I waited to write this evening’s blog until I saw what happened on the Paula Zahn show on the issue of discrimination against atheists.
As a result, in the time I have, I am going to give a set of disconnected thoughts on the topic, rather than an argument with a single point.
(1) I would like to congratulate those who sent in the “gigabytes” of email that made this, in the words of the host, the most controversial issue brought up. I would like those who participated in this to recognize that you have made a difference – and encourage you to keep it up.
This type of response should have followed President Bush’s statement that only those who believe that our rights come from God are qualified to be judge. I suspect that if this type of noise had been generated then (and Bush repeated that claim during the Presidential debates) that it might have made a difference in the election.
(2) I want to note that those who protested the original episode almost certainly include a few theists who recognize bigotry when they see it and who also took a stand. I find it highly unlikely that, in all the email they received, there was not at least one that said, “I am a Christian, but I was appalled at the statements that your panelists made.” Also, it is likely that many of the people at CNN responsible for rehearing the case were Christian, and yet they did give the case a new and more balanced hearing.
The important point being that a person is to be judged by the position he or she takes on an issue, not on his or her religiosity that matters.
(3) There will always be things to complain about, and things which can be done better. If you are somebody who will always complain about something and that nobody else can ever please, do not be surprised to discover that they give up in frustration after a while.
(4) I do think that there is a need for soundbyte answers to some of the most common questions asked about atheism, and I would like to offer a few.
(a) Inferring morality from a disposition to pray is as bigoted as inferring criminality from the color of one’s skin.
(b) There are many moral people who do not pray, and many praying people who are not moral.
(c) We are a Christian nation in the same sense that we are a white nation, and it no more justifies bigotry against non-Christians than it justifies bigotry against non-Whites.
(d) [In answer to the question, “Where do you get your morality?”] From the fact that this is the only life I will ever have and it’s insane to try to live that life in a hive of murderers, rapists, and thieves.
(e) [In answer to the question of why there is so much bigotry against Atheists.] The Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto teach bigotry against Atheists. They were passed during the McCarthy era to teach children that atheists are not true Americans, and they work.
Anyway, anybody who thinks that they may be confronted with these types of questions should take the effort to have memorized and well practiced a set of short ‘clichés’ to use against standard statements.
(5) I am going to repeat something that I wrote when this story first broke because I think it needs to be repeated.
These victories are worthless and ephemeral, disappearing like smoke, unless they are tied to a substantive objective that can be seen and measured. The substantive objective that I recommend is the removal of “under God” from the pledge and “In God We Trust” as the national motto, because these do, in fact, teach Americans (and the most vulnerable of all Americans – the children) to think of those not under God and who do not trust in God as anti-American.
As long as this attitude towards atheists persist, children will shun atheism as a way of avoiding the stigma of being anti-American, voters will refuse to accept atheist candidates for public office, and demagogues will continue to be able to attack science by associating it with atheism. Furthermore, atheists are not the only ones who suffer from this. Religious conservatives will continue to be able to fight anything they do not like, from homosexual rights to abortion to stem cell research – simply by associating it in the public mind with the hated term ‘atheist’.
It is a common marketing ploy. If you want to get people to have an adverse reaction to A, you associated it in the public mind with B, which they already hate. So, religious conservatives know they can gain a great deal of political leverage by talking about the homosexual/atheist agenda, speaking about the evils of atheist materialist science, and complaining about godless liberals. All of this is fostered, at least in part, by the lessons that are taught daily in our schools, that atheists are anti-American.
They are not only harming us with their bigotry, but they are using their effectiveness at generating hatred against us to harm others – and even to harm themselves, since a scientific understanding of the universe is the best tool we have available for avoiding the worst that the universe can throw against the human race.
It is, I would argue, of crucial importance to start to get educators to understand that when they go along with this ritualistic Pledge of Allegiance, that they are teaching their students to psychologically segregate Americans into a “white” group who is “under God” and a “colored” group who are not “under God.”
And that this is simply unjust bigotry given the status of a national ritual.
Start here, and we start to take a major step in making the world a better place than it would have otherwise been, and leave our children a better world than was left to us.