When I write about religion, specifically Christianity, I attempt to not be insulting. I know that some believers may take what I write as just that, but it’s never meant that way. Some people are easy to insult I guess. One thing I never do (I have in the past, but it was rare), was to use expletives. I don’t see any necessity to pile on with what is clearly offensive to some. I’m not attempting to de-convert anyone, but I’d like those who are believers to be able to read my essays and note my attempt is to be thoughtful about what I write. Certain language doesn’t promote that at all.
I see the language I’m referring to mostly on social media. It’s easy to use, and instead of being thoughtful and reasoned, is an emotional response and doesn’t do anything to move whatever dialogue is occurring, forward. Most atheists I follow on Twitter do not use offensive language at all. In fact, the abuse always seems to start from the other side. What I usually see from the atheists when this begins is those same saying something to the effect, have a nice day. If someone refuses to acknowledge a statement or a question, and becomes abusive, there’s not much else to be done.
So I was logged into Twitter, and saw a reply to an atheist I follow that stated that they were going to not use invective or insults ( a redundancy there) when addressing believers and pledged not to for thirty days. I thought, really? A person has to take a pledge to not be offensive to someone else? Think about this: having to make a conscious effort to be amenable to another person. Sure, we all become upset from time to time. Sometimes we want to spew every nasty thing that comes into our minds. But we don’t. Yes, in those circumstances, it is a conscious effort, but is that all the time? Not for me.
It’s a little unsettling to discover that some people need to be always on guard. Yes, there are believers online that make outrageous claims about atheists but I generally place those in the bucket of having no knowledge atheism, and move on. In my experience, they are the ones that are just looking for an argument, to set someone off, to gain virtue points with their friends. It’s easier to ignore their invective than to respond in kind. Who becomes the one looking foolish and petty then?
Of course we atheists are no different than anyone else and some of us, just like believers and the general public will have impulse control issues. But the idea that I would have to make a personal pledge just to be nice to others seems a bit over the top to me. I know people that despise religious belief but online are courteous to those that challenge the morality, or anything else, concerning atheism. Is it a conscious effort on their part? I have no idea but I’ve seen enough from a few that I personally know to say the answer would be no.
We can criticize without being overtly offensive. Those unable to do so should probably not engage. We can be on the offense without becoming offensive with our language and shouldn’t have to strive to be that way.