Wednesday March 18, 2015
Things get controversial today, as atheist comedian Patton Oswalt has harsh words for fundamentalist atheists.
The passion of Patton Oswalt
I’ve been accused of being hard on atheists. I actually try to go out of my way not to. Respecting people you disagree with and engaging them in dialog is the only way to progress intellectually. Without these things a culture decays.
I’ve always been a fan of Patton Oswalt. Unlike many comedians and contemporary folks in general he seems to allow himself to be his own person. He doesn’t just believe things because those around him do or fall in line with what’s presented to him. He’s also funny and a talented actor. Like George Carlin, even when he says things I (sometimes vehemently) disagree with I usually still laugh.
The atheist prophet speaks
He proved his knack for being his own person with some prophetic insights in an interview with Salon magazine recently. Although an atheist himself he perceptively understands how the vitriol of some of his fellow non-believers hurts the cause: “I feel, as an atheist, about people like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher the way that Christians must feel about [Westboro Baptist Church founder] Fred Phelps. Look, being an atheist means you don’t give a fuck about what anyone believes in. I don’t think any of it’s real, but you can go ahead and do it. I’m not trying to destroy religion. I just don’t care about it.”
Isn’t this the atheist view that makes the most sense? Every time I watch a Christian-themed video on YouTube the comments are littered with angry, spiteful, hateful atheists who call people names and are just angry (I’m certain they’ve all watched Maher’s Religulous). As Oswalt says, if they don’t believe that’s fine, more power to them, but they don’t have to be so violent against what they don’t believe. It’s only destructive.
Oswalt goes on:
I live by experience, failure, learning, that kind of stuff. Everyone that goes, ‘But all the war is because of religion, blah blah blah,’ well then you’re no different than the housewife that’s like, ‘My son killed himself because of a Judas Priest record.’ No, your son killed himself because he was an unstable idiot. Those people started wars because they were unstable idiots. They stumbled across this religion thing, but if they hadn’t found that book, they would have found something else. There’s always going to be Christians, always going to be Jews, Hindus, Muslims, so let’s find a way to make all that progress. Because that’s always been the solution of frightened people, if we could just get rid of this chunk, everything would work.
“All the war is because of religion,” as I’ve argued in the past, is patently false (see: the 20th fucking century). Oswalt’s comparison of people who do that to the housewife who blames Judas Priest for her son killing himself is spot on. “They stumbled across the religion thing, but if they hadn’t found that book, they would have found something else.” Indeed, as the 20th century proved. I hate to be a broken record but it’s a huge point that is often overlooked.
Against the easy way out
His last line is his most biting, vital, and critical: “That’s always been the solution of frightened people, if we could get rid of this chunk, everything would work.” Unfortunately, it’s easier to be frightened and hateful than it is to be respectful and dialog. It’s unfortunate that Oswalt is one of the only predominant contemporary atheists who understands this.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.