Sunday, April 1, 2007

Manifesto of a radically boring atheist

I'm going to let you in on a secret: most people are boring. I do not mean this as an insult. In fact, it is a complement. Our boringness is something that we all share, something to unite us, and something to make us proud. Still, who wants to celebrate boringness even it does bring us together? Isn't discussing tedium itself tedious? God, you people are impatient. Our boringness is important. It is the key to transformative social change. Seriously. Let me explain.

The easiest way to understand the virtues of boringness is to first examine the pitfalls of non-boringness. The most powerful example of the dangers of over stimulation is that most sinister of ridiculous bugaboos: "The Gay Lifestyle". The religious right is so fond of this phrase, you almost wonder if they are part of a secret viral marketing campaign for "".

As silly as the phrase is, its manipulation and purpose are quite serious. The message of “the gay lifestyle" is that it is first and foremost, not your lifestyle and the further from yours the better. The James Dobsons of the world use "the gay lifestyle" to create the impression that the average day in the life of a homosexual consists of nothing other than constant cocaine fueled sex orgies aboard Elton John's yacht, filmed by a leather clad Hillary Clinton, stopping only when everyone gets tired of performing abortions and commits suicide.

Of course the purpose of such language is to portray homosexuality as perverse, foreign, and "other". But another purpose is to portray it as exciting, glamorous, and interesting, especially as compared to James Dobson. The message is not only that these people are morally wrong, but that their lives are more stimulating than yours is, and that discrimination against them is a good way to even the score.
This combination of fear and envy is most potent weapon in the gay baiting arsenal, which is why they are constantly hammering away with it.

The terrible secret that Pat Robertson is desperate to keep from his flock is that most gay people are in fact, pretty boring. Many have never even met Elton John. For most gay people, their “lifestyle” consists of working hard, paying the bills, trying to find or maintain loving relations, and attempting to find meaning and community where they can. The same shit the rest of us struggle with every day.

My theory is that the strides in acceptance of homosexuality have happened in large part because the boring gay masses have increasingly begun to live their lives openly and proudly. Of course living openly and honestly is not easy. In addition to facing discrimination and violence, gays often risk being disowned by their entire families after coming out. It often requires courage and very real sacrifice to live boringly, and this is why I want to introduce the concept of “Radical Boringness.” “Radical Boringness” means living the hum drum every life in a way that's open, honest, and dignified. It means being willing to fight for your right to simply be treated the same as any other schmoe.

As controversial as it has been, the fight for gay marriage is perfectly in tune with radical boringness. In fact the biggest problem is that those fighting for equality haven’t realized they are sitting on an absolute gold mine of dull. This is marriage we’re talking about people, how exciting can it possibly be? My advice to gay marriage advocates? Turn up the tedious. Emphasize the drab. Explain that you are fighting for the joy that is filing a joint tax return, the thrill of arguing over whose turn it is do the dishes, the non-stop party that is legally enshrined monogamy. Not to mention the most gloriously mind numbing aspect of gay marriage: gay divorce! What could be more tiresome that having to hire a lawyer if your relationship goes sour? Once people realize how profoundly uninteresting your demands really are, how can they help but be swayed to your side?

Still, one does wonder if gay rights are a uniquely boring phenomena or can “Radical Boringness” be successfully applied to other minorities? Well, I'm not gay, but I am an atheist and I think atheists could learn a lot from the boring aspects of the gay rights movement. Atheists are kind of a weird minority. We don't stand out from the crowd in any way. We don't have any real leaders or spokesmen. We haven't suffered any real oppression. I’m pretty sure we’re allowed to marry and nobody really believes atheism is a disorder anymore. Yet we still have still haven’t managed to get a single unbeliever elected to Congress (we thought we may have had one last week but he turned out to be a Unitarian). Polls show we are by far the most distrusted group in the nation and atheists are one of the few remaining minorities that it is still acceptable in polite society to openly mock and dismiss.

Atheism has been in the news lately mostly due to the recent books by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Consequentially, atheism is gaining a notoriety that is far from boring. Dawkins in particular has been getting attention mostly because of his antagonistic and condescending attitude toward people who are not atheists. He has been enough of an arrogant prick, that he raised the ire of the boys over at "South Park" and was the recipient of their trademark scathing satire, involving ass fucking and murderous sea otters. This was extremely concerning to me. To see my own belief system suffer the same hilarious take down as Scientology, Mormonism, etc., was hard to take. But Dawkins had it coming for committing the only two sins that Matt Stone and Trey Parker refuse to tolerate: thinking that your beliefs make you superior to everyone else, and attempting to convince everyone that your way of thinking is the only way.

What people like Dawkins fail to grasp is that most people don't really warm up to you when you are constantly belittling the things they hold most dear, no matter how logical and compelling your argument maybe. I've argued with far too many believers in my life to conclude attempting conversion is anything other than spectacularly pointless. Dawkins' attempt to seize the mantle of atheist leadership has hopefully failed (Once your cartoon alias has slept with Mr./Ms. Garrison your credibility is pretty much shot). Atheists need to ask themselves “What now?” We've got some attention so what should we do with it? My answer: we should be boring, Radically Boring.

I’m not advocating atheists give up any traditional causes but we need to do a much better job of explaining what we’re fighting for and why. When atheist battle to fight prayer in school, it’s not because we want to eliminate God from public life or exterminate religion; it’s because we want to be treated like any other religious group. Would Christians accept a public school that required their children to pray toward Mecca five times a day? Would Jews tolerate pledging allegiance to a nation "under Jesus"? Of course not, no self respecting religious group would allow the state force them to participate in the rituals of another religion. All atheists should want is that exact same consideration. It's not religion were fighting, it's discrimination. It's not power we want, its equality, nothing more, nothing less. And that is a radically boring idea.


The Fire Next Time said...

Congratulations on the new blog. After hearing about it for so long, it's nice to see it launched.

Now on to your post. I agree with you that atheism is a "radically boring" concept, and, I feel, a little sad. It relegates any mystery out there to pure physics, and, at least in my opinion, renders much of the beauty and wonder of the world and of life pretty meaningless. I'm not opting for rigid spiritual belief systems, but I think the reason most people feel so strongly negatively towards people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris is because they (Dawkins and Harris) claim to have all the answers.

In my opinion, atheism is just as silly and dangerous as fundamentalism, because essentially it's the same thing, just a mirror image. How can you definitively say that God Does Not Exist? How do you know? How do you have an answer like that? I agree that as humans we should stay pretty firmly rooted in reality most of the time, but when you claim that there is no such thing as a spiritual world, then you also say there is no such thing as love, or passion, or happiness, or sadness, or any kind of emotional transendence, except as a purely biological response.

And that is very boring. Isn't the mystery of life what it's all about? The searching for answers?

The thing I hate about fundamentalists (and even middle of the road religious people much of the time) is that they claim to have all the answers. And from what I've seen thus far, atheists aren't much different. To me, atheism is still just a way to make sense of a chaotic world because of an intolerance for mystery and ambiguity. And maybe you're right.

But I hope not.

The Fire Next Time said...

I guess what I really mean to say is that both atheism and fundamentalism both just seem reactionary and slightly "unreal" to me, a position taken to prove a point.

Having said that, I'm as liberal as it gets, and I would be hesitant to vote for a political official who professes to be an atheist, simply for that very reason.

HerkyFan69 said...

First, to that Fire guy: I think you misunderstand atheism (even the Richard Dawkins kind); it's not about purporting to know (or "definitively say[ing]") that God doesn't exist. I know plenty of self-described atheists, but I've never heard one of them say something like that.

It's more about acknowledging that there are many things beyond our ability to comprehend . . . and that we should brattily refuse to resign ourselves to the fact of our incomprehension (i.e., science/philosophy/curiosity) . . . and that truth has an inherent value even if it makes us uncomfortable. (Like many atheists, I hope a benevolent God does exist, and that there's a secret purpose behind all of the ugliness in the world that will make perfect sense to me "on the other side." Also -- in all seriousness -- I think it would be neat to live forever, and I hope I get the chance. Question for future "Project M" blogpost: why is immortality always portrayed as such a drag in movies and books? Where are the fun immortals, and how can I join their book club?)

I think it might have been Dawkins (in that interview?) who said that he couldn't disprove the existence of God -- or "know," with certainty, that God did not exist -- any more than he could disprove the existence of magic tea cups in outer space. It seems likelier than not that there are no magic tea cups, but who can say for sure. On the other hand, would you describe yourself as a "magic tea cup agnostic," then? What if everybody in the world (or -- okay -- most people in the rural South) believed in magic tea cups, and drew strength and meaning from their faith in the magic cups? Would the genuineness of that faith -- the genuineness of its importance to the tea cup crowd -- factor in your decision to call yourself a "magic tea cup agnostic" (vs. saying: "That's dumb. Magic teacups ain't real?").

By the way: I hope there are magic teacups in space -- and that Elizabeth Edwards's cancer is for the best, and that Jesus is watching me masturbate. Okay, not so much the last one. But defining myself as a "doubter" rather than an "unbeliever" seems wimpy to me.

If all of that sounds condescending, it might be because I didn't grow up in a religious background. The idea of God as conceived by churchgoers is so foreign and goofy to me that I can't bring myself to be too respectful about it. I can be respectful -- and fascinated -- by religious practices in exotic places like Bangladesh and Provo . . . but when the belief is all around me -- when it's part of my native culture -- it isn't fun -- just depressing, and threatening.

It depresses me, for instance, that atheism grosses people out the way it does. I'm not grossed out by my neighbors' belief that Jesus is watching me masturbate, even though that belief is objectively gross. But when I let it slip out that I don't believe in their voyeur Christ -- that I believe in "nothing," as a Christian might say (so guilelessly offensive!) -- it's like I've burped loudly. "Certainly, I'd never vote for someone like that." Atheism is gross!

Finally: with good reason, I strongly associate Christianity -- and maybe just theism generally -- with bullying. So the inherent dumbness of Christianity -- and by the way, I know that I'm totally counteracting the positive vibes beamed out by "Bucky's" blog post -- is inevitably mixed up, for me, with cruelty and violence and various kinds of smugness.

I like the stuff that Jesus said, however.

Now to the more important question: You have a blog now, Dylan? And you're calling yourself Bucky?

Bucky said...

That was a real nice secret identity I had there once. Once. Seriously, Herkyfan69 is making fun of my name?
There is a story behind Bucky and if you are nice maybe I'll tell you one day.

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