The Philanthropic Atheist

I once said during one of our “Ask an Atheist” events that the Kansas City Atheist Coalition could be called the “Kansas City Secular Super Square Dancing Squad” and its purpose would still be the same.  The person to whom I was speaking exclusively took offense to the word “atheist” itself.  When I attempted to ascertain the reason as to why, the answer I received was that atheists were bad people without any further explanation.  I then asked if they thought that I was also a bad person. The response I received was that I am not a bad person because I was not an atheist.

To clarify, I am very much an atheist; but simply being an atheist doesn’t really say much about my character or what type of person I am.  Atheism isn’t a worldview, as it only takes the null position that one does not accept belief in any god(s).  The identifier merely opens the door to acquire more information about the person.  These labels and identifiers give us a good starting position to acquire additional information about someone.  This was the first time that someone attempted to No True Scotsman me out of my own atheism.  This was also the first time that I began to realize that an innocuous word such as atheism carried such negativity without a good explanation.

Recent events have lead to me see this doesn’t stop with just the word atheism.  These negative impressions have a far greater impact than simply not liking the word itself.  These impressions create this “us vs. them” dichotomy in ways that affect the care and well-being of those less fortunate because of the negative bias that the word atheism carries – specifically when it involves acts of altruism and philanthropy.  I have often been asked why an atheist cares to help anyone at all if they do not believe in god(s).  This is a common question that I am happy to address, even though the question brings with it a tone of personal incredulity.  I live in a world where my actions and beliefs can have a demonstrable positive or negative impact on others.  These actions and thoughts do not exist in a vacuum and helping others not only improves their quality of life, but also further enhances my own and the lives of those closest to me.  This brief answer can open the floodgates to acquire more information about the person and can also accompany a myriad of other known labels such as humanism.

From that point, I’ve been asked why it is necessary to call myself an atheist or be an open atheist – again, as if the word atheist is something that can never be spoken.  The reason is simple: because I am an atheist.  It seems to me that the entire position hinges upon the desire that I should disassociate from the word atheist.  I do not give back to the community strictly because of my atheism, but that still doesn’t change the fact that I am an atheist.  There are various organizations around the country with members who identify as atheist, yet their atheism isn’t the sole driving force behind their good will.  The Pathfinders Project is one such example of an awesome group of people that place the needs of others above the promotion of a message of non-belief or faith; however, they do not hide how they choose to individually represent themselves.  I desire people to be open about how they choose to identify.  This is far different than desiring to promote a message above the basic needs of others.  I will never deride Christians for wearing their belief openly when they give back to the community – in fact, I appreciate it!  I desire to also work side-by-side with them because I do not see this dichotomy when helping others.  I can represent myself as an atheist without the need to discuss atheism.  This acts as a catalyst to destigmatize misconceptions surrounding atheists.  Atheists are your neighbors, friends and those you care about.  I will not evangelize my atheism when I volunteer and give back to the community in any capacity other than simply representing myself as an open atheist, nor would I hold a sandwich ransom in order to acquire an acceptance of non-belief.

This awareness of how someone represents themselves can create a pushback from others in the community.  This goes back to this “us vs. them” dichotomy that can be troublesome to shake.  When people start saying that open atheists are “intimidating and inappropriate at times” with no explanation, then what is the message that you want to project?  Is simply the act of being open about who you are so troubling that you’d much rather pretend we don’t exist?  The one thing that I won’t do is hide who I am to appease someone’s inability to accept that I do not adhere to the same beliefs as them.  I would never want someone to hide who they are because I do not ascribe to the same beliefs.  Their difference of belief does not mean that we cannot work together or see value in helping, educating, and improving the lives of those around us.

There can be a tacit agreement between two people of differing backgrounds and beliefs, yet work together harmoniously to better the lives of others.  I should not have to hide who I am, nor would I ask anyone to do the same.  I should not have to hide the “A” word when I serve a meal to the hungry, or when I give a gift to someone in need.  I shouldn’t have to pretend to be someone I am not.  I am an atheist and that’s just fine.


Halloween Fun with Spofford Home

The Kansas City Atheist Coalition volunteered at Spofford Home, a leading provider of prevention and therapeutic treatment services for children ages 4 to 12 suffering the effects of physical and sexual abuse, neglect and mental health disorders.  This year, we brought Halloween to the children at Spofford Home.

Our members dressed up as various characters to focus on a fun festive time while providing a positive atmosphere for the children.  We brought various Halloween-themed books and read with groups of children.  In addition, we brought miniature pumpkins, paints and various crafts so they could paint jack-0-lanterns.  After they completed painting their jack-o-lanterns, every child received trick-0-treat Halloween candy for participating.

Halloween is one of our favorite times of the year.  🙂

Fun With Animals

The Kansas City Atheist Coalition volunteered at the Humane Society of Kansas City.  More than 20 atheists showed up to care, play, and socialize with dogs and cats awaiting good people for adoption.

We brought in various supplies, such as towelettes, as a donation to the Humane Society.  We cleaned pet cages, sanitized stations, brushed and cleaned the dogs.  Finally, KCAC President Josh Hyde even offered to do the laborious task of consolidating and organizing adoption files.

We look forward to working with the Humane Soceity again soon!  After all, who could avoid such a cute purring or barking furry face?

When did Nice become Bad? Skepticism to Cynicism

“Being nice does not make you correct.” This statement was recently lobbed at me and is one I absolutely agree with. Niceness has little to no real bearing on whether an assertion is actually correct. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s try the following: “Being a jerk does not make you correct.” Asking which is a better approach is the wrong question. There isn’t a specific propriety of conversational behavior that is a panacea to all our conversational woes. Each conversation—indeed, every person you have ever conversed with—is different. Certainly there will be plenty of topical similarities between various people, especially when discussing issues of religion, atheism, skepticism, et cetera. What varies in this scenario are the participants. Different people with differing perspectives, approaches and personalities. So why is it that suddenly the concept of being nice is viewed poorly as you approach a discussion right out of the conversational gate? I don’t have to respect or agree with their belief/idea in order to be nice to someone. So, what gives?

The reciprocal “golden rule” is something that might immediately come to mind. “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” This idea translates in the the conversational sphere between two people of differing views—treat people with a modicum of humanity and respect, and you may get it in return. It is also noteworthy to realize that words have the ability to cause as much psychological sway as a fist has physical sway to dislocating a jaw. But, that’s not always the biggest issue at play. The problem many of us face is framing the dialogue in such a way that can strip the humanity from someone because they don’t agree with you. Again, this isn’t about whether you are correct or not, because you very well could be. It simply is a reminder to think back to the golden rule – a reminder of how you initially present yourself and your argument. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t/can’t change the framing of your argument later, however. I’m simply arguing for leading with a modicum of courtesy when you begin a discussion. I would even go so far to say that framing your position and yourself in a jerk-ish manner from the start won’t bode well with providing as much information to others with whom you are attempting open dialogue.  It also won’t do well for those who are your target audience either. This is completely different than accommodating a person’s position. Let’s also get this out of the way now and cement this before it gets carried away: being nice does not mean that you accommodate an idea to which you disagree. One can disagree with someone, yet remain respectful to them or at least attempt to do so. Being nice or respectful has nothing to do with giving preferential treatment to someone either, especially when one treats others, regardless of belief, in a respectful manner equally. The difficulty is when so many personally identify their idea/belief as themselves. The best option, I’ve found, is to remind them that attacking their idea or belief does not mean that you are attacking them as a person. For all you know, they could be swell and nice people, but just do good things for the wrong reasons.

No two arguments are ever quite the same. My method of framing is to remain malleable based on the intent, content, and nature of the argument. However, I will always initially strive to be nice with others, and attempt to keep the dialogue as open as possible. Which leads me to the final stretch of this article and part of the title, skepticism to cynicism.  Skepticism is not cynicism. A skeptic strives to question the veracity of claims without evidence. A cynic leads with distrust and contempt. A skeptic consistently examines the value of information they have. A cynic habitually looks on the dark side of things. Being skeptical of religious claims, pseudoscientific claims, or any manner of superstition, is not being cynical. I am not necessarily leading with distrust or disparaging the motives of a person before they are even given. I know what you are thinking, that my knowledge of a topic influences my decision. Of course, why wouldn’t it? I have acquired knowledge, and I can utilize that knowledge to the benefit of the discussion. But, this is a far cry from contempt or distrust of someone who thinks they mean well, even if they are wrong. I just prefer to not act like a jerk about it.

I’m going to be nice, because that’s who I am. Being nice to someone with whom I disagree does not mean I am accommodating their belief. Being nice to someone with whom I disagree does not mean I am giving preferential treatment. One of the biggest struggles we atheists face is gaining acceptance and understanding. What happens when atheists remove the stigma and misconceptions surrounding them? What happens when I can start demonstrating that I am good without the belief in a god? Well, I think that’s when people will start questioning their own beliefs independently. That all starts with a simple smile, hopefully a hug, and the words “Hello, I’m an atheist.”

Inaugural Charity Volleyball Tournament

Time: 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 22

Location: Abundant Life Baptist Church, 414 SW Persels Road, Lee’s Summit, MO 64081

Join the Kansas City Atheist Coalition and Abundant Life Baptist Church for an “Atheist vs. Christian” volleyball tournament. Six teams of six players will compete, ending with an all-star atheist vs. an all-star Christian playoff!

$5 tickets to watch the tournament can be purchased at the door. All proceeds go directly to Drumm Farm, a Kansas City-based foster and adoptive care resource center.

Pizza and soda will be provided by Abundant Life Baptist Church.

Atheists In The Park

Community is incredibly important to us.  So, the KCAC tries to cultivate and do a lot of fun community events to help us thrive.  It not only helps us get to know each other better and meet new people, but allows us to simply relax and a good time.

Atheists from all over the Greater Kansas City community came to Loose Park to have a cook out on a fine summer afternoon.  We not only met new atheists (as well as new friends), we practiced our volleyball skills for an upcoming charity game(or something that could resemble “volleyball”), enjoyed fun conversation, and had an overall blast!  And finally, what is a bit of community without charity?  Atheists from all over also helped raise supplies for Camp Quest KC summer camp.

This seems like a tradition that we will continue again next year.

Helping Operation Breakthrough

May 17, 2012 KCAC helped Operation Breakthrough get ready for a classroom remodel. Operation Breakthrough is a Kansas City-based, nationally accredited nonprofit corporation that began in 1971 as a response to requests from parents in the central city for quality child care for children of the working poor. KCAC helped Operation Breakthrough move desks, chairs, rugs, cabinets and educational supplies out of several classrooms in preparation for a much-needed remodel.