Greta Christina had an article recently in AlterNet in which she gave three reasons why atheists have to talk about atheism.
(See: Alternet, Why Do Atheists Have To Talk About Atheism)
In the next three posts, I would like to consider each of these three reasons in turn.
Reason 1: Anti-Atheist Bigotry
Atheists talk about atheism because there's a lot of misunderstanding and hostility toward us. It's nowhere near as severe as racism or sexism; but it does exist, and it has real-world consequences. . . . Making ourselves visible, coming out about who we are and what we do and don’t believe, is the best way to counter that.
I disagree with this statement.
Certainly, there is reason to talk about atheism grounded on the fact that people have false beliefs and it is worthwhile to make them true. However, bigotry has a long and solid history of being an impermeable barrier to certain facts. An anti-atheist bigot is going to interpret anything and everything an atheist does through his taint eye-glasses. There is nothing an atheist can do to present himself in a better light.
The hypothesis that “coming out” is the best weapon against anti-atheist bigotry flies in the face of the fact that bigotry against Jews, blacks, and women were all perfectly compatible with the fact that the members of these groups were not hidden.
If we want to take effective action against bigotry, we should not be talking about atheism per se. We should be talking about bigotry itself. It’s not the atheist that we need to expose to the public. It’s the bigot. We need to explain to people what a bigot is and then demonstrate the degree to which those qualities can be found in the words of certain segments of the population.
The fault for which the bigot deserves condemnation is not belief in God, but belief in whatever propositions he or she holds towards the target group against which that person happens to be bigoted or prejudiced.
Another problem that arises from blaming religion for these faults rather than bigotry itself is that it allows atheist bigotries to live and grow unchecked. Effectively, it invites the kind of thinking that goes along the lines, "I do not believe in God, so I do not have these moral faults."
Yet, an atheist can be just as bigoted as any theist.
If those bigotries are not held in check, then future generations may discover that atheists are capable of bigoted injustices that rival those that we have seen in religious regimes. On matters of human psychology, it is absurd to assume that if one denies the existence of a God that this will make the individual immune to the type of mental viruses that go along with forming unreasoned hatreds and prejudices of target groups.
It is not outside of the realm of possibilities for a group of atheists to decide that they have had enough of the "evils of religion" that "poisons everything" and decide that the time has come to simply rid society of this harmful influence of religion, which means ridding ourselves of those people who are carriers of this mental virus.
So, the proper target should not be theism. The proper target when it comes to fighting bigotry are the bigots themselves – whether they are theist bigots, or atheist bigots. Such a project requires knowing what bigotry is and how to identify it, then identifying the bigots and pointing them out in a context of public condemnation. And it requires not checking the religious (or a-religious) credentials of the speaker and allowing one set of bigots to continue to act on their bigotry without challenge.
One of the important things about this strategy is that one does not have to be an atheist to use it. One merely has to be opposed to bigotry. Just as whites joined the battle against racism, and men joined the battle against sexism, it is not impossible to have Christians and other theists join the battle against anti-Atheist bigotry.