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Growing up, my Mother would often admonish my not-so-nice outbursts by referring to the line Thumper is taught in "Bambi": "If you can't say something nice, don't say nuthin at all." Now, this failed for a number of reasons, the main reason being that I am human. The second reason is one I learned later in my childhood - for practically every statement one can make, there is at least one person in the world who will take offense. Some statements garner more offended people than others. Still, I was trained to at least hear an opponent out. Of course, you can learn a lot from listening to a point of view that you might come to adopt yourself, but just as many lessons can be taken from those points of view that you will never adopt yourself (like a strategy to win the argument).
Do I passionately want a secular world filled with rational people and no superstition? Yes!! Do I think the world would be a better place without religion? Absolutely!! Do I feel that I should play an active role in bringing such a world about? Certainly, and I personally feel the best way to do this is is by presenting rational truths in an approachable and kind way.
This is a big point of contention in Atheism. I love Richard Dawkins, and when he talks about "taking off the kid gloves" when dealing with religion, that really appeals to me. In principle, I do think that the subjects of religion should be boldly approached and discussed, and not considered beyond question out of an undue respect. Sometimes offense is necessary for change. And, yes, sometimes I look at some religious people and think that their ridiculous ideas deserve nothing more than to be laughed at. But, in reality, it's people I'm dealing with, not computers or proofs, and laughing goes beyond necessary offense and crosses into the realm of unnecessary disrespect. Laughing and violent criticisms (even if they are true!) just polarize, and, in my experience, do NOTHING to promote the world I want. What it does promote is the false impression that most atheists are closed-minded brats.
The same goes for discussions about Objectivism. Am I an Objectivist? Probably. I share a majority of the collection of values titled Objectivist, and enough so that the term could describe nearly the whole of my personal moral structure. Still, I cannot see any real part of Ayn Rand's philosophy that requires people to go out of their way to proselytize or tear apart others. It's an egoistical system, and is beautiful in the way that it is intended to reign over the only thing that really is in your control as an individual - yourself. Altruism is discouraged, but giving freely out of one's own desire is a natural part of the philosophy. Selfishness is a virtue, but stealing from others is one of the worst vices. The Aristotelian influences of her writing make me think that whatever Rand's natural demeanor, or any bitterness she may have harbored and redistributed at will due to her personal struggles, she would not have completely rejected his virtues of friendliness and magnanimity. (Pausing here a moment for the oft-forgotten explanation of magnanimity, as illustrated in the Nicomachean Ethics: the virtue possessed by someone who has a "great soul," their priorities in pristine order, and is truly deserving of the highest praise awhile having a correct attitude towards the honor this may involve. This does not mean over-the-top selfless generosity, and does not require self-deprecation.) Some hard-line Objectivists, I think, forget the fact that a life philosophy such as Objectivism is still intended for the human good. Dogmatism in pretty much any form is disastrous because I don't know of a system that exists that can account for every complexity of the human experience. A flexible reed can survive a storm when a dried-up rigid stick is snapped in half by the wind.
Life is an evolutionary experience. People change constantly as we process the world around us, and because of this, I prescribe kindness and patience in situations where we encounter those people who are religious or don't understand Objectivism. Part of allowing people to grow is allowing them to express their views to you. Besides the seed of trust that is planted from your respect, you can learn how to address their questions and concerns in a way that they can understand, process, respond and learn. I'm not sure that any atheists yet exactly understand the heart of the existence of religiousness, the very human reason that it exists, and until we can diagnose that, we shouldn't be yelling out "cures" blindly. We should be sharing what we know, what we've learned, and how we learned it. Ask an Atheist day is a wonderful opportunity for this dialogue. The release of Atlas Shrugged is an extraordinary opportunity to illustrate the ways in which Objectivism contributes at a happier, healthier human existence instead of spending way too much time calling everyone else "looters."
Some people may perceive a desperate and immediate need for change, and this may be sparking the stunningly adversarial reactions I often encounter in those who share my beliefs. I do agree that there are extreme instances in which the need to react strongly is necessary, such as a child dying because religious parents refuse to take them to a doctor. However, I would assert that acting this way all of the time is counterproductive to achieving the overall goal we share, for the reasons I mentioned above.
I don't doubt that saying this could earn me a few enemies, or entice people to say I'm just trying to avoid conflict or that I don't have the ovaries for the fight. I hope that I can express that I want this just as badly as everyone else, but I see a different, maybe smarter path to the goal. I'm not about self-sacrifice, and I don't intend to waste my life screaming wildly when I see a more productive option. I want to take into account that humans have amazingly complex emotions and intellects, and I want to work with that! I want a world in which I don't have to overcome the stereotype of being a dogmatic, mean, radical before even engaging in conversation.
I really hope that my open, honest and friendly attitude toward those who disagree with me makes a difference. I hope I can be an example to how others can deal with conflict in a healthier and more effective way. But if it doesn't, it still makes me a happier person with lower blood pressure and a more joyful life.