I have been an atheist activist for twenty-three years. Wow… has it really been that long? Whew!
I started my activism in the twelfth grade in high school in 1989 attempting to start an atheist club in Moreno Valley, CA. My attempt failed and I did not know about any groups or resources to go to for help. After I joined the Navy I continued activism: going after evening prayers over the 1MC (ship’s PA system), stopping the Chaplain from presiding over my reenlistment and award ceremonies, making sure non-Christians religious sailors were taken care of by the ship’s Chaplain (you know, actually doing his damn job), etc.
When I got out of the Navy I started a local group (Mobile Area Freethought Association) and the Freethinkers Letter-Writing Cooperative (FLWC), Alabama Citizens for Education in Science (ACES), wrote for the Secular South E-Zine and coordinated the first atheist protest in the state of Alabama (against Judge Roy Moore). I would later go on to form the North Alabama Freethought Association and help form thirteen other groups across the Southeast and start The Critical Eye Podcast with my friend and fellow comedian Tom Hand.
In 2000, I found American Atheists. Holy national support, Batman! I became the Alabama State Director and then the National Affiliate Director and then the Communications Director and finally the Director of Outreach. During that time I was a staff writer for American Atheist Magazine and ran the NoGodBlog for a while as well. I ran their Facebook page and Twitter account and YouTube account, etc. I was named Atheist of the Year twice and received the Meritorious Service Award for my activism while working for American Atheists. I have greatly enjoyed my time with American Atheists and being a part of the advance forces in the trenches in the battle for our Constitutional rights and the Separation of Church and State.
I got to be part of the movement as it grew exponentially and started its peak in 2007 and continues to peak. I got to experience the amazing feeling of knowing that the groundwork we and those before us lay down was now finally being used to push the movement forward and that things were on the upswing and we were beginning to finally take some ground in that same battle. To be a part of the movement as we struggle to find space on the calendar for events that do not coincide with other events being held nationally (what a beautiful problem to have!)
But lately I have lost that feeling. I have found myself dreading each day on Facebook, the blogs, etc. Each day having to defend myself and American Atheists not against the hordes of Christians: but against our fellow atheists. Our fellow atheists who find a single word, or the font used on a billboard, or the color of a web page, or a single sentence in a two-thousand word essay worth creating an eruption of vitriol against fellow atheists on blogs and in comments.
I found myself dreading having to deal with the nit-picking of appearances on a news channel from atheists who had never been in front of a camera, criticism of a billboard from atheists who had never erected a billboard and were basically demanding that we put an entire thesis on a billboard, thus eradicating the entire point of a billboard. I dreaded dealing with atheists who reveled in taking on their fellow atheists instead of our common enemy: theists and theocrats. I dreaded the emails, the comments, and the constant in-fighting that is holding our movement back.
I would give an hour-long speech and the audience would agree with 99% of what I said, but because I said one word or one sentence that someone disagreed with, the blogosphere would erupt in idiotic drama. Over what? Where was the eruption of support for the 99% of what we agreed upon? I take exception to things people say on a daily basis, but I don’t make an issue of it. I can think of dozens of my fellow activists who have said stuff that drives me bonkers, but I’m willing to bet that my Facebook friends couldn’t name two or three of them. Why? Because I don’t talk about it or make an issue of it because while they say something that drives me bonkers, we agree on enough that it’s a non-issue to me.
No matter the trivial stuff we disagree on, there are always at a minimum three core things we all agree on: separation of church and state, civil rights for non-theists, and true freedom of religion (meaning freedom from religion as well).
Ultimately I became an asshole and just lashed out at my fellow atheists who engaged in that type of behavior. I realized that a few months ago that I no longer could rationally discuss these issues with those detractors because all I wanted to do was smash their smug fuc… (deep breath.) I realized that I had lost my patience. I had more patience with theists at this point than I did with my fellow atheists who felt the need to attack and belittle everything that was being said or done in such a pedantic and nit-picky fashion that it was almost laughable. Throw into that mix my fellow atheists who are not skeptics and believe all sorts of hokey nonsense, and it was a matter of time before I imploded.
The tone debate is a complete waste of time. Every methodology and approach is needed for the movement to reach every possible demographic. The anti-firebrands are failing to recognize the history of the success and necessity of firebrands in every past movement before us: gay rights, civil rights, women’s suffrage, abolition, etc. Stop beating each other up and arguing over method. What really matters is our destination. We’re all on the same highway; we’re just driving different cars, so why are we trying to drive each other off the damn road? Everyone should keep doing the method of activism that they are good at: firebrand, accommodation (I know, you hate that word), anti-theists, militant atheists (yeah, I hate that one, too), etc. All of you play a key role in the forward ability of this movement. How many blog entries are actually activism related versus blog entries attacking fellow atheists over pedantics, semantics, and tactics?
I have no more patience for it. I have become what I detest the most because now I find myself attacking my fellow atheists. It repulses me that I have become this.
I am seriously considering resigning from everything that I do and leaving the movement. No more blogging, no more Facebook, no more videos, no more writing, no more activism, no more conventions, and no more working for American Atheists. I talked to David Silverman (President of American Atheists) today (11/26) about this (we’ve had talks in the past about this) and told him he would have my final answer by Friday (11/30). David told me that I was getting sucked into the things that I hated instead of staying involved in the things I loved. Fair and valid point: but how does one stay above the fray when everything we do causes the fray to come to us?
And so now I’m reaching out to my Facebook friends, fellow bloggers, fellow podcasters, fellow video bloggers, and fellow activists for advice. What would you have me do?