February 26, 2007

They must be powerless and invisible

Posted in Civil rights, Musings, Religion at 10:02 pm by The Lizard Queen

Lately it seems as if we’re getting a new category to go along with Belligerent Blacks, Feminazis, and Militant Queers: the Angry Atheist. It seems as if it’s not enough for those in the majority (or, at least in the case of men and women, those with the bulk of the power) to be in the majority; they also want freedom from having their privilege questioned or even pointed out. African Americans demonstrated peacefully against the injustice they received at the hands of the dominant society, and certain Alabama clergymen “expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts, but urged that decisions of those courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed.” Women are still being told that they’re less than men–for example, we’re “not rational political actors”–and some men’s sense of entitlement continues to run rampant. When homosexual citizens ask to be given the same rights and privileges their heterosexual counterparts enjoy, conservatives start yelping about “special rights”. It’s not enough that these groups are in the minority, different from “the norm,” historically oppressed. They need to be invisible as well.

While atheists have been around for a good long while–perhaps as long as there have been theists–it’s possible that the rise of modern science has caused an increase in atheists and agnostics, and, either way, more atheists have been going public with their godlessness in the past twenty-or-so years. Furthermore, there’s been a rise in people promoting tolerance across the spectrum of beliefs. Movements in the direction of acceptance tend to have their backlashes, and I think this recent CNN piece might win the prize for the backlash against religious tolerance. Karen Hunter, a journalism professor at Hunter College in New York as well as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was invited to comment, and said, “I think they [i.e. atheists] need to shut up and let people do what they do.”

That comment followed a story about one family in a small Mississippi town who were ostracized because they were atheists, and another family whose landlord told them to move out once he discovered they were atheists. Those people should just “shut up and let people do what they do.” Hunter added, “Don’t impose upon my right to want to have prayer in schools, to want to say the pledge of allegiance, to want to honor my God. Don’t infringe upon that right.” Here’s what TPO (author of the myspace page linked above) had to say about that:

Karen Hunter doesn’t seem to realize that no one “imposes” on her right to want to have prayer in schools, to want to say the Pledge of Allegiance, to want to honor her god. Furthermore, no one “imposes” on her right to pray in school, to say the Pledge of Allegiance, or to honor her god. All that has changed is that the state cannot endorse, promote, or encourage her in doing any of this. Does Karen Hunter, professor of journalism, really think that her religious liberty depends on the government actively helping, encouraging, and endorsing her religious rituals? That’s nonsense.

I’m not an atheist myself–indeed, I don’t fit neatly into any particular category–but I’m very aware of what it feels like to be marginalized, and I don’t think anyone deserves that treatment. This has come up in one of my earlier posts: there is no “War on Christmas” or “War on Christianity.” All that’s happening is that people of different faiths, along with atheists, are asking to be given the same respect Christians are accustomed to.

Slightly off topic: I’ve been working on this post for a few weeks now. Things keep coming up that I think are relevant, further examples of intolerance toward non-Christians, of Christians trying to bring their beliefs into legislation (e.g. the battle against same-sex marriage or, often, anything that even resembles it), or people from other parts of dominant society complaining about rights/benefits/etc. given to minorities (see snarks touched on in previous post). But the longer I wait, the less timely the CNN documentary aspect is, and since that’s a major part of this post, I’m just going to post this and be done with it… for now…



  1. DavidD said,

    If neither theists nor atheists misrepresented science, I’d have a lot less to say about them. Creationists have been saying ignorant things about evolution for as long as I can remember. It kept me from seriously considering Christianity throughout my twenties. But eventually it hit me that those who insist evolution can’t be true are just as ignorant about God as they are about science.

    I’ve been aware of mystical fantasies about quantum physics or other science since I learned enough science to know how wrong they are. It winds up being the same thing. It’s bad science. It’s bad spirituality.

    “God is dead” is much older than I am, but I don’t remember such aggressive atheism as one sees now among mainstream scientists until the eighties or so. I suppose the more physics has learned and the more molecular biology has shown, the more it’s clear that one can have perfectly good models of both the universe and life with no need for God. Yet the claim is then made that science thereby has disproved God or essentially so. Those are very different things. Then since 9/11 there’s been this theme of how violence is all due to religion. It’s intellectually weak not only for those claims, but how thousands of years of spiritual experiences are trivialized as well. I want good science in all of these things.

    Now I don’t think the enmity between theists and atheists is mostly about such intellectual issues. I think it’s the other way around, that enmity and desires from the real world makes discussions of this so terrible intellectually. The battles over intellectual matters are surrogates for what might have been more open violence in less civil times. It’s not quite what TPO says. Government-generated prayers have been taken away from those who want them. I agree that’s as it should be, but strongly disagree that Karen Hunter therefore has no reason to complain. She has lost something. She would lose more if “under God” were removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. She may just have to adapt to that loss, too, but to say she is just making something up is just rheotric. No one fights over religion just to be mean. Sadists have much easier means to express themselves.

    It’s been less than 50 years that the Supreme Court has been enforcing the establishment clause of the first amendment. Many evangelical Christians want those years erased and hope that one more conservative appoinment might reverse both the religious decisions and Roe v. Wade. Whether or not that happens, there is such resentment on both sides about who’s right and who’s wrong in this. Every new lawsuit becomes a focus for all of that.

    For anyone who is certain how that issue should be decided, it’s good to remember that the Supreme Court has been against you at one time or another. It’s arrogant to dismiss that. Yet people are naturally arrogant, naturally ignorant, and hypocritical about applying what is supposedly their morality, such as loving both neighbors and enemies. It’s amazing anyone overcomes such a nature.

  2. Evil Bender said,

    David D:

    I agree with much of what you’re saying, but I don’t think anyone has argued that “violence is all due to religion.” I know of no one who has made such a claim. I would argue that religion has done a lot of harm, but it’s not unique in that, and religious people have certainly done great things as well.

  3. DavidD said,

    Yes, I said that poorly. One of Sam Harris’ big themes is how dangerous religion is, pointing to 9/11 as an example. You can read what he writes for exactly how he puts it. On religious or atheist message boards, there are regular postings about how religion is bad because it’s behind so much political violence in the world. None of these acknowledge how much political violence is motivated by nationalism or other group allegiance. Their thesis that the world would be less violent without religion is not well thought through.

  4. Evil Bender said,

    I have read Harris, and I agree with much of what he says, and disagree strongly with other aspects of it.

    My position is simpler and, I hope, more reasonable: religion becomes a problem when it advocated belief in spite of the evidence. Personally, I dislike beliefs not founded on evidence, but one can have such beliefs and be intellectually consistent.

    Religion isn’t the problem. The problem is fundamentalism, which I define as the absolute, irrational belief in the rightness of one’s own religious beliefs. As soon as one decides to ignore the evidence to uphold their position, they enter dangerous ground inded, the kind of ground where they might fly planes into buildings, invade innocent countries or bomb clinics.

    What I hope is that atheists, deists, theists, and others who are “spiritually inclined” would unite in opposing the kind of thinking which can lead to such conviction and such evil.

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