Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Vjack's Lessons of Proposition 8

Vjack at Atheist Revolution says that Atheists have an important lesson to learn from the passage of California's Proposition 8. The lesson is that well-financed and organized religious bigots have the power to manipulate the law so as to force everybody else to live in accordance with their religiously-backed falsehoods.

If atheists are not careful, we may find ourselves the next in line to suffer the effects of their religiously motivated bigotry.

(See: Atheist Revolution, Proposition 8 Ruling Implications for Atheists)

I think he has it backwards.

Unopposed and weakly opposed anti-atheist bigotry in California is what has provided the motivation and organization to make things like Proposition 8 possible.

For example, for years not a California organization,, has been organized to put the national motto, "If you do not trust in God, you are not one of us" in prominent places in government buildings. These measures have widely passed, in county seats and local referendums, in much the same way that Proposition 8 passed.

It is almost certainly the case that the mailing lists and political contacts that had built up were put to use to pass Proposition 8. Its ailing lists were used to solicit donations and to distribute campaign materials. In addition, we must expect that the posting of these signs had some effect on the people who saw it – imprinting the idea that Americans support that which is Godly and oppose that which is ungodly.

Yet, that organization has gone substantially unchallenged in its efforts.

The fact of the matter is that we do not need to fear that the success in attacking homosexuals will lead to attacks against atheists. Rather, past success in attacks against atheists have improved their ability to attack other groups such as homosexuals.

The California "In God We Trust" campaign, in turn, sprang from the political success of getting maing "In God We Trust" the national motto, and getting three generations of school children to pledge to view atheism the same way they view rebellion, tyranny, and injustice for all.

One of the questions that I have asked atheists repeatedly in this blog is how well they like being the tool through which the things they value are attacked. The two measures mentioned above – the national motto and the pledge of allegiance – make a significant contribution to growing an attitude of hostility towards atheists, viewing them as un-American.

This anti-atheist attitude can then be harvested to attack other things that these theocrats want to do away with. In order to promote creationism and to nurture hostility towards evolution they perform the traditional marking trick to something else that people already feel hostile towards – atheism.

They attack the idea of a secular government by a massive flood of publications and broadcasts in which they equate secular government with atheist government. With all of the money they have to finance their campaign they done such a successful job of confusing these definitions that a lot of people actually think that 'secular' means 'atheist'. So, a 'secular government' can then be branded as a government that imposes atheism on its citizens.

One of the questions we should be asking is, "Where were the gay rights organizations during the decades in which theocrats pushed an agenda of hostility towards atheists?" Somebody in those organizations should have been writing articles and posts to the effect of "Pledge of Allegiance and National Motto implications for gay-rights supporters".

There are real-world implications for them to have been concerned about. If theocratic-minded Americans have the power to get "In God We Trust" adopted as the national motto and "under God" added to the pledge of allegiance, then they are a hair’s breath away from having the power to declare any type of 'unGodly' behavior criminal.

Yet, we have to admit the fact that even atheists have, for decades, been unwilling to protect themselves from and to challenge this discrimination. Where they have challenged these laws, they have sought to do so only through the courts – which ultimately will prove to be a foolish strategy guaranteed to fail in the long run.

Because atheists and secularists have not taken their case to the people – because they have been hiding behind judicial robes unwilling to face their neighbors, families, and co-workers, every court decision in favor of the First Amendment has become a propaganda tool to promote hostility towards the First Amendment. Sooner or later, that hostility was going to become powerful enough to simply replace the judicial robes of those the atheists had been hiding behind with those of people who agree with the forces that put them on the bench.

Now, we are one Supreme Court justice away from an interpretation of the First Amendment whereby the only type of law that the Amendment prohibits is actual criminal prosecution for religious beliefs. Everything from state-sponsored churches to sectarian prayers at public events (if the majority supports them) to bible readings and religious instruction in public schools would be permitted – since none of them involve punishing people for disagreeing with the speaker.


EvilPoet said...

This is off topic but every time I read anything by vjack I feel hopelessly inadequate as an atheist. As a result I don't read that website much anymore.

vjack said...

Very interesting take on the issue, Alonzo. You've certainly given me much to think about. We certainly do make an ideal scare tactic and fundraising tool for the Christian extremists.

Sad to hear that, EvilPoet. That is certainly not the effect I am hoping to have.

Mike said...


I doubt your theory that if gays had focused their defense against anti-atheist bigotry, they would have prevented Prop 8 and other anti-gay legislation.

First off, Christian scripture has statements condemning both to death, so even the religious bigots perceive them separately. A gay person can be the most devout of believers, but if they get identified as being unrepentantly gay, they are just as likely to be condemned and punished as an atheist who leaves the flock- if not more so.

Second, homosexuality is condemned and/or punished in a majority pf societies, regardless of the prevailing ideology. Gay marriage is still outlawed in the irreligious communist China, for example. Eastern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East are also extremely dangerous places to be openly gay- more than being openly Atheist, in most cases.

From this and other posts, I am concerned that, for lack of experience, you are not being considerate of the violence and hatred directed towards gay people. I do not see the parity between the threats to life and liberty experienced by a heterosexual Atheist, to the threats homosexuals of all types experience throughout the world.

I'll stand corrected when a teenager is brutally beaten, stung to a post, and left to die just because he was an atheist. I will be emphatically repentant if his killers get leniency on the grounds that they were defending their faith.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Mike: You wrote, "I doubt your theory that if gays had focused their defense against anti-atheist bigotry, they would have prevented Prop 8 and other anti-gay legislation."

That would not be my theory. I would not even want to try to defend such a claim.

The rest of your post seems to suggest even a stronger claim - that somehow I believe that there would be no discrimination at all against gays apart from prejudice that exists towards atheists.

Which is laughably absurd.

I meant specifically what I said - that atheist refusal to stand up to discrimination that already exists against us makes it easier for theocrats to attack non-atheist target groups as well.

Do you dispute that statement?

Mike said...

I am disagreeing with one point that perhaps I am not understanding (see below): Anti-atheism bigotry is by no means the precursor of other forms of bigotry. For example, back when the Pledge being modified with religious proclamations, open homosexuality was piratically non existent, and homosexual sex was illegal in many states.

I am more inclined to agree with Vjack- that atheists may be next in line- we have been 'passing' and are able to move about in society unobstructed (especially white, male, heterosexuals)- we can marry, adopt, teach in schools, and so on. It is likely because we do not have an obvious identifier like other oppressed groups, such as dark skin, a same-sex partner, female features, etc. And we haven't stood up and fought, because it has not been as painful as it has for other groups. That may change.

But now I must agree with this point, which is probably what you meant-

If Atheists would resist, challenge, and defeat the theists primary claim, that the US is a nation under God, than we would effectively invalidate any further legal claims based on religious belief- including those that affect homosexuals.


Alonzo Fyfe said...

Mike wrote: "I am disagreeing with one point that perhaps I am not understanding (see below): Anti-atheism bigotry is by no means the precursor of other forms of bigotry."

You are misunderstanding.

I am not stating any global law regarding the necessary order of different forms of discrimination.

Nor am I participating in some sort of pity contest whereby different groups compete for the title of "Most Oppressed"

I am stating only that anti-atheist discrimination existed in California before Proposition 8, and IF atheists had done a better job of challenging that discrimination then the proponents of gay marriage would have been in a better position than they were in the face of atheist apathy.

Mike said...

Your prescription would apply to all battles for liberties- any fights for rights will pave the way for other groups, and any fights that one group retreats from only encourage the oppressors to move against others. In DU terms- We should want minority groups we are not a member of to have equal protections and freedoms so our own groups will have equal protections and freedoms.

So here I go again, and it's not meant to be a pity contest. I have stated that the liberties of Gays are currently more threatened than those of Atheists. Atheists have not historically resisted anti-Atheist bigotry for the simple fact in that it has not hurt enough. Fighting for rights requires a sacrifice of the life we'd rather be living, and most people won't fight until their way of life is directly threatened.
So in regards to what Prop 8 represents going forward, as "Ethical Atheists" interested in Liberty for all (as it preserves our own liberty), should we put a greater priority on defending the immediate threat to gays or the long term threat to Atheists? If considering proportionality of suffering as I have suggested so far, than perhaps anti-gay bigotry might deserve priority. I am considering your argument and suggesting that Atheist bigotry might be (have been) a better focus because it represents the central conceit of religious bigots that the rest of their bigotry derives- That this is a nation under God, and it's liberties are reserved for believers.

Perhaps by making the central fight a defense atheism and secularism in our public sphere, all subsequent religious ideological assaults on liberty would be thwarted, such as those made against homosexuals.

Eneasz said...

I can't help but wonder if the fact that we have no communal sanctuary/property contributes to the lack of action 99% of us exhibit. Slacktivist touched on this in the most recent Left Behind post here. As click-thru is low, I'll quote a few snippets.

When tragedy strikes a community, a steeple becomes a giant sign reading "Chaplain's Office" and people just kind of show up at churches. Whether or not they belong to any given congregation, the response to communal tragedy is to congregate. This happens after mining disasters, earthquakes, tornados, floods, school bus accidents and shooting sprees. People gather at churches not to seek or to share answers, but just because the doors will be open, and there's a big enough room and a ready supply of candles.

This impulse to gather is useful and even necessary as the community struggles to sort things out -- to figure out what just happened and who's affected and what do we need to do next ... The vigil and the volunteering can last for days,
I attended a high school just a few miles from Columbine, and graduated the year before the shooting there. I didn't personally know anyone effected, but it shook me pretty hard. I had nowhere to go, nothing I could do. My day consisted of chain-smoking in my dorm room and never letting my eyes stray from CNN.

If atheists had a place similar to a church, would more active involvement result?

Naturally I have no solutions, only speculation.