Is atheistic evangelism ok?

Once again, Greta Christina has provided me with some food for thought. In her latest post, she asks if it’s okay for atheists to try and change peoples’ minds – specifically, the minds of religious people? Or is it just as annoying or flat-out disrespectful as door-knocking fundies or pamphleteers or bellowing street-preachers condemning passers-by to hell? Greta asks some insightful questions and opens up the comment thread for others’ perspectives. One was my own:

In short, I think your post itself is a perfect illustration of the ethical differences between what you (and other atheist bloggers) do and what evangelists do. The very fact that you’ve posted and asked for others’ opinions and perspectives & that you’ve actually stopped to think and ask the question “is what I’m doing RIGHT?” shows up the evangelical mindset for what it is: a rigid, inflexible, unthinking and unquestionable dogma. Evangelism is immune to criticism from without and impervious to examination from within. You would never find the equivalent to your post on an evangelical website, or even forming in a true believers’ head. Even if it was asked, you would be sure to hear a chorus of true believers re-affirming the dogma and imploring the questioner to stay on the path of righteousness.

The fact that you’ve sought answers from outside your own head and
outside your own experience speaks volumes about the difference between honest intellectual endeavour and slavery (and the attempted enslavement of others) to dogma.

I’m not sure I can add more to that, actually. Anyway …

Greta’s post was the exact opposite of what evangelism is: the conviction that your worldview is absolutely right & infallible, combined with the urge to spread your rightness to all & sundry. With her post, Greta’s displaying all the introspection & questioning of self that you simply don’t seem to get with evangelism or religious fundamentalism in general. Any ‘faithfreeist‘ (or even just a theistic moderate) who’s spoken to a fundamentalist of any stripe (or simply seen/heard such a conversation) knows that there is absolutely no room for reasoning with these people, no possibility (let alone probability) that they might in some tiny way be wrong about their conviction.

I would also like to contribute to the gradual elimination of religion from humanity, even though I don’t think a complete eradication is likely. If religion was just relegated to the private lives of people who chose to practice it; if it was completely divorced from government, education & health; if being a “person of faith” no longer automatically meant you were worthy of the highest respect and deference; if priests/rabbis/imams were no longer called on by the media for their comments on/judgements of progress in medicine or science or their considered opinions on questions of public morality; if religious ideas themselves were no longer immune to the same kind of criticism and public examination that all other ideas are readily and necessarily exposed to, I’d be satisfied.

The way to accomplish such a modest (in my view) goal is to quietly (or not, as warranted by the specific issue at hand) and unflinchingly contribute our thoughts on all these matters in whatever way we can, constantly inspiring others not to just think like we do, but to think full-stop and arrive at whatever conclusions make sense to them.

Right now you could be forgiven for thinking that, between Youtube and blogtopia, freethinkers have taken over the intertubes. That’s a good start. The old meme of “gathering atheists together is like herding cats” has almost been laid threadbare by the free & easy nature of the www. The network of freethinkers sharing ideas & agreeing (and, more importantly, disagreeing) with each other is increasing daily. Once Gutenberg perfected his printing press, creating and disseminating information became accessible to more people than was ever imaginable before. Now, everyone’s their own Gutenberg or Martin Luther and getting your own thoughts out there, nailed to the proverbial church door, has never been easier – especially if you hook up with an appropriate blogroll. So there are no excuses – if you have something to contribute, type it up, get out there and nail it to your nearest Catholic.


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