Wheaton’s Law

Sometime in the past year or two, I was added to a Facebook group called The Black Sheep. I didn’t think much of it, nor have I interacted much therein because I prefer interacting more in the public realm than within groups online for some reason. It seemed a peaceful place, though, and the conversations therefrom which Facebook’s algorithm decided I should see seemed interesting enough, so I introduced myself to the group and solicited friend requests to spice up my news feed.

The influx of new friends lead to what you’d expect: I saw new political perspectives, new hobbies, and so on, and I considered that little experiment to be a success. My next step in spicing things up was to look at Facebook’s “suggested friends” feature every day for a few days. If I had more than ten friends in common with a person, I added the person.

Within a week or two, I had over 700 friends on Facebook, and my news feed was unrecognizable. I’m not saying that as a bad thing! However, I noticed something almost right away from many of the atheists added in this way: If I didn’t know better, I’d almost say that atheism had become a religion to them. 

You may be familiar with the “A” symbol used for atheism. It was everywhere for many of these people: they tattooed variations of it on themselves, they wore clothes with it coupled with (mostly not) clever sayings, and they plastered it all over their Facebook accounts.

Now, to be fair, I did that last one when I was a new atheist; why? Because immediately prior to becoming an atheist, I was fairly religious. Religious practices were what I knew — Jesus was everywhere for me, so to speak, and I made sure people knew it. When I became an atheist, I did the same. I doodled the “A,” I plastered it on my profile image, and so on, but I “grew out of it.” To what end must atheism be evangelized in this way?

In addition to splashing the “A” all over the place, the more religious atheists among them were toxic. There was no civility, no standard of discourse for how religious folk were spoken of.

Did I sound the same way? Was I, too, showing to be correct all of the old stereotypes I held about atheism from when I was a Christian?

Probably.

Atheism is a tough thing. We’re already distrusted more than most other groups simply by virtue of our unbelief, why enable that distrust by presenting ourselves as assholes?

I get it. It’s fun to be an asshole. Sarcasm, jokes, the ribbing, the bullying…

A few years ago, one of my best friends was an older Christian woman. Our friendship survived me rejecting Christianity, but it eventually ended abruptly in the aftermath of an off-color joke I made about a Christian tract I had found at work. I chose to be an asshole in that circumstance, and it cost me a dear friend.

I’ve gone on to unfriend a lot of the indiscriminately added atheist folk because they came across as little else than religious (albeit atheist) assholes, and I gave up on following several atheists on YouTube because their channels tended to rely more on shock value and outrage than on anything which would actually progress issues or raise the level of discourse.

I’m sure I could prune my Twitter list by quite a bit for the same reasons, but honestly, that would require a level of attention paid to Twitter that I haven’t had any desire to pay for years.

I want to be a voice. For change. For admonishment. For learning.

That isn’t the easy path. It isn’t the attention-getting path. But it’s a path which I feel compelled to try to follow.

Is it a path you follow? How do you handle disagreements on a worldview-level? How do you avoid being a jerk when the subject of religion (or politics or whatever) comes up?

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