Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Atheists to Blame for Economic Downturn

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.


Martin Freedman said...

Funnily enough I have just been challenging Melanie Phillips - or rather commenting on another of her "op eds" - in the Jewish Chronicle asking on what basis the Jewish Chronicle could support such bigotry - given recent history of Jews and the fact that many Jews are atheists - indeed a larger proportion than most other religious denominations based on birth religion - not current beliefs, obviously.

And again given that she wrote Londonistan which I liked and (mostly) agreed with - how much was she playing into my own prejudices there, which I only notice now, now that I am on the other side...

anton said...

So, what's new? Throughout history, the majority needs scapegoats to blame for their ignorance or misfortune. This is especially true when their previous "success" was accompanied by "arrogance". The greater the misfortune, the more outrageous the claims. The greater the misfortune, the greater the "appeal" for the masses to "contribute" to a solution. The "guilty", the most arrogant, usually go unpunished. Can you imagine any attempt by US America to go after Bush, Cheney, Rummyfeld, etc.? "Lets pick on the Atheists. They're not going to get at the guilty."

We are like worms being impaled on a fishing hook. We may squirm a lot, but we are still going to be the bait.

Anonymous said...

So wait Anton... your advice is to do nothing? Just stay quiet and take it?

anton said...


I certainly don't advise you to do nothing! What I am saying is that people should quit thinking of the situation as a phenomenon or as a unique situation. Unfortunately, mounting the forces to deal with this situation is defeated before it even starts because getting the "victims" to act like they should is impossible. The "victims" would prefer to see a national "crisis" in terms of how it directly affects them, and if it doesn't they do nothing. For crying out loud, we can't get the Atheists to come out from behind the hedges, mainly because we have invested no effort in creating an environment where it is safe to be an Atheist. Most Atheists are so self-satisfied with their "read" on what the problem is that they do not offer any practical, applicable solutions to right the wrong.

If you are going to speak up and not take it, it would help if you had some allies. Like I have said before, statistics indicate that there are more than 16,000 atheists in my town. I know one of them. If my town were to legislate against Atheists it is unlikely that it would be opposed because Atheists are, in reality, under-achievers and apathetic. Yes, we have some "high profile" atheists but even if one of them was to instigate a "march on Washington", it would be a scanty parade! The Jews in Nazi Hitler argued more among themselves in the early days when a solution was possible. When it was too late, they cried for help but it was too late. Atheists in Finland in the early part of the last century wouldn't get together so they were picked off, murdered, one by one.

It does not take a lack of silence, it takes organization. Organizing Atheists, as the saying goes, is like trying to "herd cats".

Hume's Ghost said...

I remember a while ago Austin Dacey from the Council for Secular Humanism put something up on his blog saying he didn't mind being compared to Melanie Phillips because she's a critic of Islamic fundamentalism.

I pointed out in his blog that she is not the sort of individual a humanist would want to be likened to (for such things as denying global warming and using a white supremacist as a source for propaganda purposes.)

Turns out I was right.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Actually, I strongly disagree with the statement that organizing atheists is like herding cats. Actually, organizing atheists is like herding sheep. Like sheep, we do exactly what we are told, taking our cues from the sheep herder - which, in this case, happens to be the religious right.

I argue . . . and there is empirical evidence to back this up . . . that this is a psychological effect of the Pledge and the National Motto. When children learn their place - learn the distinction between in-groups and out-groups - they grow assertive if they discover they are members of the in-group, and passive when they discover that they are members of the out-group. The phenomenon is easy to replicate with constant and predictable results.

The trouble is with trying to fix the problem - when fixing the problem requires that the out-group members become assertive. Other out-groups have fought this through such things as "gay pride" events and assertiveness training (a common part of the women's liberation movement). Blacks learned assertiveness in the military for World War II and carried their pride into the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Yet, none of those groups had to fight against the special handicap of having their out-group status confirmed and constantly reinforced through the national pledge and national motto.

Hume's Ghost said...


You might find this post of interest. You'll notice how I came to similar conclusion about the comparison between demonization of Jews and "liberals" aka atheists.

anton said...

Alright, I am more than willing to agree that Atheists are like herding sheep. I also agree that the foundation for domestication of our young people is helped immensely with the "pledge". But, and I almost have a but, there is a need for something to "replace" the pledge. It is easier to get people to DO something than it is to get them to stop doing something. Any ideas?

anticant said...

Like most of us, Melanie Phillips has some sensible ideas - though not many = but she goes so OTT most of the time that she's a laughing stock to many in the UK, and is familiarly known as "Mad Mel".

BruceH said...

I've an idea. When you are in a situation that requires reciting the pledge, add the word Christian at the end, loudly. It will be very incongruous as everyone else will have just stopped speaking. It drives the point home that only religious people are apparently worthy of freedom and justice, and hopefully cause a few people to reflect on that.

I pledge allegiance to the flag
Of the United States of America
And to the republic for which it stands
One nation, under God, indivisible
With truth and justice for all Christians.

BruceH said...

Crap. With liberty and justice.

I blame Superman for that.

Anonymous said...

Having grown up and lived most of my life in the mega-christian Heartland, it is very refreshing to read the words of others with opinions inline with mine.
Now I can tell that some of you have strong psychology backgrounds and, admittedly, I do not, but I do have a personal observation that falls within those lines so please be gentle.
What it sounds like to me is mass religious indoctrination. In the same way that they teach kids to read with the Koran in the Middle East you have more and more home-schooled kids who are told things like "people who believe in evolution are stupid," or "we have always been a christian nation." Kids believe what they're taught as a default to personal reflection and end up as mindless zombies (with regards to the reality of the universe anyway).
Really, how are we supposed to counter that?