A more positive public image for atheists/skeptics…

You hear this often in media when an atheist or skeptic is going up against a believer…

Richard Dawkins is an unapologetic atheist.

Sam Harris is a outspoken non-believer.

James Randi is a strident skeptic.

Most recently I came across this on some christian radio program from Britain where PZ Myers was being interviewed. The moderator introduced the theist he was up against perfectly normally while PZ was introduced as an “outspoken atheist”.

But this is not about one example, or even a handful of examples. This is about what at least in my view seems to be the “norm” in the media today. Whenever the person being referred to is an atheist, skeptic, or non-believer, they are referred to with some adjective associated that typically has a negative connotation or an implication of some negative trait.

I think the answer to why is pretty straight forward. We are still one of the few minorities that it is acceptable to denigrate in public today. So we are left with the more important questions which are raised by this trend.

When will atheism/skepticism not need these qualifiers in the media?
What can we do to create a more positive image of the atheist/skeptical community in the public mind?
How do we go about making atheism/skepticism acceptable, normal, and in some sense, just “no big deal”?

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About Rodibidably

Jeff Randall is a frequent volunteer for free-thought organizations, including the Center For Inquiry – DC. Having been blogging since January 2008, he decided that a community of bloggers would be an interesting new experience (or at the very least a fun way to annoy his friends into reading his posts more frequently). Since finding out about about the existence of, and then joining, the atheist/skeptic community in 2007 he has been committed to community activism, critical thinking in all aspects of life, science, reason, and a fostering a secular society.
This entry was posted in Debate, Psychology, Religion, Science, Skepticism. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A more positive public image for atheists/skeptics…

  1. makarios says:

    “When will atheism/skepticism not need these qualifiers in the media?”

    When atheists quit wanting to be known as atheists.

    For PZ and Ditchens and the other, being an atheist is their claim to fame. They would hate it if all of a sudden they were just regular people.

    • Rodibidably says:

      When atheists quit wanting to be known as atheists
      I’m unsure what you mean by this.

      In your view should atheists not be open about their lack of belief?
      Should we (to steal a phrase from the LGBT community) go back in the closet?

      There is nothing wrong or immoral about not believing in a god or gods. So why should we be forced to hide that aspect of ourselves?

      Or did you mean something else? It’s not quite clear…

      For PZ and Ditchens and the other
      I’m not quite sure who “Ditchens” is. Perhaps you could explain?

      being an atheist is their claim to fame. They would hate it if all of a sudden they were just regular people.
      Besides the fact that this response completely misses the point of this post, I’ll respond anyways… However, in the future, it would be helpful if you could stay at least somewhat on topic.

      What would you say is the Dali Lama’s claim to fame? What did he accomplish himself? Same question with regards to the pope. Or any muslim cleric. Or (fill in your “spiritual leader” here)…
      In the same way that these religious leaders have a right to speak on any subject, and often use/abuse that right, PZ Myers, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, James Randi, (and whoever this Ditchens person is I suppose) have the right to speak on subjects they feel the desire to speak on.

      Obviously since PZ is the author of one of the most popular blogs on the web, Hitchens and Dawkins are authors of best selling books, etc it seems that many people are interested in their opinions on these subjects.

      But to claim that atheism is their claim to fame is quite a showing of your ignorance.
      Hitchens was a well respected writer long before God Is Not Great hit the shelves.
      Dawkins was a well respected biologist and author long before The God Delusion was written down.
      James Randi was a highly respected magician, skeptic, and author long before the “New Atheist movement” was around.

      Frankly your whole comment leaves me puzzled…
      But I do so enjoy seeing the ignorance of others of full display, so please, keep up the good work…

  2. makarios says:

    “When atheists quit wanting to be known as atheists. I’m unsure what you mean by this.
    When that ceases to be your main identifier.”

    I’m not a black man. I’m just a man.
    I’m not a homosexual. I’m just a man.
    I’m not a Christian. I’m just a man.
    I’m not an atheist. I’m just a man.

    Pz and Ditchens (Dawkins / Hitchens) desire to be known as atheists. Of course come out of the closet (when it’s safe), but don’t make it the in-your-face identifier. Now, judging from the homosexual movement, a fuck you attitude at the beginning of a movement may in fact be the only way to get to a place where you can be just a person – I don’t know. But don’t flaunt your atheism / Christianity or whatever and then whine and complain about people getting upset. It’s annoying.
    =============

    “But to claim that atheism is their claim to fame is quite a showing of your ignorance.”

    When Hitchens is introduced on a program is he introduced as a writer or an atheist?

    When Dawkins is introduced on a program is he introduced as a biologist or as an atheist?

    When Dennett is introduced on a program is he introduced as a philosopher or as an atheist?

    It may be that I’m wrong, even in ignorance. I’m just going by what I’ve heard. And I don’t believe that they would want it any other way.
    =================

    • Rodibidably says:

      When that ceases to be your main identifier
      I don’t think PZ, Hitchens, Dawkins, etc would identify themselves first as an atheist.
      In fact I’ve heard each of them at various times say exactly the opposite.

      But let’s just say for a moment that some person out there would want to be identified first as an atheist. Why is that a negative in your view? It may not be MY first identifier, but it certainly is one of my identifiers of myself. And I’d say it’s a fairly important one at that…

      Also, I’ve met many christians who identify themselves first as a chrtistian. Should this double standard exist, or would you equally condemn believers for referring to themselves as believers?

      Of course come out of the closet (when it’s safe), but don’t make it the in-your-face identifier.
      I’m curious what you mean by “when it’s safe”. Are there instances where it should not be safe? For example, should I be allowed to proclaim in the middle of the Vatican that I am an atheist? How about in the middle of Tehran? Or some little town in the bible belt of America? Should I be able to proclaim my lack of belief in these environments? And if not, why not?

      And what is wrong exactly about being “in your face”? I live in a country where it is assumed I am a christian. In order to fight against that faulty assumption there are times when I feel it is appropriate to be “in your face”. Should I not have this right?

      a fuck you attitude at the beginning of a movement may in fact be the only way to get to a place where you can be just a person
      This is exactly the point I make in my post. I want society to see me as a person, or as an atheist, or as a skeptic. Not as a unapologetic atheist, or a strident skeptic.
      I want the negative stigma associated with these ideas to be gone from society.

      As for what Hitchens, Dawkins and others are intorduced as, it varies based on the venue, the audience, the purpose of the gathering, etc…
      I’d heard Hitchens and Dawkins introduced as authors. I’ve heard them both introduced as outspoken atheists. I’ve heard them referred to as both.

      I’d just like them (and by extension myself and other atheists) to be treated as equals. To be treated with respect. To not be disparaged.

      Is that really too much to ask for? Too much to hope for? Too much to demand?

  3. makarios says:

    “I don’t think PZ, Hitchens, Dawkins, etc would identify themselves first as an atheist.”

    There may be exceptions, but I’ve never heard any of them correct an interviewer who has identified them solely on their atheism.
    ================

    “But let’s just say for a moment that some person out there would want to be identified first as an atheist. Why is that a negative in your view?”

    It isn’t necessarily negative. But if I come up to you and say, “I’m Rod and I’m a Christian,” you’ve got you wonder what my motive might be for introducing myself that way – Yes?
    ———————-

    “would you equally condemn believers for referring to themselves as believers?”

    I’m not condemning anyone. I’m just saying, depending on the crowd, if you choose to lead with a statement of belief then don’t complain if someone feels challenged by it and responds in kind.
    ———————

    “Are there instances where it should not be safe?”

    Should not be safe? No. IS not safe? Yes. You might have an employer who hates atheists and you might need that job. I had an employer who was an atheist. He told me that as long as I held to my Christian beliefs I’d received the last promotion that I’d ever get in that institution. The only thing that kept him from firing me was I belonged to a really strong union. I knew his stance re: Christianity and I kept my faith in a very low profile, I thought, but just knowing that I was a Christian was too overt for him.
    =================

    “How about in the middle of Tehran?”

    Just because you CAN do something, or just because you should be able to do something doesn’t mean that it’s a good plan to go ahead and do it. You should be able to jog, alone through Central Park in New York at 2:00am. Should you do it? I’ll leave that up to you.
    —————
    “In order to fight against that faulty assumption there are times when I feel it is appropriate to be “in your face”.

    So go crazy. I don’t care.
    ===============

    “I want the negative stigma associated with these ideas to be gone from society.”

    And you think “fuck you” will accomplish that?
    =================

    “To not be disparaged. Is that really too much to ask for? Too much to hope for? Too much to demand?”

    Well, when you hold to the stupidest, most absurd, illogical and incoherent world-view going, you have to expect that some people won’t be able to resist the mocking. Is it right to disparage you? Probably not. Will that stop the mocking? Probably not.

    • Rodibidably says:

      There may be exceptions, but I’ve never heard any of them correct an interviewer who has identified them solely on their atheism.
      I’d suggest listening to their interview more often then. I know I’ve heard Hitchens and Dawkins give corrections of that type on more than one occasion.

      But that is not the point of this post, is it..
      I’ve I’ve tried pointing out a few times now, and as you’ve so obliviously missed, the point is the unnecessary adjective which is so commonly added by the media when referring to somebody as an atheist, skeptic, non-believer, etc…

      It isn’t necessarily negative. But if I come up to you and say, “I’m Rod and I’m a Christian,” you’ve got you wonder what my motive might be for introducing myself that way – Yes?
      I’ve never introduced myself in such a manner.
      I’ve never heard PZ, Hitchens, Dawkins, Randi, Dennett, Sam Harris, etc introduce themselves in that manner.

      I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you misunderstood the point I was making. I was not talking about meeting an individual person here. I would have thought that was blatantly obvious.

      Let’s say that I was going to be interviewed. And let’s say (for the sake of argument) that I told the interviewer to introduce me as an atheist (or that I introduced myself as such).
      In this scenario such an introduction might be appropriate, if for instance the subject of the interview was religion. It would give the audience an idea of where I would be coming from on this topic.

      This is quite different than your unrealistic scenario.

      But even if we were to stick to your unrealistic idea. It’s perfectly within my rights or your rights to introduce oneself in such a way. And while it may seem odd because it does not conform to the typical greeting methods of society, it does not make it necessarily a bad thing. Odd perhaps, but not really “bad”.

      I’m not condemning anyone. I’m just saying, depending on the crowd, if you choose to lead with a statement of belief then don’t complain if someone feels challenged by it and responds in kind.
      Again, let’s get back to the point of this post. The point is the unnecessary and typically derogatory adjective which is added by members of the media when talking to, with, or about those who are atheists/skeptics. The purpose of this post is to say that is a practice that I disagree with, and one that I find offensive actually.

      I understand your desire to deflect from that criticism, because it makes “your side” (and by “your side” I mean those who would defend such a practice) look petty, dishonest, and insulting. But frankly, your side IS petty, dishonest, and insulting. And until all people are treated fairly, this is the type of double standard that I feel should be pointed out.

      Should not be safe? No. IS not safe? Yes. You might have an employer who hates atheists and you might need that job. I had an employer who was an atheist. He told me that as long as I held to my Christian beliefs I’d received the last promotion that I’d ever get in that institution. The only thing that kept him from firing me was I belonged to a really strong union. I knew his stance re: Christianity and I kept my faith in a very low profile, I thought, but just knowing that I was a Christian was too overt for him.
      I’d recommend suing this boss. At least as you describe it, that seems like openly blatant discrimination. I can’t imagine any jury that would not side with you, if the facts truly are as you state them.

      Just because you CAN do something, or just because you should be able to do something doesn’t mean that it’s a good plan to go ahead and do it. You should be able to jog, alone through Central Park in New York at 2:00am. Should you do it? I’ll leave that up to you.
      I’d argue that if a situation SHOULD be a certain way (i.e. it should be safe to jog in a public area at night) that we should work to make it so, not just accept that it is not as it should be.
      We should be pressuring NYC police to patrol Central Park. We should, where appropriate, increase penalties for committing violent crimes (a mugging is a violent crime, just in case you’re not aware). We should be pushing to make the world safer, not just accepting violence as a fact of life (as you seem all too happy to do).

      And you think “fuck you” will accomplish that?
      Actually YOU are the one who said “fuck you”, not me. I advocate being in your face. I advocate taking a stand. I advocate forcing others to treat people with respect. I advocate demanding equal rights, equal protection, and equality in all realms.

      Well, when you hold to the stupidest, most absurd, illogical and incoherent world-view going
      So over 90% of the members of the National Academy of Science are among the “stupidest, most absurd, illogical and incoherent”?
      I beg to differ.
      I’d highly recommend reading up on the subject of atheism. Even if you’re not convinced it’s true, you’ll be hard pressed to keep such an opinion as you hold now…

      you have to expect that some people won’t be able to resist the mocking
      Yes, that is what jebus would do I suppose.

      It’s sad, and almost funny how so many believers claim the moral high ground on so many issues, and are utterly incapable of morality.

  4. Wonderist says:

    I would suggest that ‘outspoken’ isn’t such a bad adjective.

    Also, I would actually recommend taking up ‘unapologetic’ as a useful and accurate identifier. Please see my post promoting this term here: http://www.rationalresponders.com/forum/18586

    Also see a new article by Mano Singham here: http://machineslikeus.com/news/introducing-unapologetic-atheist

    I do think that it can make sense to apply an additional adjective, such as unapologetic. For example, a ‘liberal’ is different than a ‘liberal activist’. The latter adds an additional bit of information.

    Unapologetic atheists are different from those who are more deferential to religious sensitivities, and I don’t think it’s necessarily bad for someone to point that out for the sake of introducing someone.

    However, words with negative connotations, such as strident, shrill, militant, fundamentalist, etc. are inappropriate. We are merely unapologetic. We speak out, but there’s nothing wrong with that, so we have nothing to apologize for.

    I don’t believe ‘unapologetic’ has automatic negative connotations. If you’re innocent, then you have a clear right to be unapologetic. In fact, the term ‘unapologetic’ brings to the forefront of the discussion that there’s nothing wrong in being an atheist or in criticizing religious belief.

    • Rodibidably says:

      The word outspoken (or unapologetic, strident, etc…) is not necessarily always a negative. However typically when it is used in this context it is meant as a negative, and it is seen by the majority of the audience as a negative.

      And it’s unnecessary.

      You make a good point that it can be accurate in many cases, but at least to me it seems that it is thrown in there to brand somebody as “dogmatic”.

      I just wish that news commentators, interviewers, etc did not feel the need to add these excess words. I wish we could just be “atheists” or “non-believers” without the qualifiers…

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