Thirdeye Magazine header image 2
A

Atheists Gravatus

A call to end the stigma.

May 3rd, 2007 · Written by · 6 Comments

Atheist vs Theist

“I am nothing,” she says, her eyes avoiding mine. In her face I see contradictory tinges of apathy and embarrassment, further complicating the interpretation of her already polysemous declaration. I am nothing. Maybe she thinks her life is a failure. Maybe she feels ineffectual in some specific regard. Or maybe she has accepted her relative unimportance in the vast cosmos.

At least explicitly, however, her statement was meant to convey none of these. It was a response to a simple question: What’s your religion?

We should not be surprised by the linguistic implications of her answer. The very term we use to describe her defines her by what she is not. But she’s afraid of that term now. She’s too often heard it used in a derogatory fashion: as an apocryphal tag for Hitler, for the “Godless” communists, for a whole array of evils that our Great Christian Nation toppled in the 20th century.

Distrust of atheists is certainly nothing new. John Locke, who of all philosophers had by far the greatest impact on the founding of the United States, was suspicious of atheists, believing them “immune to the covenants and bonds that hold together human societies.” That sentiment has reverberated through the intervening 230 years, today as deeply ingrained as ever, and much more insidious.

atheists occupy virtually the same place in society today that homosexuals did fifty years ago.

In 2006, a study conducted by the University of Minnesota found atheists to be America’s most “distrusted minority,” as well as the group that parents are “least willing to allow their children to marry.” Journalist David Baltimore observed in an American Scientist review that atheists occupy virtually the same place in society today that homosexuals did fifty years ago. Atheists are subject to at least as many everyday exclusions and offenses as other minorities, and in turn enjoy the least protections. Federal courts have repeatedly privileged religious objections over identical arguments based on secular morality. Groups like the Boy Scouts of America do not allow atheists into their organization. Neither did the Veterans of Foreign Wars until just recently rescinding their ban. Concordantly, statements like “There are no atheists in foxholes” deeply insult atheist men and women who have served in the military – so much so that an organization called Atheists in Foxholes has sprung up to protect their rights. A general assumption of religious faith pervades the most celebrated periods of the lifespan, from weddings to funerals to national holidays and almost everything in between.

A Gallup poll found that 51% of Americans believe it is impossible to be a moral person without believing in God. This view is shocking, considering the U.S. government’s principle of separation of church and state implies theism is not a necessary component of moral and just decisions.

Atheist Graph

But politics remains an especially unwelcoming place for atheists. An intolerant voting base makes it virtually impossible for an atheist to be elected to public office. There are three openly gay congressman and eleven Jewish U.S. Senators, yet despite there being more atheists in the United States than Jews and homosexuals combined, there are no atheists in either Congressional house. The President of the United States is an evangelical who considers his international policy to be an extension God’s Will. In a 2001 New York Times article entitled “Confessions of a Lonely Atheist,” Natalie Angier draws attention to the rhetoric used in one of George W. Bush’s first speeches as President. Although meant to be a call for conciliation, unity, and inclusion, Bush’s speech asked “every American” for one thing: “to pray for this great nation.” Senator Joseph Lieberman, whose own religion’s history of persecution has apparently not imbued him with empathy for similarly disaffected minorities, is quoted by Angier as stating that our Constitutional freedom of religion should not lead us to “indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

Perhaps the most surprising and ironic phenomenon, though, relates to the high proportion of atheists among two of our country’s most respected professions: scientists and professors. Far from having a positive impact on the general acceptance and perceived trustworthiness of non-religious individuals, it appears that scholars themselves display a sort of self-loathing intolerance for atheists. How else can we explain the disapproving and even mocking response within academia to Richard Dawkins’ admittedly passionate breed of atheism? Throughout history, religious extremists have persecuted and oppressed freethinking individuals. Today, fundamentalists viciously attack scientific principles that contradict their beliefs, often using the public school system as a battleground. Yet when a scientist offers a passionate defense and – scandalously – even ventures to go on the offensive, he is ridiculed as being overzealous and “fundamentalist” in his own right. Perhaps most scholars’ long residency in secular intellectual havens has made them forget just how atheists are treated outside of those enlightened enclaves.

Clearly, the very use of the term atheism needs to be rethought, and it may need to be discarded. Not only does atheism encompass such a broad range of belief systems that it’s difficult to offer an essential definition that isn’t a negation, but the term is inaccurate in its implication that there are only two categories of ideologies in the world and offensive in its suggestion that theism is the natural default from which all other belief systems diverge. This argues for a subdivision of the classification of atheists, which in turn calls for scholarly efforts to better understand atheistic worldviews.

Politically, however, there is a more immediate and workable remedy to the unequal treatment of atheists. Over the past half century, our society has (very) slowly honed its aptitude in protecting minorities, and the most important step in this case is simply to add atheism to the list of those in need of protection. And although some extremists would call for a substantial reduction of religion’s influence in the West, they represent a tiny fraction of atheists in this regard. The overwhelming majority of atheists are models of tolerance, perfectly comfortable coexisting with individuals of all faiths and backgrounds. It is time they receive the same respect.

Tags: Nonfiction · Philosophy · ·

6 Comments so far ↓

  • armingtheamish

    Yes, Love your neighbor as yourself.

    Do you know who Jesus was talking about in that story?

    It wasn’t his fellow super religious Jews, it was a samaritan.

    check it out:

    (from wikipedia)

    Historical contexts and modern recasting
    Samaritans were hated by the story’s target audience, the Jews, to such a degree that the Lawyer did not mention them by name but as “The one who had mercy on him.” The Samaritans in turn hated the Jews. Thus the parable, as told originally, incorporated the current religious and ethic tension to teach, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice: and the knowledge of God more than burnt sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). But as the story reached those who were unaware of the oppression of the Samaritans, this aspect of the parable became less and less discernible: fewer and fewer people ever heard of them in any context other than as a description. Today the story is often recast in a more modern setting where the people are ones in equivalent social groups known to not interact comfortably.

    Thus cast appropriately, the parable regains its message to modern listeners: namely, that an individual of a social group they disapprove of can exhibit moral behaviour that is superior to individuals of the groups they approve; it also means that not sharing the same faith is no excuse to behave poorly, as there is a universal moral law. Many Christians have used it as an example of Christianity against racial and ethnic prejudice.[3][4][5]

    And might i add, atheists.

    I love you too,

    t-dub

  • ARIAGIA

    DEAR FAKE “ATHEIST”, I KNOW YOU WANT TO PRETEND YOU HAVEN’T FOUND YOURSELF YET AND YOU ARE LOST. THIS IS A WAKE UP CALL. THE ALARM IS SET. YOU CAN HEAR THE SIREN. THIS ARTICLE IS IN THE THIRDEYE MAGAZINE! IF YOU PICK UP THE PIECES OF THE PUZZLE, YOU CAN WAKE UP AND SEE AGAIN–WHETHER YOU WANT TO BE AN “OCCULT” “HEATHEN” “PAGAN” AND GO TO “HELL” OR “HADES”, OR THROW AWAY THE CONCEPT OF “RELIGION” TO UNDERSTAND YOUR SCIENTIFIC AND BIOLOGICAL ORIGINS BEFORE THE “BIG BANG” THAT WE WANT TO CALL A “THEORY”, *JUST READ BARUCH SPINOZA* AND REMEMBER THE TIME BEFORE EGYPT AND AFRICA. THEN YOU CAN BREATHE PROPERLY OUT OF YOUR MODERN LUNGS INSTEAD OF YOUR SKIN THAT YOU KEPT FOCUSING ON AS A HUE MAN OR WOMAN OR TRANSEXXUAL NON- GENDERED OR GENDERED–AND, I AM ALWAYS HERE FOR YOU AND I WILL SUPPORT YOU WITHOUT KNOCKING YOU DOWN IN THE PROCESS LIKE YOUR FELLOW HUMANS OR REPTILIANS OR HYBRIDS WOULD. BECAUSE YOU KEEP CONDUCTING RHINOPLASTY ON YOURSELF AND BELIEVING IN CONSPIRACY THEORIES.

  • ARIAGIA

    Many “Christians” have used it as an example of “Christianity” against “racial” and “ethnic” prejudice. 1/2/3 LABEL LABEL TRASH

    And might i add, “atheists”.

    I AM SICK OF YOUR RELIGION AND RACIAL LIES. EVEN THE FAKE SUPPOSEDLY “NON-RELIGIOUS” ATHEISTS STILL HAVE A RE-LIGION, THE ONE WHERE THEY’RE FORCED FED CRAPPY IDEOLOGIES AND GET “CONFUSED” IN THE PROCESS ABOUT SOCIAL HIERARCHIES. BECAUSE YOU KEEP DISTRACTING WITH LABELS THAT I HAVE TO CONSTANTLY THROW AWAY!!!!! IT IS BEYOND HUMAN, BEYOND RACE OR RELIGIONS. LOOK TO THE STARS AND STOP YOUR BULL CRAP, OR ELSE YOU WILL TURN INTO STARDUST OR JUST ANOTHER CARBON FOOTPRINT, AND THEN EVENTUALLY A FOSSIL IN THE GROUND.

  • ARIAGIA

    “Atheists are subject to at least as many everyday exclusions and offenses as other minorities, and in turn enjoy the least protections.”

    AND THE SMART “ATHIESTS” WILL RELABEL AND REDEFINE THEMSELVES. THEY WILL USE THEIR BRAIN AND SPIRIT AND DNA IN A DIFFERENT WAY, TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX THAT HAS BEEN CONSTRUCTED FOR THEM AS A SO CALLED “MINORITY”. SOMETIMES I WONDER ABOUT THE MEANING OF “ATHEIST”, TOO, BECAUSE YOU/THEY/WE KEEP SHOVING ANTIQUATED CONSTRUCTS LIKE RACE, RELIGION, AND ATHEISM DOWN MY THROAT, SOCIETY.

    INCLUDE AND PROTECT YOURSELF!!!!! SHIELD YOURSELF FROM THE MADNESS AND ENJOY LIFE WITHOUT THE TRASHY OFFENSES! :) RE-CONSTRUCT, DE-CONSTRUCT, COLLECTIVE CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM!

  • ARIAGIA

    THE STIGMA ENDS WHEN I/YOU/WE INCLUDE Y/OURSEL/VES :) THANK YOU FOR THE ARTICLE!

  • ARIAGIA

    THE CODE IS BROKEN WHEN PARABLES ARE NOT SPOKEN. I APPROVE OF THE CODE WITHOUT STIGMA ON AN INTERNATIONAL SPECTRUM, UPHOLDING THE HIGHEST STANDARDS OF EXCELLENCE WITH POSTorMODERN BEHAVIOR AS “LAW” WHEN OTHERS DEEM THEM AS “UNLAWFUL” BECAUSE OTHERS AGREE TO DISAGREE IN THE DEBATE. I love to illustrate, paint pictures, and narrate…for the record(s). So, I post this message on my digital technology…the blog post.

Leave a Comment

You must log in to post a comment.