Tweeting with the Enemy: Forging an Unlikely Alliance
July 12, 2010
In seeking to build bridges between secular and religious communities, it is sometimes easy to get distracted by the numerous vocal detractors I encounter; particularly because the majority of critiques I get come from members of my own secular community. Because the work I do is so often met with criticism — negative comments on my blog, youtube videos calling me a coward, and even threatening robocalls — I am sustained when my efforts result in the realization of coalitions between communities that, prior to dialogue, seemingly stood in opposition. These unexpected connections, like a robust dialogue event I put together between Secular Humanists and Muslims, have become a trademark of what I do. And yet I continue to find myself surprised by the unlikely people this work draws in.
Last week my opinion piece for the Secular Student Alliance on “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” caught the attention of a conservative Christian who maintains the Twitter handle “SillyLiberals.” This account lists its name as “Anti Liberal” and has the following written out under the Bio field: “Liberalism: a false religion based on false hope, concocted by a Godless people. Btw, how is that whole hopey changey thing workin’ out for ya? Nobama 2012.” It seems unlikely that we could be any more different in our political positioning. It is safe to say that I’m pretty left of center in my thinking; meanwhile, this individual recently tweeted, “My favorite oxyMORONs: ‘Prochoice Christian’, ‘Gay Pride’, ‘Prochoice Post-op Tranny’ & let’s not forget ‘Liberal Pride.’ Silly liberals.”
And yet, to my surprise, I received a tweet from SillyLiberals shortly after my piece went up saying: “Good article! You may be the most sensible secularist I know of. Aside from that whole ‘Godless’ thing, you’re alright.” After clarifying that the latter part of the tweet was semi-sarcastic, SillyLiberals added: “I really did appreciate your sensibility. That’s what’s missing in the leadership of the ‘seculars’.” I tweeted back a note of gratitude for the compliment, stating that I think the secular community has a long way to go in how it engages with difference. SillyLiberals responded: “I agree with that 100% & I appreciate your diplomatic approach. It may only prove to be futile, but don’t give up!”
I believe that SillyLiberals is wrong about the futility of what I do, and I think our exchange proves it. This work is anything but futile; it is often dizzyingly fruitful. I cannot imagine another context in which such starkly diametrical individuals would’ve established a common ground. I do think, however, that SillyLiberals’ concerns are legitimate: in its frequently antagonistic posturing toward the religious, the secular community hasn’t exactly reassured the larger American populace of its best intentions. The alienating aim of many members of the secular community creates a self-fulfilling prophecy (ironic here, I know). I constantly hear secular folks bemoaning the reality that we are a disliked minority; yet moments later, we turn around and mock those who differ from us theologically. Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot.
We are still a young movement that has a lot of growing up to do. With age comes humility and, hopefully, a desire to be open to the experiences of others so that we may learn from those who are radically different from us. Diplomacy is the only way to solve the systemic problems of our time, including anti-Atheist sentiments, and we cannot “fight the good fight” alone. As I said in the aforementioned SSA piece, “we have only ourselves to blame when [those we mock] decline to advocate for us in the future.” And we have only ourselves to blame for missing out on the opportunity to forge the unlikely alliances that will facilitate the social progress we claim to seek.
I am thrilled and honored that my work is building bridges across cavernous ideological differences. I believe it is an amazing testament to the power of dialogue and the goodness of being respectfully open to the experiences of others that a queer Secular Humanist can win over a staunch conservative by defending Muslims. Now this individual, despite our profound disagreement on pretty much everything, has opened his or her mind to the legitimacy of secular morality and the possibility of respectful interfaith and secular engagement. Such incredible moments are why I do this work.
We’re living in a globalized future in which we must diplomatically engage with people who maintain distinctly different identity markers. If a hardline, anti-gay conservative gets it, why do so many of my progressive, secular peers miss the mark? It’s time to refocus; to turn our arrows away from barbed religious critiques and aim for dialogue. This is how the secular community will change hearts and minds — even when limited to 140 character tweets.