One of the things I really like about the greater atheist community is it’s non-violent approach to social change. The Oatmeal wrote a comic about it awhile ago that still makes me chuckle.
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As much as Richard Dawkins may be insulting and condescending to religious sensitivities, the fact is that all he does is write and talk. He publishes books and gives lectures. He’s never threatened anybody physically, or tried to coerce anybody. He just uses words.
The vast majority of the atheist community thinks similarly. Stories of actual violence committed by atheists are incredibly rare. And even in those cases, the atheist community is quick to condemn the action, or even lend a hand or healing.
There’s a lot of similarities, I think with the feminist community as well. Though the occasional idiot might want to accuse them of witchcraft and infanticide, most people know feminists are generally a vociferous, yet peaceful crowd.
That’s why I was horrified when I read this story about a feminist protest in Argentina that erupted into mob violence and vandalism. Women attending the National Women’s Encounter, an annual event sponsored by the Department of Culture started vandalizing the city with pro-abortion graffiti. They then turned their attention to a local Catholic church, but were faced by a group of men who locked arms to prohibit them from advancing on the building. The women, many of them topless, started yelling and spitting at the Catholics before them. Video shows the women spray painting on the men’s clothing (including on their crotches) as well as writing on their faces with markers while simulating sexual acts in front of them. None of the the Catholics lashed out or responded in any way besides with prayer.
The video of this is NSFW, and incredibly frightening to watch. I couldn’t get through half of it before I had to turn it off with disgust.
What these women did is despicable, and the outcry from both the atheist and the feminist communities should be strong and immediate. I understand these women’s anger at the Catholic Church; some of the Church’s actions have been downright reprehensible. I believe the Vatican is one of the greatest forces blocking equality in women’s rights in the world.
However, there is a distinction between the church and it’s adherents. These women in Argentina physically, mentally, and sexually assaulted a group of people who were peacefully standing in their way. This sort of attack does the exact opposite of what these women want. They won’t gain acceptance of their ideas by threatening innocent bystanders or vandalizing a city, but instead they bolster the view that pro-life activists are violent and unreasonable.
The regrettably predictable blow-back by both pro-life proponents and anti-feminist circles began almost immediately. Callow MRAs are jumping on this story throwing around their favorite childish buzzwords like “harpie” and “femi-nazi”. Catholic apologists, on the other hand are calling the riot Satan’s work and claiming it’s an example of church persecution.
This is one of the important reasons never to turn to violence to spread ideas. You will always give your critics the very ammunition to tear you down. It’s been said by many people before me, but the atheist community has a lot to learn from the LGBTQ movement. Gay rights activists never once gave their opponents the opportunity to paint them as violent. And though the occasional moron will accuse them of it anyway, anybody with half a brain will know better.
The feminist and pro-choice movements took a hard hit last month thanks to this riot. Thankfully, I think both movements are strong enough and established enough not to face lasting damage. The atheist movement, however, might not be so lucky. We must be vigilant among ourselves so that we never live up to the lies the religious always accuse us of.