Questioning What Would JT Do?

Recently, JT Eberhard posted a lengthy interaction with a theist on his blog at Patheos.com. You don't often see notable atheists seek out a believer for an online disagreement, but JT decided to insert himself into somebody else's conversation. (Impossible to image Hitchens doing that.) In his blog post, I think JT missed the bigger picture, and I respectfully laid out my opposing position. In a nutshell, I would like to see JT use his notoriety within the atheist movement to make an actual difference instead of just kick up dust.

To be clear, JT is one of my favorite atheist bloggers. I think one of the best debates ever was one that JT did with Matt Dillahunty at Collin College, where he made some brilliant points, and to my mind was clearly more persuasive than the venerable Dillahunty. I like JT. I think he does good work, generally. But this blog post was a misstep. It reinforces the disagreeable stereotype that all atheists are angry blowhards.

I think JT came off as an atheist thug beating some woman with his logic stick. She learned nothing. His points were logically correct, but bounced off her skull. Theists are almost never persuaded in these situations; they just dig in their heels. We atheists pride ourselves in our logic, so why do we often not see the undeniable fact that picking fights with theists produces more harm than good?

Here are my comments:

JT, I'd like to disagree with you on a purely logical basis.

Your banner says "fighting religion tooth and claw". But in this post, you aren't fighting "religion", you're fighting just one woman. Even if you beat Mary into submission, you cannot hope to fight 300 million Americans one person at a time.

First, let's focus on the real problem, which for most atheists are religiously-based laws being shoved down our throats. And how do we affect lawmaking?

Example. How many head-to-head blog wars did gays fight to attract 2/3 of the US to support gay marriage? None, of course. Blog wars are not how you change public opinion. You win popular opinion by attracting allies.

The gays didn't convince 2/3 of America to be gay, they just convinced their friends they were worthy of respect. And their friends convinced still more, who convince even more. Once the ball started rolling, then closeted gays stepped forward; straight people stepped forward, which in turn won even more supporters. So success, for a minority like gays or atheists, is all about winning allies and forming a coalition.

In short, the only workable win-strategy for atheists is to form a coalition with non-atheists who will benefit from secular government. Who are they? Moderate Christians and every other minority religion, who all benefit from taking the bible out of the capital building. At 5% of the population, atheists can't do it alone, but a secular coalition can control dollars and votes, which elects secular politicians and judges. That's how secular laws happen, not by debating whether the tooth fairy exists.

JT, you have a genuinely fresh voice in the atheist movement. If you said something like, "let's make Thursdays 'atheist outreach day', and let's show Americans that atheists are regular decent moral people", you could start a groundswell that becomes something big. Something that could actually start to change people's minds in large numbers. That's real winning for atheism.

This is how I see it. What did I miss?

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