Are Atheists Harming People?
Earlier today, a theist approached me in a conversation alleging that I'm harming other people because I am an active atheist. He mentioned that people might go crazy and kill police officers because I filed the complaint against the nativity scene and proceeded to compare me to the pastor who wanted to burn the Koran. He said, in the familiar style of a military superiority argument, that my actions might cause troops to die overseas because people are angry about what I did...and of course was unable to present any evidence to support this nonsensical claim. I continued to ask for reasons why he thinks I am harming people, but did not get a sufficient reason.
Asking questions, challenging beliefs, and fighting for separation of church and state harms no one. If people got pissed because I filed a complaint against the nativity scene, that's too bad for them. The display was unconstitutional and courthouse officials even agreed. If people get angry because I'm challenging their beliefs, they can easily walk away from a discussion (that I typically only start when people bring up religion and make a wild claim) or not view anything I have to say online. It's quite simple, actually. No one is being forced to read anything that I author and no one is compelled to listen to what I have to say.
There's no evidence whatsoever to support the claim that any police officers will die because I filed a complaint against the nativity scene. The theist told me, "What if some fundamentalist fired an RPG at a police officer and killed him because he didn't protect the nativity scene?" This obviously didn't happen and almost certainly won't happen...and if it did for some reason, it's certainly not my fault. I don't know what the theist meant when he said, "...he didn't protect the nativity scene." What was there to "protect?"
When we got into discussion about matters like the burden of proof, the theist, as usual, was trying to shift the burden of proof and kept saying "You can't disprove God!" He then proceeded to say things like "You're saying that people can't believe in God" and "So, my believing is responsible for all the bad things in religion" which is clearly straw-manning my positions. I would never say that I'm trying to take away peoples' legal rights to believe and would never try or want to enforce such a thoughtcrimish law. I have noted many times in my blog that all theists don't harm others and make it clear that not all theists believe the same things.
On matters of separation of church and state, the theist was absolutely clueless when he said things like "Firefighters putting out church fires is a breach of separation of church and state" and that "Seperation of church and state only means that the government doesn't set up a religion." There was also a silly claim of the Treaty of Tripoli (see article eleven) being a bold-faced lie just to appease Muslims. This is a desperate ad-hoc explanation of defending the "Christian Nation" nonsense...and even without the treaty we're still a secular nation.
Let's return to the most important claim here: atheists are harming people. All I am doing is authoring a blog, challenging religion when it is appropriate, posting links on Facebook, going on radio shows, and (almost a year ago) filing complaints against church/state violations. How is any of this harming people? The most that can be argued for is that people become upset or personally threatened because their cherished beliefs are challenged...but people don't have the right to be immune from criticism. We don't withhold criticism on other topics like favorite music, sports team, pizza, or restaurant. People don't think twice because they levy personal attacks at the president. People send me hate mail. People thrash celebrities on a daily basis like it is a hobby.
There is a key distinction between "respecting beliefs" and respecting people. Beliefs don't deserve any respect whatsoever because beliefs are simply ideas. People clearly don't "respect" the beliefs of anti-vaxxers, 9/11 truthers, Holocaust deniers, flat earth theorists, geocentrists, Sarah Palin, or many others. Religious people certainly don't "respect" my beliefs when they challenge them (and that's fine, go ahead). You don't see me hiding behind a smokescreen when my beliefs or lack of beliefs are challenged. I have the discussions and don't cry when people disagree with me or offer real criticism. Why should religious beliefs be held to some holier-than-thou standard of immunity from criticism?
What I do is put the information out there for those who want to read it...this certainly isn't harming anyone. People are going to make choices for themselves at the end of the day, of course, but they should read the arguments from the other side and care about whether their beliefs are true or not. If believers want to hide in a cave and not give reasons for their position, claim "my reasons are my reasons," or not even have reasons they can do that, but that's not very critical at all.
If people are bad for challenging others' beliefs, teachers and philosophers ought to be a blight upon the world. Who are they to challenge beliefs!?!? They should just let people "believe what they want" and stop educating people! If theists think atheists are causing harm to people because they challenge beliefs, they should go out there and protest all forms of education and should certainly drop out of formal schooling.