The Deep Rifts simply call us unto the breach once more

I hereby declare this the official theme of the whimpering, pathetic, anti-atheist backlash of 2009: there are Deep Rifts in atheism. It's all over the place, and it's a little weird.

YOU would think, wouldn't you, that one of the principal attractions of atheism would be the complete absence of schisms. Where the devout always seem to be working themselves up into a frenzy over some obscure theological point, non-believers can glide through life, absolved, as they are, of the need to negotiate the terms of their disbelief. If there's no God, there is no message. And if there's no message, then there's nothing much to argue about.

Well, we do have a complete absence of schisms, because we don't any central dogma or doctrine. I wish this weren't so difficult for the believers to understand. Each of us has our own, individual goals and follows their unique paths to understanding. Nobody is looking at Paul Kurtz and Christopher Hitchens and saying that they're so different that they can't both be atheists. There is no atheist pope, no atheist catechism, no atheist holy book.

And nothing to argue about? Oh, we have and always will have a million things to argue over — it's just that they tend not to be whether Jesus was of the similar or same substance as God, but instead about real world politics and about ideas that matter. As anybody who has attended a meeting of atheists knows, we love to argue. We're ordinary human beings in that regard, despite repeated claims by apologists for religion that godless and faithful are different species. Really, when I'm on my deathbed, if my wife wants to keep me going for a little longer, all she has to do is bring in editorials like that by Dani Garavelli, and I'll cling to life as long as my middle finger and my snarling muscles are still functional.

This Garavelli person is so oblivious to reality, though, it's the kind of thing to keep me jazzed up for whole minutes.

Despite this, atheism was last week rent by disagreement, proving that the need for petty, internecine squabbling runs deeper in the psyche than the need to find meaning in existence. The question that is dividing its leading proponents is how much they should be evangelising about their lack of faith. Should they adopt a live-and-let-live approach to the religious? Or should they be shouting their atheism from the rooftops in an attempt to get all the blinkered throwbacks to see the light?

Oh, just last week. We've been unified, until just then, huh? So Madalyn Murray O'Hair, to name one example, united all atheists under one banner, and no one ever criticized her approach? We've been bickering over strategy as long as atheists have been a visible part of the culture; Garavelli is remarkably uninformed if he thinks dissent just popped up last week. One of the things that has provided fuel for discussion on this blog has been constant disagreement with other godless partisans who want the mob to go one way (usually to a more complacent silence) than I want them to go — so we engage in healthy, sometimes ferocious, open argument. So what? This is our strength. We offer competing solutions, and we'll see in the end which one is most successful.

Go read Ophelia Benson's discussion of this issue. It ain't a schism. It's not something that should provide apologists any solace at all; they should regard us atheists as diverse barbarians who gird themselves for war at birth, and train themselves with a lifetime of fierce strife among themselves and against our weak, whiny foes. It's our nature to wield a wicked pen and rouse ourselves to rhetorical battle at the flimsiest slight; it should be no comfort to the frightened faitheists and followers of cultie fallacies. They should fear us, instead.

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