Thursday, December 25, 2008

Anti-Atheist Bigotry among Atheists

In response to my recent post suggesting studies on the extent of anti-atheist bigotry, Luke commented:

I suspect that if you chose atheist subjects and had them evaluate files (some of whom were made to be explicitly religious), you might very well see the same effect.

I suspect that this is not the case in the current environment. However, I can see how it can easily become the case if a conscious effort is not made to prevent it.

Research shows that cultural prejudices tend even to penetrate into members of the target group. Blacks tend to show more anti-black prejudice than anti-white prejudice. Women tend to see even other women in stereotypical roles. Cultures that deny women any number of liberties and freedoms would not be able to continue to do so without the active cooperation of the women in that culture in perpetuating those institutions.

This tendency of a target group to take to heart society's expressed attitudes towards them helps to explain why the suicide rate among teenage homosexuals is so much higher than it is among teenagers in general. In their case, society's prejudices are internalized as self-hatred. It takes a great deal of courage and strong sense of self to stand up to a whole culture and say, "You are wrong." We are disposed to adopt the values that surround us, not reject them.

So, I expect that among the "non-religious", we will tend to find a lot of the same anti-atheist bigotry that we see expressed in the culture at large. A great many atheists internalize anti-atheist bigotry and turn it into self-hatred in the same way that homosexuals internalize anti-gay bigotry. This makes atheists docile and motivates them to submit to whatever the theist community demands – adopting a political attitude that, "We must never to anything that might anger the theist. If an atheist angers a theist it is always the atheist who is wrong, and who deserves our condemnation."

There is clearly a subset of atheists who are anti-theist bigots. Atheists are human, and are susceptible to the same psychological forces that dispose us to unjustly favor members of "us" and promote hostility towards "them". As a result, if atheism should become the norm, there is a very real risk that atheists would then band together as a group that comes to assume that any given member of the group is inherently superior to any given non-member. In the bell curve of human dispositions, there are a few atheists today who fit that description.

However, the fact that there are atheists today who fit the description given above – and that they tend to be the most vocally critical of religion – does not disprove the thesis that atheists in general tend to absorb society’s anti-atheist bigotry and to act on those values instead, even viewing their own lack of faith as a fault.

In general, I adopt the principle that atheists are psychologically like humans in general unless and until evidence proves otherwise. As a part of the psychology of humans in general, members of groups that are discriminated against still tend to adopt those same attitudes of discrimination, even against themselves and other members of their group. I would actually be surprised if the research showed that atheists were somehow different in this regard.


RichardBarnes said...
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RichardBarnes said...

I suspect the phenomenon you speak of regarding self-loathing among so-called "atheists" is closely related to the attitude that one can be an "atheist" primarily. Of course, "atheism" is the result of one's views, not the beginning of them. One cannot rightly be an "atheist" primarily. One has a set of positive beliefs relating to the nature of reality, to the nature of oneself, to the nature of knowledge, to what is of value and what is not, to how one ought to relate to other human beings and to one's own sense of beauty. It is those positive beliefs that then lead to any negative conclusions regarding the beliefs and practices of others. Although many will identify me as an "atheist", I am not an atheist primarily. My beliefs, my values, my practices have a good foundation very difficult or impossible to successfully argue against which, as it happens, leads me to reject the inaccurate observations and inconsistent logic of theists. The fact that the poor thinker loathes my skepticism, critique and rebuttal to their beliefs and practices is, sadly, to be expected. Their loathing in no way shakes my very solid foundation which only happens to be "atheistic" from their. Their label for me is not the label I apply to myself which is far more inclusive of the truth than merely "atheist".

Perhaps other "atheists" ought to change their point of view of themselves as primarily "atheists". I can assure them, they are not. They need to identify what their positive views, positive values are and, go from there. Let us critique ourselves according to who and what we ARE rather than according to what we are NOT - silly theists.

Luke said...

I haven't seen studies leaning in either direction, but I haven't met ANY atheists who self-loathe about their atheism.

In my first comment, I was referring to the fact that atheists are HUMAN, and subject to the same in-group/out-group mentality as everybody else. And in fact, I certainly HAVE experienced lots of anti-theist bigotry coming from atheists, most notably in all those bestselling atheist books that have come out lately (especially those by Sam Harris).

Have you seen self-loathing or anti-atheist bigotry among atheists?

I simply haven't.

vjack said...

I think you are absolutely correct here. A common example of anti-atheist bigotry among atheists includes those who call themselves "militant" or "fundamentalist" atheists. This makes me wince every time I encounter it because it reflects serious misunderstanding about what these terms mean.

Alex Ashman said...

Until the majority of society (including atheists) decide that anti-atheist bigotry is wrong, it will continue unabated :-(

(see my blog against atheophobia)