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7/06/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Public Atheism: A Question of Image or Discrimination?

by J.C. Samuelson

I don't know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.

- George Bush, August 27th, 1987


In a world in which faith and supernaturalism have always ruled, being an atheist (in the broadest possible sense and including naturalists of many stripes) has never been easy. Classically, the individual claiming that title (or one like it) risked alienating his/her entire social circle and, depending on prominence, society at large. In other words, choosing atheism seemed to be - and perhaps still is in some places - a choice to be alone.

Recently, however, atheism has a new public face and a new campaign seems to be underway with the objective of upsetting the status quo. Authors such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Victor Stenger, Daniel Dennett, and more have breathed new life into arguments against religious faith. Other long-standing skeptics, such as James Randi and Michael Shermer, have continued to promote science and methodological naturalism. Then there is the Brights' Movement started by Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell, which is a growing constituency of secular thinkers who are also naturalists (in the scientific sense). Today, how 'lonely' an atheist may be in societal terms depends in part on where one lives.

Even so, this so-called "Neo-Atheism" is controversial, even within secular circles. Needless to say, those who subscribe to supernaturalism, religious or otherwise, aren't pleased. Yet even atheists - or rather, secularists in general - seem to disagree as to whether this is helpful or harmful.

Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University recently created a stir in secular circles when he labeled authors such as Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens as "fundamentalists." He is joined by noted Humanist and Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist E.O. Wilson who suggests that these authors have "overdone it." (see here). Both argue for a more embracing movement that focuses on building something, rather than the "religion bashing" that seems to have come into publishing vogue.

It would seem then that the apparent "image problem" atheists have always had (to varying degrees) still exists. But is the difficulty atheists have finding acceptance really nothing more than a public relations issue? Could it also be that there is an inherent discriminatory bias against non-believers in general that calls for a similar kind of activism previously seen in the civil rights movements of the past (cf. racial, homosexual, women's suffrage)? After all, atheists have long been a mostly silent minority here in America, and as recently as the 1960s were legally prohibited in at least a dozen states from holding public office, voting, and in a few locales, an atheist could not give testimony in court! The quote that opens this piece seems to demonstrate that atheists' troubles didn't end with the abolishment of these laws.

Then again, according to Matthew Nisbet, a professor in the School of Communication at American University says that atheism is not an issue of civil rights, and that the public relations problem that confronts today's atheists has only been made worse by the aforementioned prominent atheists. He is joined by DJ Grothe, VP for public outreach at the Center for Inquiry, and Austin Dacey, who note that today "Atheists are not denied equal access to housing for lacking belief in god, nor are they kept from seeing their partners during life-threatening scenarios in hospitals. Atheists don't earn sixty-five cents for every dollar earned by believers, nor are they prevented from voting." Somewhat ironically, however, he also acknowledges some degree of public discrimination by saying that "it would be hard to be elected to higher office in America as an avowed unbeliever," and raises a bit of a straw man by comparing this to "a socialist or a Mother Earth spiritualist" having equal difficulty attempting the same thing.

While I agree with Nisbet, Grothe, Dacey and those like them who argue that atheists have a public relations problem, and have winced more than once at some of the things a few of my favorite authors have proposed, I can't help but wonder if these folks having fully considered the problem. Though I have not been discriminated against (to my knowledge), and do not feel oppressed in any way personally, it is impossible for me to ignore the obvious bias in favor of belief and against non-belief which even today finds expression in public policy, civil actions, and cultural attitudes in general.

Take, for example, the Smalkowski family. In 2006, the Smalkowski family attracted national attention when Nicole Smalkowski was kicked off the girls' basketball team in Hardesty, Oklahoma. The alleged infraction? Refusing to stand with her peers in a post-game recital of the "Lord's Prayer." This set off a series of events which resulted in the Smalkowski's experiencing threats and other blatant forms of discrimination. These events reached their peak in a trial against Nicole's father, who was charged with assaulting the principal of the school. Though he ultimately prevailed, Chester Smalkowski and his family have become pariahs in their own community, simply due to their atheism. They now homeschool their children (read about their ordeal here).

Are such cases rare? Research by Margaret Downey possibly suggests otherwise. Founder of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia and the Anti-Discrimination Support Network, she asserts that Grothe & Dacey "overlooked" or "elected to dismiss" some of the evidence in researching their article. Downey has compiled hundreds of case files that demonstrate that there is clearly such a thing as "atheist bashing" and discrimination against non-theists in America (see this sample). Though she feels that writers such as Grothe & Dacey do unbelievers a service by highlighting their need to come forward, she persuasively argues that there is certainly evidence that atheists and other non-believers have, in fact, suffered (and continue to suffer) "physical and mental abuse, job loss, cruel media stereotyping, and other instances of discrimination" (see Discrimination Against Atheists: The Facts).

Of course, there is also the Bush administration's touted and troubling Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Though the program rules specifically state that religious faith is not a requirement for an organization to apply for a grant, it decidedly favors those that have that characteristic. While no one would argue that providing Federal funds to relief and aid organizations is a bad thing, Federal money being used to support organizations that have discriminatory hiring practices is. Furthermore, since most religious organizations already enjoy tax-favored status, it enables the government to directly fund these organizations, blurring the line between Church and State.

This was enough for the Freedom From Religion Foundation to challenge the program on Establishment Clause grounds, arguing that the government had, in effect, used public funds to create “faith-based centers” in various departments. In turn, these departments sponsored conferences and workshops so as to funnel grant money to faith-based contractors. The government's primary response was to argue that the FFRF lacked standing to sue as taxpayers; they did not even have the right to hear their claims heard. In this case, the government prevailed, having successfully argued before the Supreme Court that because the FFRF was challenging Executive, and not Congressional, action, they could not argue an Establishment Clause violation.

Maybe it's just me, but isn't this a technicality? Isn't this an example of a loop-hole through which a President may impose his (or her, in the future) own agenda without having to answer to taxpayers? Such questions aside, is there really any question that religious people and organizations enjoy favored status, leaving atheists and other non-believers and organizations with few options but to lie in order to find acceptance (and funding)?

There are other potentially troubling trends in government support of supernaturalism, such as the assertion by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine that "some scientific evidence exists regarding the effectiveness of some [complementary and alternative medicine] therapies," but those issues are perhaps best left to those more knowledgeable than I (such as James Randi). To be fair, the NCCAM does qualify the previous statement with: "...for most there are key questions that are yet to be answered through well-designed scientific studies-questions." But I digress.

Having established that there is a distinct cultural and political bias against atheists and other non-believers, what can we conclude? Is it really a binary (either/or) choice between better public relations versus civil rights, or is it a question of combining them into one, asking instead how we can simultaneously improve public relations and reduce discriminatory policies and attitudes through both rhetoric and other forms of overt civil advocacy. Necessarily, this includes taking religion down off the cultural pedestal it has been on for so long. There is plenty of room for not just the gentle, grass-roots activists, but also the polemicists and other, more vocal advocates for secularism.

On a cautionary note, I think unbelievers should take care when drawing parallels between previous (or ongoing) civil rights movements and their own quest for acceptance. Gays, lesbians, and people of minority races still face very real challenges in their fight to gain full acceptance and integration into society. While all anti-discriminatory movements share the characteristic that they are against discrimination, each is also unique, having distinct characteristics and interests that don't directly parallel the others. Each can (and should) stand on its own merits.

So what do you think? Do you think the "New Atheists" have gone too far? How would you do things differently, if you could (or if you are)? Have you ever been discriminated against on a religious basis? If so, in what way?

*************************

On a personal note, recently I decided to improve my social life while at the same time doing whatever I can to educate and inform my fellow human beings about secular ethics and scientific naturalism. Last year, I registered with the Brights' Network, and in late June of this year decided to form a local group of similarly-minded individuals in my area. Though we're just getting off the ground, I'm hopeful that we'll be able to take some positive steps toward promoting awareness of a naturalistic worldview as a rational, ethical approach to life. If nothing else, we'll have some good coffee. You can visit us on the web here.

If you're in the area, it would be great to hear from (or even meet) some of my fellow Ex-Christians.

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28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Let's see.
1.) almost every court decision regarding public displays of religion has gone in atheism's favor.
2.) Survey after survey shows that most members of the media are atheists.
3.)Most college and university professors are atheists( or agnostics).
4.)Survey most movie and television programs over the last 50 years. In them atheists are portrayed as normal. It's anyone with any form of religious conviction that are shown as nuts.
5.)With th exception of such bible belt places as bumf**k Iowa, Montana, or various religious ghettos and such like no one really cares what people believe or don't.
6.) Each claim of discrimination needs to be weighed on its own merits. Some people, on a personal level do get discriminated against
of their convictions, but some get fired, or face other problems because of their poor social skills. As with other forms of no one likes having it shoved in their face.
7.) To conclude, it would be fairly easy, in an area the size of North America to demonstrate that individual acts of discrimination have occurred, however given the above it would be difficult show a societal level of intolerance reat enough to justify hopping on the victim train
for yet another round of the " didn't history screw us blues".
P.S. Survey after survey shows that Christianity is fading here in North America.The current generation may be a pain but less than 20% of their young people share their convictions.
Things are looking up!
Ray

Aspentroll said...

I think everyone might have to worry a bit if these folks have their way.

http://www.libertymagazine.org/article/articleview/642/1/99/

twincats said...

Hey, troll #12,346 (aka Ray): Care to cite any of those surveys, movies or TV programs or are we supposed to take your word for it as a (no doubt) True Christian (TM)? Any "survey" you could possibly cite can be countered with one that says the opposite, so your claims are meaningless, as is your entire post.

Back on topic: I think, as far as what people believe and support vis-a-vis atheism (or any other non-belief in Christianity) will be as varied as the number of different Christian cults that can be found and that disagreements and bickering are unavoidable.

Everyone has the same right to free speech and choice of belief (here in the US) so, at some point, criticism of others who are on your "side" but are too shrill/militant/apathetic/passive/ becomes a waste of time.

Maybe we could all take a page out of the "moderate" Christian playbook and just say "they don't speak for me." and let it go at that so that everyone can get on with their respective agendas.

Anonymous said...

The only person more lonely than an Atheist in Indiana is the Maytag Repairman.

People shun you. Forget about running for public office. Doesn't exactly help in getting dates.

Haven't yet had my home or vehicle torched, but that's just luck, I think.

John of Indiana

Lorena said...

Answering Ray:

1.) almost every court decision regarding public displays of religion has gone in atheism's favor.
That just proves that the atheists were right. It proves that the religious, as usual, were way-off line


2.) Survey after survey shows that most members of the media are atheists.
I, too, would like to see such "surveys." But I must say that the atheist journalists walk a restrictive fine line in reporting. If you are saying that they are free to express their views, you must live on another planet. Here on earth, journalists who are proven biased get fired.

3.)Most college and university professors are atheists( or agnostics).
That just proves that the smart people, those who are working toward the progress of the human race, are atheists. Christians are too busy reading their bibles and praying to come up with good ideas that benefit humanity at large.

4.)Survey most movie and television programs over the last 50 years. In them atheists are portrayed as normal. It's anyone with any form of religious conviction that are shown as nuts.

You've got to be kidding. Since when are there openly-atheists main characters on TV or movies? Provide a list if you want us to believe you. Or perhaps you are talking about biographies of the greatest people who have walked among us. They were, for sure, atheists or naturalists

5.)With th exception of such bible belt places as bumf**k Iowa, Montana, or various religious ghettos and such like no one really cares what people believe or don't.
Really? How do you know that? Did you walk a mile on our shoes? Did you read a survey or a study about it?

6.) Each claim of discrimination needs to be weighed on its own merits. Some people, on a personal level do get discriminated against
of their convictions, but some get fired, or face other problems because of their poor social skills. As with other forms of no one likes having it shoved in their face.
Then again, that's just your opinion. At least atheists have the experience. You just have the classic Christian know-it-all attitude.

7.) To conclude, it would be fairly easy, in an area the size of North America to demonstrate that individual acts of discrimination have occurred, however given the above it would be difficult show a societal level of intolerance reat enough to justify hopping on the victim train
for yet another round of the " didn't history screw us blues".
P.S. Survey after survey shows that Christianity is fading here in North America.The current generation may be a pain but less than 20% of their young people share their convictions.
Things are looking up!
Ray

Survey after survey--you say--is showing that Christianity is in trouble. People don't go to church anymore and don't follow the rules and regulations. But that doesn't mean that deep down inside they don't believe they SHOULD go to church. The masses in the United States have left the physical church but have kept the guilt and the desire of, one day, aligning themselves with their idea of God.

stronger now said...

Living in the bible belt(one of the carolinas) you get to experience a new kind of madness if you tell someone you don't believe in their christian gawd. It's as if you smacked them on the ass or something. Me and my wife try to keep our unbelief(of the christian god) to ourselves. But the last place she worked at was bought by a professed christian and pastor. He started every company meeting with a prayer and ended it the same way. My wife watched as her coworkers took part. She finally had to leave after he was arrested on charges of taking indecent liberties on a minor.(four counts)

So watch out for anyone who claims to be a christian to gain your trust, because they probably don't deserve it.

Valerie Tarico said...

Lol, John. Come to Seattle. We give our Maytag repair man cookies.

I admire Dawkins, Dennett, et al, and am completely smitten with Harris, who is intellectually gorgeous! But I do think that people are looking for any edge, and sometimes our fearless frontliners play into that. Not that they are all the same, mind you. I think the continuum runs from Hitchens to Harris, with others in between.

My concern is that the public is selectively looking for confirmation of their stereotypes. They take any frustration or arrogance on the part of nonbelievers and run with it, never considering the overweaning hubris of orthodox Christian dogmas.

This spring, the American Atheists had a convention in Seattle. They gave out T-shirts that said "Atheist and proud of it!" And I wanted to say, "Come on, guys. I understand the defiance, given how smugly superior supernaturalists can be. But your playing right into their stereotype, which is that you are arrogant and unapproachable. How about 'Friendly Atheist' or 'Ask me how I lost Jesus?" or something like that? If you want to change people's preconceived notions, you have to show them something that doesn't fit their preconceptions.

We do need legal defenders and advocates like the FFRF and AU and the ACLU, but I also think that we need to show people a different face of godlessness. Part of why I love Sam, is that he is usually softspoken and reasonable. He doesn't bother with the name calling,innuendo or blanket assertions that are Hitchens' trademark, and that Dawkins falls into when he gets frustrated. That said, if you really listen to Hitchens & Dawkins, they is quite reasonable most of the time too. But they unfortunately give the media room to play up the prick-ly side of their personalities.

Valerie Tarico said...

twincats -
I, too, would like to see some of Ray's stats, because I think some of them are inaccurate. For example, the "decline" may simply be an age related effect - people being less religious when young. But it seems a little harsh to say the whole post is worthless.
#6, for example rings true for me, as does #7.

As you say, we don't have a lot of control over what image other people put forward . . .

J. C. Samuelson said...

Hi All,

It would be interesting to learn what sources Ray used for his assertions, if any. Still, like Valerie, points #6 & #7 seem reasonable. In a country as large as this, the number of incidents of religious discrimination toward non-theists may represent a tiny fraction of all the possible cases of discrimination of any type. Also, not all cases will have equal merit.

My concern is that the public is selectively looking for confirmation of their stereotypes. They take any frustration or arrogance on the part of nonbelievers and run with it, never considering the overweaning hubris of orthodox Christian dogmas.

Excellent point! I feel the same way every time one of the "frontliners" ventures toward broad-brush ad hominem. With Dawkins, I'm sure it's usually the result of passionate frustration, as you say. All the same, it probably reinforces preconceived notions about atheistic arrogance.

As an addendum, after finishing this post, I took a look at the Maryland Constitution (where I live). I was surprised to read in Article 36 of the Declaration of Rights: "nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief; provided, he believes in the existence of God. Though I doubt it's enforced, and might even be contradicted by some other statute, it turns out that there are still laws on the books like those that I wrote had been abolished in the '60s.

Nvrgoingbk said...

I love the discussion.

I'd actually have to agree with Anonymous on many of his points. While there may in fact be some amount of discrimination shown toward Athiests, it's not at the level of inhumanity that other Civil rights issues have been or still are.

I think that Athiests are more offended by the knowledge of what religious folk opinion of them are. I mean, the underlying motive for a Christian is to see us converted. Beneath the exterior of a loving-God doctrine lies a disgust for the nonbeliever and the arrogant belief hat should the Athiest die without converting, they will rightfully be thrown in Hell.

Then there is the opinion religious folk have of an Athiest's morality, which is that they think us devoid of it. These two main opinions are what cut so deeply for most non-believers. Feelings of resentment are justified.

The problem is though, that Athiests are allowing the attitude of the religious to provoke their own unattractive behavior, and their own prejudices. We too, as mentioned before, can be very arrogant. Most of us harbor feelings of disgust toward what we see as their ignorance for not being able to discern what we have: that religion is bunk. We get very impatient with them after we have tried to enlighten them just as they get with us when their "truth" continues to elude us. While they may feel morally superior, we believe ourselves to be intellectually superior.

I am definitley of the opinion that religion should be done away with, but we will never be able to fully eradicate prejudice or superstitious thinking. We can not stifle a person's creative imagination no matter how ridiculous their musing may be, but we can continue to uphold the seperation of church and state and to stop funding these musings.

People will think what they will regarding the origins of the Universe and the purpose of their existence, but when a government holds these IDEAS up as "truth" without proof and then runs an administration after this IDEA and claims that "God" is on its side and completely in support of the way it's being run, we have what we all know as a THEOCRACY and not a DEMOCRACY.

While msot Americans do not hold an evangelical or fundamentalist view of God and Christianity and have very loose interpretations of the scriptures, they still look at Athiests with suspicion. Ironically, the Federal Beauru of Prison Stastics shows that almost 80% of inmates claim some form of Christianity including Catholicism, Protestantism, Mormonism, Jehovah Witness, Adventist, Pentecostal, and Orthodox. Only 0.209% of inmates claim to be Athiests, which turns out to be less than professed Scientologists in prison. Athiest inmates ranked lower than Rastafarians in number! So much for the morality argument.

Joe said...

mummaph mumma phath arummahpha... sorry about that... had to get god's ass cheek off my head. That's better. I for one am sick and tired of being under god.

I work for a fundy and most of the company is staffed that way. I have enough legitimate business to contend with every day. They talk bible drivel at work, and I go back to work. Let them think it's my protestant work ethic. I still find it oppressive.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think that the way to get people to understand atheism is to teach religion. Not just one religion, but all of the modern ones and some of the ancient myths. I think it should be done in public schools, like one religion a semester as some sort of character/history credit. This way, religious people will be forced to realize that their ideas are just as ridiculous as the ideas of people who hold to other religions. People will at least be more tolerant of each other.

A. Ford

twincats said...

Valerie said: “Survey after survey--you say--is showing that Christianity is in trouble. People don't go to church anymore and don't follow the rules and regulations. But that doesn't mean that deep down inside they don't believe they SHOULD go to church. The masses in the United States have left the physical church but have kept the guilt and the desire of, one day, aligning themselves with their idea of God.”

That’s a great point and one I didn’t think of! Which is very strange because I spent a few years as a member of those masses you were describing.

As for Ray’s #6 and #7, I still remain dismissive because I don’t think he’s saying much of anything, and certainly nothing that hasn’t been said before by both sides.

Besides, it seems that the troll has left the building, anyway. ; )

Raven Daegmorgan said...

Here's the thing that jumps out at me about this situation: it isn't an issue with "atheists" being discriminated against.

You will find the same stories about discrimination (and worse) in the religious community among Jews, Muslims, and pagans of all varieties, current and on-going tales of harassment, intimidation, threats, social snubbing and even physical abuse.

Simply, it is disingenuous to claim the problem is one of theists discriminating against non-theists for being non-theists.

What it truly and really is is a problem of small-minded people who have been poorly taught and by way of such assume their own right to superiority over the members of other groups. In short, it is basic social tribalism.

What I personally find offensive about the "fundamentalist atheist movement" -- as characterized by such pundits as Dawkins -- is that their reaction to this is to do nothing more than respond in kind: with more tribalist rhetoric and divisive speech.

Anonymous said...

http://www.iidb.org/vbb/showthread.php?t=189743

First off, I'm no fan of Bush Sr. or Bush Jr. Far from it. Voted against both of them. But, I'm no fan of made up quotes either....

Anyway, follow the link, and decide for yourself.

Jim Arvo said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for the link. I had no idea that the Bush Sr. quote was in question. I would caution you to not refer to it as "made up", however. I think referring to it as "uncorroborated", or "alleged" would be appropriate.

Rob Sherman has a page here with a great deal of information obtained from the Bush library. While I agree that none of the documents directly confirm the quote, the story cannot be dismissed lightly (in my opinion).

Anonymous said...

"5.)With th exception of such bible belt places as bumf**k Iowa, Montana, or various religious ghettos and such like no one really cares what people believe or don't."
"Really? How do you know that? Did you walk a mile on our shoes? Did you read a survey or a study about it?"


I currently live in Alabama and I’m an atheist. It is extremely difficult, it seems that everyone here is a Christian. My 12 year old son is very open about his beliefs, he is also an atheist, this has caused us much stress in the public school system. He is openly teased by other children, they call him “monkeyboy.” Teachers openly confess in class that they must teach billions of years and evolution but that if you believe it you’re an idiot, that teacher also made it clear that she did not care if she got fired. One of his teachers was going through her math book, when she got to page 666 she skipped it and said she could not say that one. I feel as though I live in the Dark Ages, or at least a more primitive time in history, it’s very distressing. I don’t really care what they think of me, I worry for my son. Christians are evil, and they will believe or do anything to justify and prop up their beliefs.

.:webmaster:. said...

I lived in Montgomery Alabama for six years and while I was there, public education was pathetic. You have my condolences.

Anonymous said...

Looks like I succeeded in getting a discussion going. Now to follow up ( I'm pressed for time):
For those who want survey evidence of the decline of xianity I recomend George Barna's web site.
He does a lot of polling on religious issues and the results of a number of his surveys are quite encouraging in this regard. North American Christianity, particularly among the younger ( mid-teens to mid 20's has drifted into a moralistic deism that has little if any impact on the choices of the youth surveyed. Deism is almost, functionally athiestic and very unstable. Whatever the xian cheerleaders try to say, if you go to conservative xian sites when they addres the topic you will find that they are scared, very scared. It's quite entertaining , in a perverse sort of way.
As for number 4, I would say that the xfiles comes to mind. You'll be hard pressed ( outside of the xian programing universe) to be able to point to movies and programs where atheists are being ridiculed. Usually it's the xians that are being slagged.
As for number 5 I was relying on Barna and various other polls I've googled. As indicated in the point's openning line, I'm well aware that things in the Bible belt
are worse. That area is a world all its own, and it's residents have my deepest sympathy.
As for my attitude, well you're barking up the wrong tree. My soon to be ex-wife destroyed my faith. She is a pseudo-religious phony that subjected me to 18 years of constant emotional and psychological abuse, leaving me burntout and very nearly bankrupt.
The only thing the various xian counsellors did for me was to condemn me for the ensuing finacial chaos because the church wasn't getting it's tithe, and then of course to excommunicate me when I finally left.
Religion sucks!

boomSLANG said...

Anonymous/'Bama Atheist , pull up a chair 'n stay a while. I'd encourage you to register with Blogger under a fictitious name, however, because of the over-flux of Christian fundies who post here as "Anonymous".

Dave8 said...

JCS, excellent post and survey of atheism.

JCS: "So what do you think? Do you think the "New Atheists" have gone too far?"

I am not versed on their marketing campaign, however, I agree that a person without theism, or being without theistic tenets of belief, is much more benign, than being anti-theist - which is a common portrayal of atheists by theistic leaders - in my experience.

As Valerie stated, no need in justifying preconceived notions or stereotypes of the atheist to support the negative view being presented by others.

Many will project what they believe they "know" onto the term atheist... of course it would be common for a theist, to perceive with their theist-spectacles the term a-theist to mean "against" their theistic position (personally), and not necessarily someone without a similar belief, just as a Hindu does not have a similar theistic belief as the Christian.

On the basic level, it is not complicated, but we are human. Our actions can be filtered in a political, economical, social, philosophical, etc., fashion.

An atheist movement, necessarily lends itself to be classified in the context of a political movement, juxtaposed to a politically motivated theistic movement. It all comes down to context, context, context...

If there is a movement, that just houses a bunch of people who are without theistic tenets of belief, and that is all that binds them... then where does this camaraderie of "New Atheism" showcase itself...

If there is camaraderie, surely, someone will suggest that a bunch of atheists are now charging forward on the reigns of a social movement...

Not having really delved beyond the fact, that there are many paths for a person to find themselves without theistic tenets of belief(s), that is, beliefs unique to theism... it would seem any movement, or group that adheres to a common trait, ensure they "define" themselves, before allowing the opposition that opportunity...

It is hard enough to establish oneself, with a word that is written in the negative, -a is considered by some to mean -anti... When a group defines another's Identity, they are the ones controlling the influence that will be projected towards that group. And, of course, the group that has been tagged will find itself in a state of chaos, and involved with repelling the stigma that is pursued and championed by mindless followers who need a social outlet.

It would be prudent for such a group that chooses to assemble, to define their purpose and intent, establish it in the public view, and cite it as often as possible to anyone willing to listen, in order to prevent such clashing.

I do believe though, that the gay community, as well as all other communities, inevitably have to take their cause to a political level in order to protect their rights. And, inevitably they are to be considered a proactive political interest group.

Religion, being touted as having sunk its fangs into a few politicians for gain, and have been chastized for such activity by those who profess a separation of church and state.

However, in order to off-set such activity, it may be unavoidable to become politically active to offset a religious influence in this countries' political structure. It appears that the pledge of allegiance may have turned out differently, if the silent minority had been able to speak out loud and make a political plea on a common front.

Again, not sure what these New Atheists are up to, haven't read their organization's intent, nor by-laws, or purpose/intent... but, if there is a unique cause that this movement is attempting to promote, it will be challenged by the opposition... heck, it will be challenged if it doesn't present a position, by those who just need a target to unite a front.

Having no theistic tenets of belief, is not a "cause". And a cause divided, will... well, we all know the end of that quote. In order for any cause to sustain itself, it has to gain an Identity, and that requires direction, form, and continued support.

I wonder; what was the "old" atheism's "cause"? Is it any different than this "New Atheism" movement? I suppose that would be one of those things I would need to know, in order to weigh the means vs. the ends, and thereby establish what I perceive as having "gone too far" for the effort.

Again, great article, hope to read more. Aim high... :-)

Dave8

J. C. Samuelson said...

Just to clarify for everyone, I don't advocate anyone climbing on the "Victim train." I've never even bought a ticket because Victimville just sounds too depressing. Indeed, I suspect that overt discrimination against atheists probably constitutes a small fraction of the overall number of cases involving some type of religious discrimination. We are not beleaguered members of an oppressed minority. However, it bears remembering that it has happened and still does happen, and that the views of non-believers have definitely been underrepresented for most of this country's history.

Anonymous a few posts back,

I'm no fan of made up quotes either....

Nor am I. Had I been aware that the quote is questionable I would have mentioned it. Thanks for the link. I've begun reading it and will fairly consider the material there in light of the information at Rob Sherman's site (thank you, Jim). As I've said before, non-believers don't need to fabricate or propagate poorly supported materials to have a case against religion. Doing so only further damages perceptions.

Ray,

Thanks for the follow-up. I'm still not sure I'd agree with your initial assertions. I've referred to Barna (and others) quite frequently, and while you may be right about a general drift towards a more deistic sort of faith, this doesn't necessarily mean a drift in favor of atheism. Furthermore, it's hard to ignore the Evangelical movement that is still very strong.

As for the media, I don't think it's necessarily enough that shows designed for pure entertainment (as opposed to those intended as news) poke fun at religion. That's not to say that I'd like to see an atheist sitcom (how would that be different anyway?), but the news media, the talk shows, and opinion bobble-heads all seem to have a problem with atheists asserting themselves. Some of the names that come to mind are Paula Zahn, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Neil Boortz, and many, many more (most are on Fox or have syndicated radio shows).

By the way, I'm sorry to hear about your marriage. My situation wasn't very different, though religion was only a minor component in my breakup with the ex. Good luck.

J. C. Samuelson said...

Dave8,

As always, your reasoned responses give me a lot to think about.

It would be prudent for such a group that chooses to assemble, to define their purpose and intent, establish it in the public view, and cite it as often as possible to anyone willing to listen, in order to prevent such clashing.

That's exactly one of the aims of the Brights' movement, which hopes to foster a better understanding of the naturalistic worldview, regardless of what other labels might be attached to it (i.e., atheism, agnosticism, etc.). I don't know that the new appellation is necessary (or even desirable), but it does have a more focused intent than I've seen previously in secular circles. Then again, I'm usually the last one to realize something's happening. ;)

Having no theistic tenets of belief, is not a "cause".

Well said! If there is to be a cause, it should be to promote education, art, science, and understanding - a drive to better ourselves and the world - rather than have the goal of impugning religion and whatever legacy it may have. In the course of this positive attempt at building something, however, it is almost certain to be necessary to take religion to task where it fails. You can't get others to help you fix something if you don't know and can't show them what's broken (and how).

In order for any cause to sustain itself, it has to gain an Identity, and that requires direction, form, and continued support.

Very, very true. Indeed, I think this is one reason that non-believers have not, on the whole, made a concerted effort toward promoting a positive way forward. We humans like to rally behind causes that have clearly defined aims and principles, which is something that atheism and related ideologies really haven't had. Though I'm sure there were isolated pockets of secularists have been, in fact, working with clearly defined principles in mind for quite some time, there has been no grand unifying theory that secularists point to that drives their actions. But perhaps I'm well off-the-mark.

I wonder; what was the "old" atheism's "cause"? Is it any different than this "New Atheism" movement?

Personally, I think whatever cause existed before changed at least at least a little when more secularists started taking positive action in the public arena instead of merely bashing religion. That still happens, of course, and Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and the others are better at it (or more willing to expose themselves to criticism) than most. But they also propose solutions; positive reasons to choose a more rational path. Harris does this particularly well, and actually Dawkins' earlier books - the ones that didn't have the goal of religion bashing - were pretty persuasive in that department simply because they amounted to reasonable explanations of science and implicitly described a positive view of the world from a non-theistic, scientific perspective. One of my favorites is "Unweaving the Rainbow," though I lent my copy of it to someone and never got it back.

Oh, and by the way, I think "Aim High" went out a decade or two ago. ;) Last year, I think it was "Do something amazing." This year, I think it might be "Take a step into the blue," or something like that. Gotta love those cheesy military marketing techniques.

eel_shepherd said...

J.C. Samuelson, in the topic post wrote:
"...In this case, the government prevailed, having successfully argued before the Supreme Court that because the FFRF was challenging Executive, and not Congressional, action, they could not argue an Establishment Clause violation..."

To read of such a thing so close to the 4th of July... tsk tsk...

Wasn't it one of the Georges who was the British king at the time of the Revolutionary War?

Seems to me you've got yourselves another King George. Maybe he should start worrying...

Dave8 said...

JCS: "Oh, and by the way, I think "Aim High" went out a decade or two ago. ;) Last year, I think it was "Do something amazing." This year, I think it might be "Take a step into the blue," or something like that. Gotta love those cheesy military marketing techniques."

:-) Well, gotta' get paid for something; changing happy to glad on evals using brute force grammatical economy seems to have paid off... just look at the brevity and clarity of those quotes ;-) The last time I had to step out into the blue, I was D-ringed to a fast rope, and dangling out of the "hell hole" of a CH-46, thinking more along the lines of Semper Fi ;-)

Great info., will continue to ponder the topic... Have a great one.

Dave8

twincats said...

An anony poster said: "First off, I'm no fan of Bush Sr. or Bush Jr. Far from it. Voted against both of them. But, I'm no fan of made up quotes either....

Anyway, follow the link, and decide for yourself."

Well, I did. The link only addresses print media. I have seen a video of 41 making that statement on Kieth Olbermann's show.

Was that faked?

vjack said...

Trackback: http://tinyurl.com/24sr4p

Hellbound Alleee said...

Public Atheism is not a choice to be alone. It's a public declaration against prevailing values. It's a declaration of moral autonomy. It is absolutely a declaration of independence. If one wants to call that "being alone," I suppose you could. However, going public brings forth others who wish to stand up and be counted as individuals.