The complaints, mostly from Christians, about the immorality or rudeness of “evangelical atheism” come from the same flawed place as their general animosity toward atheists. For too many years, the umbrella of religion protected believers from hearing, let alone from considering, any declaration against belief in an esoteric god. Most deemed it “impolite” for skeptics to refute belief, to admit their absence of belief, or to question even the most outrageous dogma of any traditional religion. When it came to God, we atheists were to sit down and shut up; we were, that is, if we were even courageous enough to step out of the atheist closet.
The core beliefs
This deference to another’s core beliefs did not apply, of course, to people who were without belief in God; Christians of every persuasion freely exercised their “God-given right” to evangelize him – however, wherever, and whenever they wished. That these solicitations were unwelcome to an atheist’s ears was irrelevant to the evangelizes. They just kept on keeping on – and still, do!
The difference today is, a few uncommonly brave freethinkers decided to be as outspoken about disbelief as believers have always been about belief.
Books by such men as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others, sparked shock and outrage. They dared to speak publicly of their skepticism, their absence of belief in God, and their perceptions of the dangers inherent in religion. One can safely assume these gentlemen KNEW their arguments against religion would ruffle quite a few feathers. They were well aware public outcry would greet the publication of their books, because, As Ebonmuse (DaylightAtheism.org) so clearly puts it,
“… unsolicited evangelizing is almost never appreciated by its targets, and almost always perceived as rude and intrusive. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, who go door-to-door to preach to complete strangers, are a byword for unwanted religious annoyance. The born-again Christians who scream about hellfire on street corners and subways are usually dismissed as lunatics or fanatics, and the ones who “merely” find some excuse to insert god-talk into every conversation are often dreaded by others.”
Yes, these authors knew what was coming and they wrote their books anyway. Why would learned men pursue such an outcome?
Didn’t they realize it would turn people against them and their works?
Well, perhaps, as Ebonmuse also said, “What has happened is not that atheists have become more combative or more outspoken, but that we have become more numerous and successful.” Perhaps, the hunger for the voices of outspoken atheists finally reached critical mass and these authors fed that need.
And besides, the root word “evangel” merely means “good news” – among atheists, it is certainly good news to believe your life can be lived completely free of the fear, shame, guilt, wacky stories, and superstition religion promotes.
The Positive Message from Atheism
Atheism has a positive message to share: Its skepticism about God and religious dogma clears the way for the realization that life is meaningful and worth living truthfully, without the dread of eternal punishment and without the dream of eternal life. There is no logical reason to silence atheists now that they’ve decided to come out of the closet and confront the empty promises of religion.
H.L. Mencken, (“Aftermath,” Baltimore Evening Sun) had the right idea way back in 1925. He wrote, “The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.”
So, if some folks want to call atheism’s outspoken members “evangelists,” it’s okay with me. It’s also about time somebody spoke up, as loudly and as clearly as all the other evangelists out there.