Atheists who are white, middle-class, and convinced that religion is the only thing standing between us and a glorious proletariat revolution.

They go something like this:

White Middle Class Atheist: Did you hear about the awful thing the Pope said? Religion is a tool of the patriarchy!

Me: It sounds like the Pope is a tool of the patriarchy, but maybe not all religion?

WMCA: No! Religion is just a load of patriarchy.

M: What about Native American religions?

WMCA: I don’t know anything about those. But I’m sure they’re a tool of the patriarchy.

M: What about liberation theology?

WMCA: I don’t know anything about that. But I’m sure it’s a tool of the patriarchy, too.

M: You know, there are a lot of traditions that aren’t like white conservative American middle-class Christianity.

WMCA: What? Sorry, I wasn’t listening.

M: Never mind. Do you know anything about Sufism?

WMCA: Islam is a tool of the patriarchy.

M: Right. It’s just, you know, contemplative traditions aren’t usually all that invested in human hierarchies. In fact, I think these traditions might be really useful in ending patriarchy. Their whole focus is on our interconnectedness, and love.

WMCA: Hippie. Contemplation is a waste of time. We have science now.

M: Scientific studies have actually shown that meditation has a lot of physical and mental benefits. It reduces anxiety and depression, increases happiness and empathy, decreases the amount of distress you feel when you are in pain, and is associated with greater ability to concen…

WMCA: You know, Buddhist priests in Japan took part in the war against Korea. Religion is a tool of oppression.

M: Religion is made up of people, and people are imperfect. It was scientists who conducted the Tuskegee experiments, but that doesn’t mean all of science, or the scientific method itself, is a tool of oppression.

WMCA: That was bad science. Good science is perfect.

M: But that’s holding science to a standard that is completely different from the one you’re holding religion to. Anyone who does something wrong is just doing “bad science,” and their actions have no implications for science as a whole, but if any religious person does something wrong, you dismiss all religion.

WMCA: There was Catholic priest sex abuse!

M: I know. That was terrible. I just don’t think the actions of some priests in the Catholic Church implicate Quaker or Baha’i practitioners, or, for that matter, the Catholic nuns who are willing to spend their lives in prison to stop nuclear proliferation.

WMCA: Whatever. I’m just a skeptic. I only believe what I can see.

M: That’s not true. We all make tons of assumptions to make it through a day, including assumptions about our own experiences. Besides, you also believe in things you’ve been told. You believe in atoms, right?

WMCA: That’s different. It’s science.

M: Well, you have a reasonable belief that scientists are telling you the truth when they say they’ve observed something, so you believe them. Couldn’t the practitioners of shamanism be making a similar choice?

WMCA: No. That’s all primitive monkey-heart-eating nonsense.

M: That’s a pretty racist thing to say.

WMCA: It’s not, because I think exactly the same thing about conservative white American Christianity.

M: Except the only religion you actually seem to know anything about is conservative white American Christianity. You’re making generalizations about other traditions that sound a lot like the stuff colonizing Christians said. You’re completely unwilling to doubt your epistemology, even for a second. You’re just as dogmatic as the people who make you so angry. Anyway, if native traditions are so useless, why do pharmaceutical companies keep stealing their medicine?

WMCA: That’s not stealing. It’s scientific discovery. Anyway, I just think we’d be better off if everyone was an atheist.

M: Maybe we’d be better off if fundamentalists gave up their rigidity, but religion is a mixed bag in terms of its impact on the world. It inspires people to work harder to do good. It inspired Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. Sure, it can be harmful, but that’s true of any institution. You’re a socialist, right?

WMCA: Sure.

M: Well, then you know that even though governments are often forces for terrible things, it is possible to make better, more democratic governments that serve people. A radical corporatist takes one example of bad government and uses it to justify taking away the possibility of government doing anything that’s useful to people. You’re doing the same thing with religion.

WMCA: That’s totally different.

M: It’s really not. Institutions are populated by people, and people do crappy things sometimes. You could abolish all social structures, but then you’d still have people, and they’d still do crappy things sometimes. The only way that will change is with a genuine, heartfelt effort that can only come from within. Ironically enough, that’s exactly what most religions are designed to inspire. Most of the major social justice movements have had a religious element. Do you think that’s just a coincidence?

WMCA: Yes. You just want everyone to learn creationism. You’re like the Taliban!

M: What?

WMCA: Why do you hate science? I’ll bet if you were sick, you’d take Western medicine.

M: What? I don’t hate science…

WMCA: If you had cancer, you’d get chemo! Why do you insist on defending the Crusades?


WMCA: It’s people like you who killed George Tiller!

M: I’m pro-choice!  Listen, I just believe that religion has value. I’m not the Grand Inquisitor.

WMCA: You know what’s great? The Flying Spaghetti Monster.

M: Finally, something we can agree on.