Why won’t atheists defend themselves?
And how do you get them to start?
Seriously, this is perhaps one of the most baffling situations that I encounter here on this blog – a complete indifference of atheists to their own victimization.
In the past six years alone, atheists have been subjected to a string of insults and slanders which, if they had been directed against any other group, would have caused riots. Literally. I mean, smoke rising above the city from the burning buildings and tear gas.
Look at the list.
(1) A sitting president said that atheists are not fit to be judges – and the statement can still be found on the White House’s own web site.”[W]e need common-sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God. And those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the bench.”
(2) We have atheists who stand and feign support for a Pledge of Allegiance that says, “As far as this government is concerned, atheists (those not ‘under god’) are the moral equivalent of those who would commit themselves to rebellion, tyranny, and injustice for all.”
(3) We have a national motto on our money and going up in more and more places in this country that says, “If you do not trust in God, you are not one of us.”
(4) Atheists are routinely blamed for everything from terrorist attacks to school shootings to hurricanes to the Holocaust.
(5) On this latter point, there is a movie that will officially debut around the country on April 18th that is making a blatant attempt to link atheism to the Holocaust.
(6) A sitting legislator tells an atheist witness that atheism is a philosophy of destruction and that he has no right to be there – and apologizes only for raising her voice.
Any one of these things should have sparked massive protests – not only from atheists, but from anybody who accepts the principle that law-abiding citizens deserve the equal respect and consideration of their government. And until they make atheism illegal, atheists count as law-abiding citizens.
So, why don’t atheists defend themselves? Why don’t they get angry?
I really want to hear your ideas on this, reader.
I have my own hypothesis – but it’s only a hypothesis.
It’s because even if you do not believe intellectually that atheism is something to be ashamed of, you’re ashamed of it nonetheless. You’re ashamed on a gut level – an emotional level – that reason cannot reach.
And by 'you' I do not just mean 'you' atheists. I mean anybody who favors a fair and just society. You don't have to be a wiccan or a Jew or a Muslim to defend their rights. You don't have to be an atheist to know that the actions that I described above are wrong.
You are ashamed of it because you have been taught to be ashamed of it since you were too young to question what you were being taught. You are ashamed of it because you look at the money, and the national motto on the money tells you to feel ashamed. It tells you to feel like an outsider – like somebody who does not deserve to be counted as “one of us” if you do not trust in God.
You are ashamed of it because, every day when you were in school, you pledged allegiance to the idea that people not “under God” are no better than people who would support rebellion, tyranny, and injustice for all. You were taught to be ashamed to sit out the Pledge of Allegiance. You were taught that you had to at least stand and show respect for the idea that good Americans favor “one nation under God” and anybody who does not favor “one nation under God” cannot be a good American.
You are ashamed of it because, ever since you were old enough to understand the words coming through your television set and over the radio, you have heard the lesson repeated over and over again that atheists are responsible for every child that gets shot in a school, every natural disaster that befalls the country, and would lead the nation into ruin if they ever got any real power.
You do not stand up to people like Ms. Davis because, on a gut level, you think she is right.
I know that you do not believe she is right. You string the propositions together from beginning to end and calculate all of the disjunctive syllogisms and constructive dilemmas and you know the conclusion, “Atheists are bad people,” cannot be supported.
And perhaps you can handle your atheism on an unemotional, intellectual level. You can debate the Bible with the best of them and even wear your t-shirts with the big letter A on them. But these are harmless. These are things that allow a person to think that they are doing something without actually doing something.
If you could attach some real-world accomplishments to this symbol, that would be different. If this were the case, then the symbol would be the symbol for “those of us who accomplished this thing.” In the absence of accomplishment, it is just so much red pigment on cloth (or red photons emitting from a web page).
And if I am wrong, then you tell me why Ms. Davis’ next committee hearing is not packed with a standing-room only crowd with signs that say, “We have a right to be here!” and slogans like, “Get out of that chair, Ms. Davis. Bigots like you have no right to be here.”
If I am wrong, then you tell me why atheists parents are letting their schools teach their children that those who do not favor “one nation under God” are as bad as those who do not favor “liberty and justice for all?”
But if I am right . . . .
If I am right, than we are guilty of letting that same message of shame get passed on to the next generation, and they will act the same way we do. They, too, will learn to do nothing while they are declared unfit to be judges, as bad as those who do not favor ‘liberty and justice for all’, not fit to be counted as ‘one of us’ if they do not trust in God, guilty of every terrorist attack, hurricane, and school shooting that strikes the country, guilty of the worst atrocities of the 20th century, and advocates of a philosophy of destruction that ‘have no right’ to address legislatures in this country.
Some of those atheist children (or children who later become atheists) might actually want to be judges, or representatives, or President. Some might even be good at it. But we close down these options when we let the next generation to learn the same lessons that we learned – that being an atheist is something to be ashamed of.
Sooner or later, hopefully, a generation will come along that says, “No. It stops here. You will not teach my child that those who do not favor ‘one nation under God’ are as bad as those who do not favor ‘liberty and justice for all’. You will pay with your job if you should declare that atheists are not qualified to be judges or have no right to offer testimony before a state legislature. If you produce a movie that tries to blame atheists for the holocaust you will be met with a cry that will ensure that everybody in the country hears how bigoted your claims are. And if you ever again try to blame us for a school shooting, hurricane, terrorist attack, or anything similar you will be met with a storm of protest that will bury your career.
These are the morally appropriate responses to these types of insults. Failure to respond in this way is not a morally permissible option. Failure to respond in this way says that we are going to allow the next generation to suffer the same insults and degradations that we suffer.
Until, sooner or later, one generation decides that they will do something different.
I would like it to be this generation.