Minorities tend to be misunderstood by majorities.
Whites don't really know what it is like to be African American. Heterosexuals don't really know what it is like to be homosexual, or more broadly, LGBTQ. And religious believers don't know what it is like to be atheist.
(Note: I was a religious believer for 35 years, Eastern mysticism variety, so I'm very familiar with both religious belief and atheism -- having deconverted from my previous belief about 14 years ago.)
So as an atheist, I haven't been surprised by the response of many to my also-atheist wife, Laurel, using the public comment period at a Salem (Oregon) City Council meeting to complain about the Mayor's 2019 State of the City address being preceded by a Christian pastor calling upon God/Jesus to bless the Mayor, and for everyone in attendance to pray.
I wrote about this a few days ago in "Praying shouldn't be part of public meetings." That blog post attracted the attention of KATU news in Portland, which interviewed my wife and Mayor Chuck Bennett as described in this KATU story and accompanying video.
On Facebook I've seen numerous comments along the lines of, If you object to praying, just don't do it and You should leave religions alone to do their own thing.
While these sorts of attitudes roughly reflect how my wife and I also feel, they miss a crucial point: Atheists in the United States aren't only bothered by religious beliefs that are unscientific, non-factual, and often appallingly political. We also object to a long history in this country of atheists being discriminated against, a prejudice that continues to this day.
Though I don't believe in heaven or hell, I do think this familiar movie phrase applies to me, my wife, and many fellow atheists: "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
Meaning, since the founding of the United States atheists have been wrongly put down as immoral, un-American, and elitist. A book by two emeritus Cornell professors, R. Laurence Moore (history and American studies) and Issac Kramnick (government) explains this in great detail.
Here's an overview of "Godless Citizens in a Godly Republic: Atheists in American Public Life" via a Publisher's Weekly review:
From the pages of state constitutions to the seats of Congress, Moore and Kramnick (The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness) search for places for the godless in American politics and find few.
Beginning with the country’s roots in England, with its official state church, the United States’ protection of religious liberties excludes one group: nontheists and their nonbelief in a religion or deity. The authors explain that 18th- and 19th-century Americans associated morality with religion, so eschewing one was considered a rejection of the other.
The tensions of the Cold War reinforced this historical bias, with rhetoric tying communism to atheism and implying a corresponding relationship between belief and patriotism. The concept of the dangerous, un-American—or worse, anti-American—atheist paved the way for the addition of “Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and “In God We Trust” to America’s currency in 1957, and constrained nontheists’ chances at public office and judicial seats.
Synopses of pivotal Supreme Court cases demonstrate how atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists, and nontheists are frequently cast as an amoral minority. Through cautious and sensitive comparisons between nontheists and other marginalized groups, the authors present the marginalization of nontheists as an equal rights issue.
This accessible and sincere book usefully makes explicit often-unspoken currents in American political life.
The Pew Research Center says that 31% of people in Oregon, where I live, are unaffiliated religious "None's" -- 5% atheist, 8% agnostic, and 18% nothing in particular. However, that last category is made up of 12% for whom religion is unimportant and 6% for whom religion is important.
Thus let's subtract those "nothing in particular" people who don't consider religion important.
That still leaves 25% of Oregon's population as decidedly non-religious. Is it possible that a quarter of the citizenry deserve these sorts of discriminatory attitudes, as described in the Godly Citizens in a Godly Republic book? (Boldfacing added for emphasis.)
-- "Of the respondents to a Pew Research Center survey question on attitudes to specified religious groups in 2009, 49 percent scored atheists negatively, while the unfavorable response to other groups was dramatically lower: Muslims, 32%; Mormons, 26%; Hindus, 21%; Buddhists, 20%; Evangelical Christians, 17%; Jews, 11%; Catholics, 11%.
-- "A 2011 Gallup poll that asked, 'If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be atheist would you vote for that person?' found that only 49% of Americans said yes. Responses for other similarly well-qualified nominees: black, 94%; women, 93%; Catholic, 92%; Jewish, 89%; and Mormon, 76%."
-- "An earlier iteration of the 'willingness to vote for your party's nominee' in 1999, which included homosexuals among the choices, ranked them at 59%, higher than atheists at 49%."
-- "When asked into what group they would least like their children to marry, nearly half of Americans list atheists first, significantly higher than Muslims, African Americans, and Jews."
-- "So too, when asked to name 'the group that does not at all agree with my vision of American society,' 40% of Americans put atheists on top, followed by Muslims, 26%; homosexuals, 22%; conservative Christians, 13%; recent immigrants, 12%; Jews, 7%; African Americans, 5%."
The book's authors ascribe this distaste toward atheists as reflecting three foundational features of American sociocultural belief: (1) A conviction that one can't be a good person if one is not a believer; (2) one can't be a good American if one is not a believer; (3) American anti-intellectualism, since many see atheists as cultural elitists -- philosophers, scientists, and artists who threaten the beliefs of ordinary people.
Thus there's a lot going on beneath the surface of my wife's complaint about a Christian prayer being offered at a public meeting here in Salem.
Us atheists, along with the broader category of "None's," are tired of being viewed as second-class citizens. We're fed up with being put down and marginalized just because we don't believe in unbelievable supernaturalism. We no longer find it acceptable to stay silent while religious speech (mostly Christian) fills the airwaves.
Nationally 23% of Americans are religious None's. That's about four times more than the 6% of Americans who hold to non-Christian faiths. Here in Oregon, the ratio is even higher: 31% None's and 7% non-Christian.
Yet I'm willing to bet that an atheist, agnostic, or other non-believer has never been invited to give the invocation at the State of the City address in Salem, even though non-Christians such as Jews have.
This points to the disturbing falsehood that the authors of Godless Citizens in a Godly Republic emphasize: atheists are viewed by religious people as less moral and trustworthy, even though there is no evidence of this being true. It's just a discriminatory attitude that would be viewed as abhorrent if a racial or ethnic minority was being typecast in this fashion.
Part of the problem with/for atheists is that some of them make a big deal about it. It's like they feel self righteous for being so and thus challenge others' faith via their faith in atheism. This makes the faithful ill at ease with atheists. Or even the unfaihful who just don't like people being in people's face about something.
Like JW's who show up at your door with all the good news. They're pushy sometimes. Nobody likes that. At least my dogs don't. I hand them a decades old flyer about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and send them on their way. By the way, is he dead? Must be. Dumb question.
A religious dude says, "This atheist is kind of pushy about his atheism. He's in my face about it. So, why not just be atheist and be done with it? I know, atheists object to the calls for prayer I thrust upon them. So, don't pray. I'll be religious. You do your thing."
Now, if anyone goes after someone with a knife, that's another thing
I see this issue as no big deal but people make a big deal about it. That's me. I'm cynical about all the big deals people make about stuff. The religious like to pray. So, pray away. I'll check out the weather forecast on my phone.
No matter what we think or believe we could be in delusion. In that way I think atheists are just as deluded as the religious, but they don't think so. They are cocky about their superior "scientific" reasoning. Do scientists know what is really real, what really is absolute and eternal... the why's and how's of this Appearance? Their opinion on that changes all the time. Is it "This here now" as the neo-advaitists say? "Nothing at all" as the Ch'an Buddhists say? Is it angels and bagpipes as the Christians say? Virgins as the Muslims say?
What if there really is "God"? We just don't see it because it doesn't conform to the rules we use to give cohesion to perception. It may be as obvious as the air we breathe or something else. Something entirely different. Something incomprehensible to our neurologic structure. Something we will never know?
So, since Life is incomprehensible, I, atheist declare God not to be real. As if i knew anything.
As evidenced by the above, I , tucson, don't know s--t.
It's bothersome to me, if I let it, when somebody thinks they do.
On the other hand, maybe they really do. Who knows?
Posted by: tucson | February 01, 2019 at 09:04 PM
Yes. We are not loved.
Posted by: David Peck | February 02, 2019 at 08:11 AM
I don't think they realise how arrogant and self centred they seem to be. Look at me, they seem to be saying, aren't I wonderful, I don't need a God to look after me, I don't need to follow a saintly person. I'm so brave and amazing, this life is all there is and stuff those people who are having a sh*t life in a country full of warfare and disease. Why should I care? No need for me to be humble and caring. I'm so smart and its all about me and my wonderful lifestyle.
Posted by: Jen | February 02, 2019 at 01:30 PM
My apologies Brian. Just a kind of knee jerk reaction to atheism.
Now I feel guilty and stupid which is not going to help anyone in anyway.
Being over sensitive. Sorry.
Posted by: Jen | February 03, 2019 at 01:28 PM
I have now spent 5years studying the history of Jesus. I am certain 90% he never existed.
If you knew what historical figure he really was, you would be astonished. HE WAS DELETED FROM HISTORY by the church. He was really a king. He fought the Romans. His wife was
the richest woman in the world. The Romans crucified him, but historian Josephus saved his life
on the cross. He ended up in Egypt the one eyed man.
Look towards Syria. A huge section of history us missing. Mary was indeed his wife.
But, they were king and queen. But, from where, history has hidden, in the greatest
coverup of all time.
Posted by: mike williams | February 03, 2019 at 09:42 PM
We can accept our difference as humans?
It is interesting to hear eachother?
I know some will like to force ideaś on others..
Forcing is stupid and most of the time or sometimes one can say that.
It is good to communicate as long as it doesńt become a sort of fight.
Live and let live..something like that.
Nobody should force,because it doesńt help..
Posted by: s* | February 04, 2019 at 12:35 AM
That’s interesting especially the 10% bit that you are not certain of :-) Given all the bullshit and fake news we are served and the seemingly massive amount of ancient history that’s been repackaged, covered over or simply as you say ‘deleted’, maybe there’s some truth in your research.
It got me thinking about the nature of belief and how what you wrote relates to atheism. I think what you are getting at (at least in part) is that many ‘truths’ especially in the religious sphere could be dodgey. I guess this would be the case given that belief is held by something that is itself ‘untrue’ - a self created by thoughts, strengthened by belief. Well that’s what I believe at present.
Not sure where it all leaves us, particularly when it comes to the truth - whatever that is…
Posted by: Tim Rimmer | February 04, 2019 at 04:34 PM
The entire Bible has been debunked by scholars.
The whole thing was a fraud. Literally.
Posted by: mike williams | February 04, 2019 at 05:34 PM
'Like JW's who show up at your door with all the good news.'
Yes, atheists are banging on your door... Guess what, genius, religious people are the pushiest ones around, and have been for centuries. They are constantly trying to legislate their crazy beliefs, alter school curriculums, get businesses they don't like closed, ban books from libraries, harass people out of jobs, and lots more.
' Do scientists know what is really real, what really is absolute and eternal... the why's and how's of this Appearance? Their opinion on that changes all the time. Is it "This here now" as the neo-advaitists say? "Nothing at all" as the Ch'an Buddhists say? Is it angels and bagpipes as the Christians say? Virgins as the Muslims say?'
This guy is typing on a computer (technology created thanks to science) and communicating with people around the world and can't figure out if science has any claims to superiority in terms of comprehending reality than some primitive religious beliefs about virgin births and angels. Derp.
Posted by: TooMuchBSaround | February 06, 2019 at 10:31 AM