This week’s question: “Why are atheists so antagonistic/insulting? Wouldn’t they catch more flies with honey than vinegar?”

There exists a stereotype of the “new” atheist as militant, angry or insulting. Most people who espouse this view are unaware, however, that harsh criticism of religion is hardly “new.” Like Seneca the Younger, 4-65 CE, who said, “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false and by the rulers as useful,” some have been scathing in response to every historical faith-fad, from Zoroastrianism to Christianity to Scientology. Atheism is nothing new, nor is its militancy.

As to the antagonism of atheists, I can, as always, only speak for myself. But I can certainly account for my own antagonism, and in doing so I must point out the difference between insulting an individual and insulting a belief. When I criticize religious belief, I am in no way insulting my 99-year-old grandmother, a devout Presbyterian. Her beliefs do not define her. She is a wonderful, loving, compassionate, thoughtful, ping-pong-playing lady, despite happening to believe some things that are not true. I am sure I, too, believe many things that are not true. Ignorance does not make a bad person.

However, there is a point at which, if I were sufficiently informed as to those topics but remained adamant, I would be deserving of criticism — even antagonistic or impolite criticism. Ray Comfort, for instance who has heard from countless atheists in his pathetic quest to debate against them — and insisted famously that the way a banana fits the human hand is proof of an Abrahamic God — is worthy of disdain. His selective disregard for the facts that contradict him enrages some and has earned him insults. Because Comfort is not just ignorant but stubborn and puerile as well, ridicule of his idiocy is a justifiable and useful tool in showing the silliness of his positions.

The question remains, though, as to whether this is effective. If atheists really cared about converting people, shouldn’t they be more polite? The truth is, I don’t want to convert people, I want people to convert themselves when faced with the truth. Yes, one can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, but unlike theists, astrologers and unicorn enthusiasts, I’m not here to feed the world a honeyed lie over the vinegary truth.

Connor Oakes is a third-year political science major.

This is a pretty frequent complaint about atheists which, whether it be statistically valid or not, is at least present in a large enough portion of our sympathizers for people to have taken notice. Now, personally, I would argue that we are no more antagonistic than those of religious faith are, but the problem with that statement is atheists are “peddling” a different brand of wares than those of faith are. For one reason or another, people are much more open to the religious zealots who protest abortion, work to prevent gay marriage or, hell, go door to door sometimes to preach the good news. The other side of the scale happens to be the “militant” atheist who writes angry books or a strongly worded letter to a paper or website. There are no door to door atheists. If atheists are feeling especially angry, they might even complain about having “In God We Trust” on our national currency. The image of the militant atheist isn’t violent or particularly harmful, though he falls into one of the least trusted groups in the United States due to deep-seated and heavy-handed “religious tolerance.” So I think this sort of stigma is totally misplaced.

To be honest, though, I feel that militant atheists could be a lot more “militant.” I see absolutely no arguable reason why religious passivity should exist in a scientifically literate society. There are far too many allowances afforded to the religious. They are not required to provide support for their claims, they are allowed to indoctrinate children — which should be a felony, by the way — their churches dodge taxes and even prison inmates are given meal privileges for religious holidays. It’s completely ridiculous what sort of stuff they get away with when people should clearly know better. I’m willing to allow people to be religious, but the influence of their beliefs permeates far too deeply into society for it to be ignored and allowed to continue without intervention.

That’s really where the problem lies in being “polite.” There is an important difference between being polite to an individual and addressing a social issue that affects people on a large scale. Yes, we may “catch more flies with honey,” but the issue here isn’t just about making friends. That can be done on a personal level and is rarely a problem between atheists and the religious. The issue extends into societal influences and must be dealt with on a macro scale. Smiling at the problem won’t help fix it.

Cameron Moody is a second-year computational biology major.

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