Thursday, 15 September 2011

A bid to reclaim the word "tolerance".

I've been hearing a lot recently about atheists wanting "tolerance" from believers, both from the atheists who're requesting it and from believers who are granting or denying it.

Now, this pisses me off.  "Tolerance" in this sense may be defined in loose terms as "the ability and/or willingness to endure and/or accept something unpleasant or disliked". So let's look at this more closely. What precisely is there about atheism that warrants or requires "tolerance"? What is it about atheists that is so unpleasant or disagreeable that we ourselves are effectively saying mea culpa by respectfully asking people to put up with us, unlovely and nasty as we are?!

This misuse of the word "tolerance" in relation to atheists is by no means unique to us; long before the rise of the New Atheists (go team!) we were being told that we should "tolerate" - among others - black people and gay people. Now, I find the term just as offensive towards black people and gay people as it is to me as an atheist; what the hell is there about being black or being gay that requires "tolerance" from anyone?!  What aspect of being black is so offensive that we must exercise "tolerance" towards black people?! And how precisely do the private activities of two consenting adults (of any damn gender!) affect you in such a way that you must flare your nostrils, fold your arms and benevolently agree not to be offended by them?!  It's the most condescending attitude imaginable!  Someone being black does not affect you in any way. Someone being gay does not affect you in any way. And my being an atheist does not affect you in any way... except, apparently, that you don't like me being different from you. Well you know what?  I'm doing absolutely nothing wrong by being an atheist - in fact there are many sound arguments for my being morally better than you as a believer - and I'm not going to be grateful to you for putting up with my existence.

There are many instances in which the use of the word "tolerance" IS appropriate - for example:

We tolerate Islam despite the fact that some Muslims blow up buildings, mutilate women and commit genocide in the name of Islam, because most Muslims are good people.

We tolerate Christianity despite the fact that some Christians shoot doctors, persecute gay people, and actively promote the spread of HIV/Aids in the world's poorest countries, because most Christians are good people.

We tolerate atheism despite the fact that some atheists...

... well, what? Talk about it? Publish books and blogs? Gather to form humanist groups? Take the piss out of believers? Again, what precisely is it that we do that needs to be "tolerated"?

I would like to see the word "tolerance" dropped in relation to atheism, because it's an admission of guilt or wrong-doing that simply isn't there.

1 comment:

  1. South Park said it best: "You tolerate a crying baby"

    Not a bad point you have here, good writing. :)