In which atheists behave like a flock of clucking church ladies

I’m usually good at ignoring crazy emails, but this morning I wasted some time arguing with Christian crazies who think the president is a Muslim and part of his war on Christmas is a new stamp commemorating the festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.
It used to be enough to send the people who circulate these crazy emails to, where they would learn the stamp was actually issued in 2001, and then the humbled sender would issue a retraction, tail between legs. But it seems to me that Obama’s grassroots opposition is increasingly proud of its ignorance. As if anti-Obama falsehoods achieve a higher truth. It’s an ignorance that smells something like faith.
Still steaming from that observation I came upon this news item:
Why would the nation’s largest group of freethinkers spend good money to put ads that make light of religion on buses in San Francisco?
“If there’s any group of people overall that will take our message to heart, it’s San Franciscans,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the ad sponsor. “The city has a well-deserved reputation for openmindedness and tolerance,” Gaylor adds.
This rankles me as much as a crazy email about the Eid stamp. To be an atheist is to be, by one definition, closed to the idea of god. That thinking is not free, it’s limited. It’s the opposite of open-mindedness. It doesn’t matter how much evidence you have. What matters is that your mind is made up–closed, not open. The one quality you share with theists is certainty (and what a devil is certainty).
Now it’s true that in societies saturated with Christianity, the atheists seem to have science on their side. We now know that Jesus doesn’t live in a castle on the back side of the moon, having been there and looked and found it lacking in Him. But that’s a problem with Christian literality, not a problem with divinity.
There are traditions in which god means something like energy. Matter is energy in its grossest form, some traditions have held for thousands of years, or, as we put it more recently, E=MC2. Science is still working out the mysteries. The divine just is what we don’t already know, and to have a mind that’s already certain requires a leap of faith. Atheism is just negative theism.
Likewise, attacking other peoples’ faith is not the same as tolerance:
The Madison, Wis.-based association… is putting its messages on the outside of 75 buses. Messages like “Imagine No Religion” and “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
Additionally, 200 interior bus signs are going up, featuring six provocative quotations by five famous skeptics of history, plus a quote from perhaps the world’s preeminent atheist, Richard Dawkins, author of the bestselling “The God Delusion.” The ad features Dawkin’s comment from the book: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”
The ads also feature quotes from Emily Dickinson, Butterfly McQueen, Katharine Hepburn and Clarence Darrow, who famously said, “I don’t believe in God, because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.”
via Opposing Views.
Some of these messages are witty, some mocking, some taken out of context, but all, as presented, are intolerant. I’ve spent a lot of time in San Francisco, and I’m sure that many San Franciscans will agree with these signs. That’s not the same as being tolerant of them. Other San Franciscans will not agree with them but will tolerate them because honestly, this campaign isn’t going to shock anyone in San Francisco. That’s a form of tolerance, but it’s not the high form.
I think we probably need atheists. We need atheists to prevent theists from running roughshod over everyone. We need them to sue the government when it starts getting too Christian, reminding it to issue an Eid stamp now and then. But let’s stop confusing atheism with “freethinking” or “openmindedness” or “tolerance.” Those words mean you’re uncertain, that you’re looking and listening. They mean that your response to someone else’s idea isn’t “no.” It’s “maybe.”
So now let’s back slowly away from postage stamps and bus signs. What we’ll see in our retreat is that theists and atheists are of a mind. Each is busy intolerating the other. What if instead of holding to some dogma–atheism, say, or a theism–we held, instead, to tolerance?
Imagine no divisions.

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