While I share almost all of their inclinations, the mainstream skeptics movement is too caustic for my tastes, often ignoring any information that doesn’t suit its needs.
The above image comes from a Google search. This should be exciting.
Before we get started, I need to differentiate between skeptics and Skeptics™. Skepticism involves being interrogatory toward the world around you, insatiably curious, open-minded, evidence-driven and quick to abdicate an untenable position. It’s about being humble and thoughtful. Skepticism™ involves going to conferences and belonging to organizations that promote atheism and addressing the finer points of a life without religion, and I can’t possibly identify as a Skeptic™.
It’s not for lack of trying. Here’s the world I inhabit: I’m not agnostic, I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in god, gods, goddesses or any divine variations thereof, and I’m not prone to any forms of mysticism. I’m very pro-proof. I vaccinate. GMOs are probably the solution to any number of global plights. There are no such things as chemtrails. Santa Claus is dead and it’s unlikely he’s in Heaven.
For all of my skepticism, I’m not a Skeptic™, because I think they’re jerks.
I have religious friends, and I don’t talk down to them. I don’t oversimplify their beliefs. I don’t call Jesus “undead” in an attempt to shame them. I don’t say things like, “Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms,” (Salman Rushdie is oversimplifying.) or “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.” (Richard Dawkins is probably being racist.) I also don’t suggest that religious people are parroting “bizarre, backwards and ridiculous beliefs” because an authority figure told them to. (Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal wrote that one, and it sounds a little better in context, but still highly judgmental. He sort of halfheartedly takes a shot at his own beliefs… but not really.)
I don’t say these things because I’m not into being a fucking asshole. These are examples of big, famous men using their big, famous influence against people who don’t necessarily deserve it. They’re coming down on everyone, not just the “dangerous radicals” they fear so much.
By the way, I think all of these guys have done some great things. Salman Rushdie is angry, and I’d be angry if I’d spent most of my adult life hiding from crazed assassins, too. Dawkins stood up for evolution when biology needed him. Matthew Inman has helped secure the modern legacy of Nikola Tesla. I don’t think it’s fair to say that people suck all of the time, but when it comes to talking about religion, I don’t like what I’m reading.
The Skeptics™ Movement at large has a lot of problems. JREF (The James Randi Educational Foundation) has had its fair share of controversies. Skeptics have time and again harassed their female membership and created an unwelcoming place for religious people. How do they expect to win people to their cause if they don’t give them a point of entry?
I think it’s great to stand up for science and freedom and all that. I really do. But sometimes, Skeptics™ need to understand that they’re punching down–that they’ve stopped being the underdogs and started being Big Skepticism. Our ranks need to know that they are asking folks to listen to them, all the while slapping them in the face.
I realize that the image up top does not represent a perfect data sample of public perception. There will be all kinds of skewing factors. However, it would be a mistake to ignore these very real and understandable feelings from the general public.
Stop dehumanizing religious people. Stop the sexism. Maybe then, I can identify as a Skeptic™.