It’s not anger, it’s fervent optimism: Looking to 2010 and the past year in atheism

If you want to be small about it, my new-year’s resolution is to stop calling “it” atheism. More practically it’s a renewed determination to call a spade a spade and be less compartmentalised in my own thinking.

Take a recent exchange between me and my business partner. A simple SMS text message from him wishing me a Merry Christmas and a reply from me along the lines of, “and a happy holidays to you too.”

That, in combination with the fact I’d already bowed out of the pre-banquet prayer dedication at a recent charity fund raiser we attended, was enough to prompt him to ask me, when we eventually saw each other face to face a few days later, “I thought you didn’t celebrate Christmas?” when I once again shock his hand and wished him seasonal tidings.

“I’m an atheist, not a nihilist”, I replied—which he seemed pleasantly pleased to hear me say, as if the weight of wondering how many bibles I’d burned that day had been lifted from his shoulders. But I was disappointed with myself for using that word again—after promising myself on numerous occasions I would grimace through the painful embarrassment of sounding like a typical liberal twat Guardian reader, and instead describe myself as a secular humanist, if ever asked that question again.

The debate over just how redundant it is, to label oneself with their word for us will rage on for as many years as that of African Americans using “the N word” to address one another, despite that it remains a taboo for non-black people to use the term—even when borrowed in ironic jest. But just as with the on-going efforts to establish ebonics as a bonafide dialect, there must also come a time when an atheist confronts a personal decision, on when it is right to use descriptive slang and when it is more appropriate to use formal English—regardless of the accusation of elitism.

Sometimes an intellectual superiority complex is a smoke screen with which to mask arrogance. But the recurring themes in the on-going anti-theism activism debate, as will be familiar to anyone who regularly reads the comment thread exchanges which I encourage on this blog with evangelical Christians, are ones which are almost too easy to shoot down; too easy to shrug off with a terse half-paragraph of assumptions as to the true motivation of whom the reply is aimed.

As I am sure this quandary will be an all too familiar one for many activist bloggers, I have to ask, if we truly find ourselves yearning for a new kind of argument; a newer more obtuse angle with which to take issue, in this ever souring tryst between believers and rationalists, or are we actually seeking, in the pursuit of that ultimate argument, a mutual cancelling out of our individual, egotistical needs to be seen by our peers to be asking the right questions—as would be consistent with the mantra, think for yourself?

Similarly, the kooks who use the same old threat theology, like throwing Hebrews 10:26-31 at us for daring to admit we used to think like them, before we discovered [insert your path to atheism story here]. These angry religionists are never going to wake up from the fact the only thing they have to hold onto is fear. For as long as we respond to their push-button Christianity with exactly the kind of replies they expect to elicit from us, before they put finger to keyboard and regurgitate their hateful bile, they will never realise there are so many more wonderful ways to live this all-too-short life, than by being frightened of turning back into the stardust from which we are made and complete yet one more circuit of this atomic trip.

We, instead, need to look forward to 2010 as the year our message of peace, love for one another and respect for rational, constructive criticism takes as many more incredible steps forward as it has taken in just this past 12 months.

The atheist bus campaign, which I am proud to say started as a British concept, has exploded into a worldwide phenomena—with atheist agnostic secular humanist groups in just about every major world capital raising awareness among ordinary people in ways we never dreamed possible just 5 years ago.

The best selling books by authors like Richard Dawkins and Victor Stenger, which treat the creationists and literalists with the distain they deserve, by ignoring them completely, to concentrate instead on the wonderful and abundant evidence for evolution, both cosmological and biological, in an accessible and easy to read way: these are the kinds of works we need to encourage others to write and spread around the only planet any of us will ever know.

I want to wish all of my readers a very happy new year. May the farce be with you.

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