In a blog post titled ‘9 questions atheists find insulting? Bollocks!’ Paul Braterman criticises Greta Christina for writing an article on Everyday Sexism suggesting people should stop asking atheists the following questions as they’re insulting:
- How can you be moral without believing in God?
- How do you have any meaning in your life?
- Doesn’t it take just as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?
- Isn’t atheism just a religion?
- What’s the point of atheist groups? How can you have a community for something you don’t believe in?
- Why do you hate God? (Or ‘Aren’t you just angry at God?’)
- But have you read the Bible, or some other Holy Book, heard about some supposed miracle, etc?
- What if you’re wrong?
- Why are you atheists so angry?
Braterman points out, quite correctly, that to dictate so finely the grounds on which any discussion can take place is to impede discourse. He writes that ‘no one is going to learn anything from anybody if one side lays down rules about what the other side is allowed to say, before the discussion even starts.’
I agree. But what really struck me here wasn’t the suggestion that these questions were insulting, but the way in which Christina seemed to think it was her right to insist on what other people be allowed to say based on the fact that she might find it insulting.
Christina wrote ‘Sometimes the questions are asked sincerely, with sincere ignorance of the offensive assumptions behind them. And sometimes they are asked in a hostile, passive-aggressive, “I’m just asking questions” manner. But it’s still not okay to ask them’.
No. It is okay to ask them. Just as it’s okay to ignore the questions being asked if you chose to. We all find offence in different things and that’s okay too, but none of us has a right to have our sense of being offended catered to. Life just doesn’t work like that.
But also, I think we need to accept that as we write about this subject- about this silly list of questions -we do so from a position of immense privilege because we do not face extreme consequences for speaking openly about our atheism. I am sure that in America there is greater social stigma for atheists than there is here in the UK but it is still pretty safe to speak openly about being good without god in the states. Right now, being openly atheist is dangerous in certain parts of the world where you risk being murdered on the street for simply turning your back on religion. Bangladesh, for example.
To try and dictate what is and isn’t civil discourse about something that affects such a diverse group of people that is so much bigger than any of us is a little bit mind-blowing, to be honest.