Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Ethical Atheist Politician: The Social Role of Anti-Atheist Bigotry

This project has taken turns I did not anticipate. Meant to be a discussion of the activities of the ethical atheist politician, it has included posts on the ethical atheist lobbyist and the ethical atheist political organization.

There is a problem with this. The issues that described as important are not limited in their importance to atheists. The spread of disease and poverty, the acts of bigotry, and the acts of violence, the foolish ignorance motivating agents to lower the quality of life of those around her, all motivated by the acceptance of primitive mythologies and superstitions are a concern not just for atheists.

This brings up another way in which some theists distort atheist concerns so as to provide a smoke screen behind which harmful behavior can continue. Yesterday, I brought up the distortion of portraying atheists as primarily concerned with getting others to agree with them about the existence of God and, thus, hiding other concerns. Another, similar tactic is to ridicule atheists for having a selfish concern with anti-atheist bigotry even though other groups (blacks, Jews, women, homosexuals) have suffered far worse.

As a moral defense, this is without merit (and, incidentally, puts a lie to the claim that religion gives a person extraordinary moral insight). It is like claiming, "You have no right to protest the fact that I stabbed you in the hand because I have done far worse to others. In fact, you owe me a debt of gratitude for not treating you as poorly. So, go ahead. Thank me."

However, it also "bears false witness" against the atheist to claim that anti-atheist bigotry is a primary concern of the ethical atheist.

Sam Harris' book, The End of Faith does not even mention atheism. It was concerned with acts of violence that come from taking the word of primitive superstitious warlords as the infallible moral guidance if a supreme being.

This was also a major concern for Christopher Hitchens, who saw a good friend Salmon Rushdie living under threat of death for offending Islam and a secular liberal culture voicing support for the Jihadists because "we must respect other cultures". Freedom of speech and freedom of the press was just one of the things that religion poisoned.

Richard Dawkins' first concern has been with religious barriers to scientific understanding - the 21st century version of the geocentrists and flat-earthers who bring myth and superstition into the public schools and call it "science".

We also see this in countless atheist blogs that spend far more time complaining about religion's contribution to violence, bigotry against homosexuals and women, its contribution to overpopulation and the spread of poverty, the spread of disease, the prevention of medical advances that could save lives and reduce suffering, the denial of treatment for children of easily-treated diseases, of teenagers coerced or seduced into refusing blood transfusions, of young girl and women stoned to death or poisoned or splashed with acid or otherwise maimed or killed or abused by people claiming to have God's blessing, not only in fringe cults but mainstream religions.

However, the religious apologist - some of whom are atheists seeking a pat on the head from the religious community - hides these issues behind a smoke screen that accuses the whining crybaby atheists with concern over anti-atheist bigotry.

This rhetorical tactic is aided by opposing groups identifying themselves primarily as atheists - and not primarily as opponents to violence, bigotry, the suffering of children, the teaching of superstition as science, and the abuse of women and children - an identity that could find many allies among the religious.

However, this is not a fault of the atheist organizations.

Any public relations professional will tell an organization seeing to promote its standing in the eyes of the public that they can do so by painting their opponents with what the public widely perceives as a stain. The tactic of branding opposition to these forms of religiously motivated harms as "atheist" existed long before atheist organizations acquired their current growth. The current crop of atheist organizations did not create this problem, and it would not disappear if those organizations were to choose to go away.

Anti-atheist bigotry existed long before there were atheist groups to protest it, and was being used for public relations purpose long before those organizations existed.

Of course, a part of the smoke screen is to blame people like Dawkins and Hitchens for anti-atheist bigotry that existed long before they wrote their first word of criticism of religion. It is as if we can blame the "new atheists" for motivating activists to respond by changing the national motto to "In God We Trust" and putting "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Consequently, there will have to be a fight against anti-atheist bigotry if only to prevent religious organizations from hiding their violence, bigotry, abuse, and ignorance behind this particular smoke screen. In this sense, it is not the case of the whining crybaby atheist complaining about abuses when others have endured far worse. It is the case of the atheist removing a smoke screen used to deflect attention from far worse abuses that others are forced to endure.

This, in turn, explains one of the needs for the ethical atheist politician.

The ethical atheist politician is somebody who can help to deliver the message that it is a distortion to view the atheist are obsessed with relatively minor abuses. She can deliver the message that the ethical atheist is primarily concerned with death, suffering, bigotry, and ignorance that it is within our power to prevent. She is concerned primarily with these other abuses and with removing the tactic of hiding those abuses behind a smoke screen itself built on anti-atheist bigotry.

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