil and polemical discourse style will be upbraided with some version of the “many approaches are necessary, so don’t muzzle the movement” meme.

In this meme, however, fierce approaches are actually the only approaches being protected. Moderating approaches such as mine, which are pejoratively dismissed as accommodationist, are explicitly not protected by this meme.

This “many approaches” meme isn’t just being used laterally to shame and stifle peers in comment threads; it is also being used from the top down by elders and authority figures to silence the moderating requests of fellow atheists and skeptics. Wow. That’s a powerful meme!

I personally favor that “many approaches” strategy, since it’s the only one that will work, and the only one that we can possibly have as a loose coalition of diverse voices. Karla McLaren can no more be the authoritarian dictator of how atheists should behave than I can.

Her complaint gives her away. Nobody is complaining about McLaren and Stedman being nice — I encourage them to be as nice as they possibly can, and go forth and win the citizenry over to the side of reason with the effulgent power of goodness! And I’m one of those mean, cranky atheists, so you know I’m not going to follow suit and claim their victories as my own.

No, what is annoying everyone is that, rather than practicing what they preach, they choose instead to nag every other atheist to conform to their style: she “questions the fiercely uncivil and polemical discourse style” of others, which is a comment that is uncivil and polemical in itself, and she makes “moderating requests of fellow atheists and skeptics”. Well now, who appointed her boss? She isn’t being criticized for being nice, she’s being upbraided for appointing herself God of Manners.

And she’s wrong that it is a meme that is only used to slap down accommodationists. If I started berating Stedman and those other soppy interfaith wankers that they can’t do that, they have to start being meaner and harsher, then everyone would come down on me, too, for being dictatorial. The catch is, unfortunately, that accommodationists tend to be a prissy bunch who seem to spend more time whining at atheists who don’t follow their lead, than they do actually trying to use their appeasing strategies to win people over to rationality.

Enough. You want more, Ophelia Benson has been raking them over the coals, and the commenter Rieux has just been tearing things up entertainingly.