||[Mar. 28th, 2010|11:12 pm]
This is part two of my thoughts on so-called "Atheist Fundamentalism". Part one can be found here.|
I ended my last post with a promise to discuss "pushiness" when it comes to atheism. In doing so, I would like to give a bit of context. It is well-documented that atheists are a despised and hated group in the States. A 2007 paper[pdf] from the University of Minnesota published in the American Sociological Review offers some very compelling evidence supporting the idea that atheists are, in fact, one of the least trusted groups. The paper cites a 2003 survey where Americans revealed that they would rather have their child marry a Muslim or an African American than an atheist. A staggering 47.6% would disapprove of their child marrying an atheist compared to 33.5% for Muslims and 27.5% for African Americans.
Another survey, conducted in 1999, indicates that a mere 49% of Americans would vote for an otherwise qualified atheist presidential candidate. Compare with homosexuals who were (are?) also very distrusted with only 59% of Americans voting for an otherwise qualified candidate. Black folks and women register at above 90%. For all intents and purposes, those latter two groups are politically equal. The civil rights and feminism movements have made great strides in securing equal rights when it comes to having like-minded elected officials. Atheists on the other hand, are represented by a scant 1 member of the US Congress out of 535 members. This, despite fully 3% of Americans (as of the 2000 GSS) saying they "don't believe in God."
I don't mean for this to turn into "Oh, boo-hoo. I discard the supernatural and now people hate me." I'm trying to prove a point. Atheists are discriminated against in both the public and private spheres. As a group, they are distrusted more than gays, blacks or women. Perhaps the one advantage atheists have is that they, like homosexuals, have the option of staying "closeted." Unlike being female or being of a non-majority race, an atheist can "pass" as generically monotheistic. But this only serves to raise the question: "Why should they have to?" There is no good answer to this other than, "They shouldn't." And yet, atheists that publicly express their views are consistently characterized too angry, too "pushy."
Comments such as this are dismissive. When someone calls a feminist "shrill", or says someone's "playing the race card", what they are really saying is this: "Your concerns are overstated. Your so-called 'issue' isn't an issue." In speaking of the race card, even the very phrasing makes it clear: racial discrimination isn't a valid concern, it's just a game. Allusions to the gay "agenda" are even more insidious, implying some sort of malevolent plan that threatens heterosexual America. The same behavior is evident when someone says that they don't believe in god, or they don't subscribe to organized religion, but they try to dismiss the likes of Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris as angry or pushy or fundamentalist. They may even say something like "some of my best friends are atheists." Does that ring any bells?
But the simple truth is, atheists do have something to be angry about. Lots of things, in fact. Religious belief and the inexplicable respect society ascribes to "people of faith" is at the heart of the most insidious crimes against of humanity of our time. An obvious target right now is the Catholic church with its "wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority." In case you haven't been following the news, I'm referring to the recently uncovered direct linking of the Pope to child abuse cover-ups. The Pope's response? He's not worried about it. But that's just the big story today. I could just as easily be talking about his stance on AIDS. Or (just so I'm not picking exclusively on the Catholics) how about the possibly successful movement* to make homosexuality a capital crime in Uganda. This movement was backed not only by Christians in Uganda, but by American evangelicals working abroad. And this doesn't even scratch the surface. I could talk about Islamic abuses against women and homosexuals. I could talk about the caste system espoused by Hinduism. To hit closer to home, I could talk about the psychological torture of children taught by many sects of Christianity.
The common thread across all of these examples (and many others), is that they are the direct result of valuing fundamental religious doctrines. From the infallibility of the Pope, to the "abomination" that is homosexuality, to the reality of eternal damnation; religious belief is responsible for greatest and most reprehensible crimes against humanity in our time. So yes. Atheists are angry. We're angry because no one else seems to be willing to examine the actions of people of faith with an objective eye. We're angry because we're stigmatized as evil and immoral when it's actually the religious that are untrustworthy, imbalanced, and inhumane. We're angry because people call us "angry" "pushy" or "fundamentalist" in an effort to discredit our message by attacking our methods. We're angry because we have reason to be.
The question becomes will any of this do any good? Can atheists' vision of reason and rationality over dogmatism and doctrime bring positive change in the face of dismissiveness and disregard? I believe it can. As I've mentioned, atheism faces many of the same struggles faced by the feminist, LGBT, and civil rights movements, both historically and presently. But history backs me up here: if you want to start a revolution, you have to do it by being loud and being proud. You have to do it by choosing to stand for what you believe in even when it would be easier to be complacent to avoid embarrassment or discrimination. Signing petitions is all well and good. You should state your point clearly and concisely where possible. But anger, "fundamentalism", and pushiness won't hurt either.
* WARNING: I was so disgusted by the behaviours exhibited in this video, I couldn't finish watching it except in tiny portions. Click at your own risk.