Defending Acerbic Atheism
by Noah Lugeons
A few people have asked me what atheist podcasts I listen to and there are only a handful I always recommend:
- Atheist Experience
- Cognitive Dissonance
- The Imaginary Friends Show
- Reasonable Doubts
- Thank God I’m Atheist
- The Thinking Atheist
There are a number of others that I listen to regularly, but those are the six that I make sure to listen to every week. Those are the six that never seem to back up at all on my iPod. Sure, I listen to An American Atheist, C-Webb’s Sunday School, Atheist Nomads, BarRoom Atheists, Irreligiosophy, Godless Bitches, Post Rapture Looting, Thomas and the Bible… I’ve constantly got plenty of shows to catch up on. But the six on that list up top are my “the day they come out” podcasts.
If you listen to the show, you know that nobody in the atheist podcasting world thinks of one another as “competition”, but rather we see ourselves as allies in a social movement, each providing a different perspective on a complex series of issues. I’d never be able to offer the carefully weighed counter-apologetics the guys from Reasonable Doubts can give you; I’d scream “fuck you” repeatedly at half the asswipes that call Atheist Experience; I could never offer the rational, ecumenical voice that Frank and Dan on Thank God I’m Atheist provide; and I could never make the kind of snorts and hacking laugh sounds that Cecil manages on Cognitive Dissonance. Everyone brings something unique to the table.
That’s why I was so excited the other day when Dan (that’s Thank God I’m Atheist Dan) invited me to join him and Frank on their show to speak for the “acerbic” wing of atheism. Before we delve into spoiler territory, I should give you a bit of the back story.
On episode 82 of their show, they discussed the new Atheist Monument about to be unveiled in Starke, Florida. They were excited to see a monument to atheism being erected, but they weren’t happy with the message it sent. Without going into a ton of details, I can summarize their objection by saying they felt the choice of quotes for the monument were unnecessarily antagonistic.
A week later, one of their listeners wrote in to politely disagree and when they read his email on the air, it turned into a rather comprehensive discussion on how “acerbic” atheists should be. Is there ever an appropriate time to be downright insulting when delivering an atheist message? Does it do the movement more harm than good if atheists are seen as arrogant jerks? Are we turning off the moderate middle?
I felt they did a great job hitting all the major points on the issue, but I ultimately disagreed with their conclusions. As our listeners are well aware, we’re very fond of the “insult first” approach, but I also think it’s intellectually justifiable in many circumstances. I sent a quick email to Dan, he responded, I responded, he responded and before long it turned into an invite to continue the conversation on the air.
It turned out I wasn’t the only person who felt moved to send an email about that particular discussion and they wanted to continue talking about the subject. After all, it’s a damned important one. But since they both fell more on the “copacetic” end of the spectrum and wanted to make sure they were fairly representing both sides, they reached out to me to speak for the more antagonistic side of the fence.
I was flattered and I accepted without hesitation. I think it’s an important topic and I think it’s important that we discuss it openly within the movement. As the movement grows it becomes harder and harder for any one voice to reasonably speak for all of it so we need all the myriad voices speaking together. We all want to send the same message and we all have the same goal, so as long as we don’t polarize over something as simple as how many naughty words to use, we can all come out the better for the disagreement.
And what I found during the interview was damned encouraging if that’s the goal. We had an open and frank disagreement and, as the discussion went along, we each conceded points to one another and we all came closer to seeing things from each other’s perspective. While we all walk away with our preferred approach intact, we also walked away with a better appreciation for what motivates the other (for lack of a better term) wing of the party.
I don’t want to give too much away, but in the end we solve the energy crisis and prove that Jesus was a Sasquatch so you’ll definitely want to listen to it. I believe it’ll be available on their feed on Saturday, and, of course, I’ll have a link to it here as soon as the episode’s available.