One thing that pisses me off in political threads (ranted about at length here) is the idea that the two sides of the political debate are automatically equivalent to each other, just opposite. But in that context, at least the two groups in question are both basically the same kinds of groups defined in the same way. But there’s another, even STUPIDER, arena in which people on the SDMB and in real life keep trying to set up false equivalences, which is in the question of religious people vs. atheists/agnostics, or more commonly, fundies vs. “extreme atheists”, whatever the heck that means.
I’ve seen a remarkable number of rants against “evangelical” atheists, and seemingly-fair comments like “oh, well, there are extremist assholes on both sides”, which basically attempt to claim that there’s a fundie atheist movement that is just as nasty and dogmatic and politically-hellbent as the fundie Christian movement, just a bit smaller because there are fewer of them in general. The implication is that pretty much every sin committed by Christians, or atheists, must be balanced out by a sin on the other side, because, oh, you know, we must be even-handed in our view of all issues and conflicts.
And silly as this idea is in the political arena, it’s VASTLY sillier in this one.
Let’s consider, for a moment, a devout (American) Christian:
-Every Sunday he goes to church
-He has an active community (his church) of people around him who are also Christians and who he interacts with specifically because of, and in the context of, their Christianity
-He has a prewritten book of morals and guidance that instruct him on how to live, which he may believe to be inerrant
-He has specific authority figures who he trust and reveres who help him interpret this book, and who provide guidance for him at difficult times in his life
-All the major rituals of his life (weddings, funerals, baptisms) come with church rituals and observances
-He is likely part of a national or international organization with its own stated political beliefs and aims
-He very seriously believes one or more things about the universe that are not taught in schools, and are either not addressed by modern science, or (in some cases) appear to be in conflict with modern science
-He may perceive himself as being part of the Bedrock of American Culture, dating back to the founding fathers, and counting almost all Real Americans as part of his group.
-All of the above is very, very important to him - perhaps the single most central element of his existence.
NONE of these things are true about your average atheist or agnostic. Being an atheist or agnostic is HUGELY different than being a devout Christian. And not just in the sense that being a devout Muslim or Hindu or Pagan is different than being a devout Christian. It’s just a totally different kind of statement about someone.
If atheists and agnostics made up the same portion of the US that Christians do now, would there be atheist or agnostic equivalents of:
-“In God We Trust” and “One Nation, Under God”?
-The Christian Broadcasting Network and Pat Robertson
-Jehovah’s Witnesses and other missionaries?
-The Christian home schooling movement?
-The anti-gay-marriage movement?
and so on and so forth?
Now, I want to make a very important point here, which is that all of these differences I’m trying to point out do not make Christans WORSE than atheists. In fact, there are plenty of contexts in which all of the above things I was listing are strengths. A cohesive community of people with a strong moral code can be (and has been, and is, and will be again) a fantastic thing doing incredibly good things for America and for humanity. When disasters strike, the faithful can go to their churches and have a pre-built organization already dedicated to charity around which to build their relief efforts; there is no atheist or agnostic equivalent (not that atheists or agnostics can’t give to charity, of course). Having faith and moral guides can help people grow up to be ethical and decent human beings, and in fact many enormous strides in the progress of American morality (for instance, abolitionism) have been driven by Christians motivated by their faith. But my point here is that they are NOT JUST TWO SIDES OF THE COIN.
To sum up: atheists/agnostics are NOT just like Christians, only different. Any abuse by Christians is NOT automatically going to be equivalent to an abuse by atheists/agnostics. They do NOT just believe different things, but in precisely the same way. And whoever these rumored extremist atheists are, and whatever they believe, they are NOT particularly similar to extremist Christians. (For instance, they may be far more likely to be condescending assholes, but are certainly far less likely to want to legally restrict what consenting adults can do in the bedroom.)
End of rant.