There is so much (unanswered) anti-atheist bigotry around the world that I am falling behind in my attempts to keep up with it.
At the same time that the story about Elizabeth Dole's and the Republican National Committee's anti-atheist bigotry campaign hit the news last week, there was another story circulating around that expressed a different type of bigotry.
Melanie Phillips decided that "militant" atheists are to be blamed for the financial meltdown. She decided to go to print with an article where she instructed the people that they should turn their fear and concern for their economic future into hatred of atheists. (See: The Culture War for the White House)
I see this financial breakdown, moreover, as being not merely a moral crisis but the monetary expression of the broader degradation of our values – the erosion of duty and responsibility to others in favour of instant gratification, unlimited demands repackaged as 'rights' and the loss of self-discipline. And the root cause of that erosion is 'militant atheism' which, in junking religion, has destroyed our sense of anything beyond our material selves and the here and now and, through such hyper-individualism, paved the way for the onslaught on bedrock moral values expressed through such things as family breakdown and mass fatherlessness, educational collapse, widespread incivility, unprecedented levels of near psychopathic violent crime, epidemic drunkenness and drug abuse, the repudiation of all authority, the moral inversion of victim culture, the destruction of truth and objectivity and a corresponding rise in credulousness in the face of lies and propaganda -- and intimidation and bullying to drive this agenda into public policy.
When the world entered the Great Depression in the 1930s, it became popular in America and, particularly, in Europe to blame the Jews for that economic collapse. People seeking political power for themselves named Jews as the culprit, either through the corruption of their influence and their values on (otherwise) 'good' Christians, or as a part of a conspiracy to take over the world – or, at least, the global economy.
That vilification of the Jews had some very ugly consequences.
Today, blaming the Jews for economic bad news is not as popular as it used to be. Consequently, bigots need to find a new target group – one that can be effectively blamed where the people might actually believe the hate-mongering that the writers engage in. Or, at least, where nobody would be foolish enough to actually stand up and defend the target group (and condemn those who did the targeting).
The vulnerable group in America today, of course, is those who do not believe in God. With a Pledge teaching children each day that a person who does not support a nation 'under God' is as unpatriotic – as downright evil – as one who does not support a nation 'indivisible, with liberty and justice for all', and with a motto that says, "Somebody who does not trust in God is not one of us," and without a word being raised in protest to those messages, the message that atheists are responsible for our economic problems is certainly going to go unchallenged.
This is not to say that we can expect atheists to be herded into gas chambers in this country within the next ten years. Hopefully, the world has had its fill of that type of moral monstrosity for a while and is now on the watch against it. However, that fact does not mitigate against the moral wrong of Phillips’ way of thinking.
We could argue about how a certain type of false accusation 50 years ago would have gotten the accused a death sentence, whereas now the same false accusation 'only' results in 20 years in prison. However, the fact that the harm suffered by those who are falsely accused has been reduced does not argue that it is now permissible to make false accusations.
It is still the case that Phillips' accusation that atheists are guilty of the economic problems we face today, and the accusations made 75 years ago that Jews were responsible for that economic downturn, are both morally outrageous examples of trying to promote hatred and bigotry of a target group.
Yet, nothing, other than the meek mumblings of atheists among themselves, is said against these types of claims. Phillips is not now fighting to keep her job. We will hear no apology. The people themselves will read that atheists are responsible for the loss of their jobs, the destruction of their 401(k) plan, and the foreclosure of their homes without hearing anybody say, "No they’re not." In this type of atmosphere, it would be absurd to believe that some of them will not actually come to share that opinion.
One of the ways that we learn that a statement is questionable is that we hear somebody actually question it. One of the ways that we learn that something is a 'received truth' is that we hear it, and nobody takes the effort to question it. This is one of the quick rules-of-thumb that permeate society because people do not have the time or the skill to apply the rigid rules of deductive logic to every sentence they may hear.
And, indeed, Phillips’ claim has gone unchallenged. At least, I have not heard a word of protest outside of a few atheist blogs claiming that this type of message is morally contemptible.
So, it becomes a part of the received view that disbelief in God is economically harmful, and faith is necessary for the economic well-being of the country.
We can add this to the growing list of examples in which the people at large get to hear anti-atheist rhetoric, without hearing anybody stand up and say, "Not only is that message mistaken, but the type of person who would deserve such a message deserves our contempt."
Melonie Phillips, at this point, should be fighting for her job, no less so than any other public figure who has let their bigotry show through in their writings during the past year.