Plucked From The Nether: ‘”A” is for “Apathy”?’

In November of 2010, on my previous blog, I wrote a post with the title ‘”A” is for “Apathy”?’, ostensibly spurred on by a comment  by Sean of Bookonaut (née Blogonaut) fame. However, I didn’t disclose at the time that I’d already been mulling over commentary on much the same topic, made on Facebook, by a much-loved atheist who went by the name of Candy Hogan. This is what she posted, earlier in November 2010;

“when i go to read my newsfeed often want to scream. I understand the proud atheist thing, but WHY does EVERYTHING have to be about RELIGION? dammit, its boring! u might as well be practicing these religions u claim u hate cuz theyre ALL U TALK ABOUT!! in depth studies of inconsistancies… why isnt it enough to just not believe? new subject PLEASE???”

(Candy Hogan, November 18th, 2010)

I originally considered dedicating my post to her, however, given that I opened by quoting Sean (and that a dedication seemed potentially too familiar), I opted not to. A few weeks later, in early January 2011, after a bout of viral pneumonia, Candy Hogan’s life came to an end.

I’m periodically reminded of Candy every now and then (as I have been again, now) – she was witty, occasionally a little caustic (while still being witty), and thoroughly irreverent. Nobody, including atheists, could be guaranteed immunity from her sense of humour. Discussion, with Candy as a participant, was never allowed to stagnate for long, if at all, and even while for the most part I sat on the sidelines, I considered Candy’s thoughts worthy of attention.

So with the exception of a little spit-and-polish here and there, the following is ‘”A” is for “Apathy”?’ as it appeared in November of 2010, now re-dedicated to Candy. Vale Candy Hogan.


I have reason to empathize with Sean when he writes (on the matter of The Salvation Army alienating atheist supporters), “I tell you what Bruce, it’s the first time in two weeks I have enough care to comment on atheist issues…”

Yes. There are times when I find regular interaction with an explicitly atheist community on-line, tiresome. Especially on Facebook!

Before anyone frets, worries that they’ve done something to offend me, thinks that I’m about to rip the scarlet letter off of my blog or suspects that I’m about to de-friend all atheists on Facebook, please consider; frustration is a normal part of life, and there is such a thing as healthy venting and constructive criticism.

I’m not angry. I don’t regret expressing solidarity with the atheists I’ve met online.

Truth be told, I’ve probably de-friended at most about 2% of the atheists I’ve met on Facebook and I’ve found discussion with the other 98%+ mostly productive.

All the same, there are certain things that don’t need to be prolific in order to be annoying, irritating and apathy-generating. The healthy thing I think is to pare one’s apathy down to correspond to the specific irritation, rather than enact categorical write-offs.

So I’ll do that.

You know what I find really boring? Dodgy Bible quotes as status updates, again and again and again and again and…

Sure, do it if you have to. Maybe if you’ve come out of a particularly traumatizing fundamentalist sect, then maybe, just maybe, laughing incredulously at biblical absurdism is the only thing you’ve got right now that’s stopping you from spiraling into a state of anxiety. It’s hard to shake some things off after all. I’m not so callous as to fail to see that, but…

I’ve never been religious. I’ve long since been aware of biblical absurdisms, at least in certain popular readings as practiced by many Christians. I’ve read the Bible. I’ve read what people have had to say about the Bible.

You know what in principle I learn each time someone points out yet again, another contradictory parsing of parts of a holy text or its factual errors or moral turpitudes? The same thing I learned the hundred times before that; nothing. I can’t really be a part of this discussion, so I’ll opt out and let you do your thing. I really, really doubt that it’s just me.

It’s one thing if you can work something from the Bible into a pun, or something Pythonesque, it’s another thing to obsess about narrow biblical minutiae that a lot of us know and hear about ad nauseam. Godless people who are happy and healthy about being who they are, don’t need to ward off anxiety with this kind of fixation or fetish. Godless people who are informed and confident don’t find this kind of critique to be educational – they view it as conventional, uncontentious and unworthy at least until dealing with cases in which it actually has consequences.

It’s not going to score anyone points with the uber-atheists either, as if each time you spout a silly line from the Bible, Richard Dawkins will pat you on the head. There isn’t a running score, rewarded with in-group benefits, and if there was, should it be worth anything, it’d be measured on secular merit like achievements in science, ethics or art, not on the finer details of who-you-are-not.

At best this anxious holy myopia stuff is treading water.

Part of the point of this scarlet letter “A” thing is to reduce the consequences of marginalization felt by atheists from social spaces where they are marginalized. I don’t feel marginalized myself, but like some others in a similar position, I put myself out there in a spirit of solidarity with those atheists who aren’t so lucky.

The biblical absurdism fetish (and behaviour like it) is a barrier. It’s a margin. It comes between some of us and threatens to induce apathy, thereby frustrating attempts to help people truly interconnect. I haven’t de-friended anyone on Facebook over it (I save that for crap like “all Muslims are paedophiles” and other malicious acts*), but biblical fetishism doesn’t exactly encourage meaningful interaction.

If you’re treading water like this, perhaps what you need to do is put down your Bible, reach out your hand and let your cohort pull you out.

You still want to talk about religion? Okay. That’s fine. But if you want to seriously engage with your fellow atheists, rather than just forge superficial associations, the discussion has to be about more important things than abstract contradictions.

People being arrested in Palestine and Maldives for being atheists? Absolutely. Human rights are important.

Apostates asylum seekers being deported back to a jurisdiction that may execute them? I’m up for that. The humane handling of the immigration of asylum seekers is incredibly important.

Want a discussion about the anthropology of Eastern Christianity? Okay. Human history is full of valuable lessons.

Do you want to explore what literary criticism has to say about how The Bible is threaded through English literature as intertextuality? Cultural literacy is valuable.

As someone who is non-religious, who has never been messed up by a fundamentalist sect nor escaped from the allegedly post-modern tendrils of moderated religion, religion isn’t important to me until it at least potentially influences something that is important to me. I’m not alone. Bordering between the post-atheist condition, and that of the ex-fundamentalist, is a large territory, and there are many people here from various walks of life, with an array of values and experiences, but we have this much in common; we often don’t find religion relevant, but recognise better than smug post-atheists, that it religion is very well important in the lives of many non-religious people.

Subjectively, over a decade of reading other godless types online and off, would seem to confirm this.

If you’re moving away from religion, framing discussion of religion as influencing something you care about, rather than being the action thing you care about, is bound to be more rewarding psychologically, culturally and politically. It certainly beats sitting around a Bible and sniggering like Beavis and Butthead**.

Still, in future I’m going to maintain something between apathy toward, and irritation from, endlessly looped instances the likes of ‘heh heh… his name is Job… he’s a jobby… heh heh… heh…”jobby”… heh heh…’. It’s not because I have a particular dislike of the people engaged in the practice. It’s just that I don’t think it’s a healthy obsession, and even when it merely punctuates otherwise interesting discussion, it somehow still manages to be consistently boring.

Now I’m going to take a deep breath and get back on with things.

~ Bruce

* Which thankfully hasn’t been at all common.

** Yeah, yeah. Showing my age.