Hemant Mehta at Friendly Atheist has a poll up in reaction to a recent New York Times article about the differences in methods between various atheists; ie. those who believe in being friendly and tolerant with religious people without actually conceding any credibility to their silly beliefs (the example given is Chris Mooney), and those who believe in an all-out assault on religion and superstition for the sake of science and reason (à la PZ Myers):
Where Would You Place Yourself on the Spectrum?
[results as of 10/17/10 11:42 AM]
Confrontationalist/Close to it [60.65% (262 votes)]
Accommodationist/Close to it [5.79% (25 votes)]
Somewhere closer to the middle [25.69% (111 votes)]
Haven't decided [2.08% (9 votes)]
Don't care [5.79% (25 votes)]
Being my casual, carefree self, I was quick to stick my vote in “Don’t care”. Not that I don’t care about dealing with theists and their wrong and often damaging beliefs, but (as per the actual poll question) that I don’t care about being primarily aggressive or passive in my approach. I don’t believing in sticking to one label or another, or in being only or primarily a confrontationalist or an accommodationist (or even anywhere in between, which implies being somewhat ambiguous and 50-50 about it all, which is simply muddled thinking. Have an opinion already).
I believe in dealing with each situation differently and tailoring my reaction according to my gut and the circumstances. If my interlocutor is a boring or irritating twerp intent on proselytizing their crap to me and being generally obnoxious, I will have no qualms with informing them precisely the manner in which they can fuck off (amongst other things). Conversely, if someone comes up to me and tries to talk about their religious beliefs in a polite and genial manner, then there is certainly no point in trying to rhetorically tear them apart, to crush them when no harm is being done. I might enter the discussion or just politely tell them that I’m not in the mood at the moment for such a conversation, and that’d be the end of it. No-one has to be offended for nothing.
The problem with describing oneself as a confrontationalist or an accommodationist (or anything else of the sort), as I see it, is that not only is one then stuck with their chosen label (which could bite them in the rear should they eventually change their minds), but so often they end up trying to live up to it one way or another. And I just don’t believe in that. You react to every situation differently, so why bother calling yourself an all-out confrontationalist if you aren’t always gonna tear theists’ beliefs apart any chance you get, or a soft-spoken accommodationist if you don’t always complacently accept what they say? These labels are simplistic and wrong and should be discarded in favor of what people really are: Flexible and fluid as per the situation.