We have another candidate for next year’s list of examples of anti-atheist bigotry.
The Friendly Atheist has reported on an episode of the Tyra Banks show in which Steve Harvey vilified atheists as inherently immoral and dangerous.
(See Friendly Atheist, Relationship "Experts" Rip on Atheists)
You are sitting up there talking to a dude and he tells you he’s an atheist, you need to pack it up and go home. You talking to a person who don’t believe in God… what’s his moral barometer? Where’s it at? It's nowhere. You gotta get into this stuff.
There might be some sense in the claim that a woman looking for a spouse should consider religious differences. Differing religious views might well bring future conflict that would not be healthy for a marriage. In the same way that a person may seek compatible tastes in the number of children to have, career ambitions, and financial matters, there is some sense in seeking a mate with religious views that one is comfortable with.
However, this was not Harvey's point. Harvey’s comments speak to two prejudices.
The first is that he speaks of atheists as other – as outsiders – "them". His advice only makes sense under the assumption that he views his audience to include only people who have a personal relationship with God by default. It runs on the assumption that whatever "atheists" are, they are people that it is fit for him only to talk about, not people who are fit subjects to be talking to. That is to say, "We certainly will not want anything to do with them."
And, of course, the reason they are unfit marriage partners is because they lack a moral footing. They are a threat – likely to do harm. They are people to be feared.
Imagine somebody making the claim that a person seeing a perspective mate should certainly not marry somebody who is black. Here, if one looks at the statistical evidence, we do see that blacks are more likely to divorce than whites and more likely to be convicted of a crime.
Immediately, he would be denounced for the bigotry inherent in this statement because, morally, it does not matter what statistical group we get lumped in – we have a right to be judged according to our own qualities.
Every one of us can be put into a huge number of groups. In addition to being an atheist, I am also white, male, born in Montana, with post-graduate education, a blogger, somebody who studied moral philosophy, married, born in July, non-smoker, non-drinker, living in his own home, non-driver, and so on.
Of all of the groups that belong to, members of each one have a particular percentage of its members in prison, for example. It is also mathematically inevitable that at least one of them has a larger percentage of its members in prison as that of any other group that I belong to. Maybe it is Montanans, or people born on a Thursday, or right-handed people with freckles. Somewhere in the infinitely long list of groups I can be thrown into there is one with a substantial portion of its members in prison.
The same is true of you – and of every other human being on the planet. This is true as a matter of mathematical necessity.
Now, let it be said that you are an unfit marriage partner because of your membership in that group.
If this is a valid form of reasoning then none of us are fit marriage partners because every one of us belongs to at least one group with a high incidence of criminal behavior. And the decision to use that membership, as opposed to any of the infinite number of memberships that are also applicable (we also have membership in a group with a lowest incidence of criminal behavior than all of the other groups we belong to), is entirely arbitrary and capricious.
It is, in short, malicious bigotry.
However, it is also evidence of malicious bigotry to make derogatory claims about a group of people that are not even true – to promote groundless hatred and fear. Whenever anybody makes a false claim we can ask why that person came to adopt that error as opposed to the millions of other errors available.
We will typically find that explanation in what the person wants to believe. So Harvey wants to believe that atheists have no moral anchor. In doing so, he shows that he values the hatred and fear of atheists. It is not a belief he stumbled upon and been forced into by the overwhelming weight of the evidence. It is a belief he sought out and embraced - one that he cherishes and has value to him. The reason the belief that atheists have no moral grounding is loved is precisely because it gives weight to the hatred and bigotry he is seeking to justify.
And Tyra Blanks is, at best, afraid to challenge expressed bigotry against atheists.
It is also relevant to note that host Tyra Banks did not see fit to call Harvey out on his prejudice. Her guest was saying that all atheists are unfit to be married – that any woman who marries an atheist is making a mistake. She let it slide either without noticing, or noticing and not caring about, the bigotry being exhibited in front of her.
We can well imagine what her reaction would have been – what it should have been – if Harvey had declared that a woman looking for a mate should make sure that her perspective husband is not a "Christ killer" who would certainly only see her as a financial asset. What we would expect to hear is shock that somebody would come on her show to say such a thing and a quick declaration that, "I think those claims are wrong and bigoted and I certainly cannot agree with them."
Tyra Banks gave us silence.