September 1, 2014

Bigotry Against Atheists is Still Socially Acceptable

Touro Synagogue, built in 1759 in Newport, Rho...
Touro Synagogue, built in 1759 in Newport, Rhode Island, is America's oldest surviving synagogue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Today is Labor Day in the United States. I do have the day off, but I'll be working from home in the hope that I can get somewhat caught up. I seem to be behind no matter how many hours I put in.

Instead of writing some diatribe about how those of you who have the day off should be thanking liberals and labor unions, I thought I'd touch on something only peripherally related to Labor Day but sadly relevant to most working atheists: bigotry in the workplace.

Imagine a conversation occurring in one's place of employment in which one party identifies himself or herself as Jewish and the other party, an evangelical Christian, responds with something like the following:
Oh, I didn't know you were Jewish. You always seemed like such a nice person!
I may be wrong about this, but I suspect that most employed adults in the U.S. today would recognize the bigotry reflected in this response and would not expect to hear it in their workplace. They would perceive the statement as inappropriate. I realize that there will be exceptions to this, particularly in regions dominated by evangelical fundamentalist Christianity like the South. This is important to acknowledge because I have actually heard this statement from Christians on multiple occasions here in Mississippi. So no, not everyone is going to recognize it as inappropriate. But on balance, I have to imagine that most people outside such regions would experience the sort of involuntary cringe we tend to have when someone says something offensive after hearing this statement.

And yet, if we replace "Jewish" with "atheist," something striking happens. The statement is no longer widely recognized as inappropriate. Many people can now hear it without the cringe reaction. They might not agree with the sentiment being expressed, but they are much less shocked to hear it. Many do not even perceive it as bigoted.

August 31, 2014

How to Win Any Argument About Social Justice

If it was possible to communicate everything wrong with the behavior of the social justice warrior approach to "winning" arguments on the Internet in one silly graphic, this one would come fairly close:

See more on Know Your Meme

I accept that I may be wrong about this, but I have yet to be convinced that this sort of behavior has little to do with meaningful social justice activism or that it contributes to the sort of change many of us would like to see. The behaviors described in the graphic should be rare among freethinkers and skeptics, including those of us who are interested in social justice.

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August 28, 2014

Separation of Church and State is a Social Justice Issue

English: Rally for social justice, Beersheba, ...
Rally for social justice, Beersheba, Israel, Aug 13 2001 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We don't usually think of separation of church and state as a social justice issue or regard church-state activism as a form of social justice activism. I think this is because when most of us in the U.S. think about church-state activism, we think about efforts to remove nativity scenes and Ten Commandments monuments from government buildings, return the Pledge of Allegiance to the original pre-god language, remove the god references from our currency, persuade our elected officials to stop offering sectarian prayers to open government meetings, and the like. The connection between these efforts and social justice may not be immediately apparent. And yet, I think it makes sense to think of efforts to defend the separation of church and state as a social justice issue.

The cumulative impact of the sort of church-state violations I mentioned above is that they serve to alienate non-religious persons, assuring that we continue to be marginalized. These violations collectively foster an environment of anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination. When government is not neutral on matters of religion but instead opts to promote god belief in general or Christian beliefs in particular, the non-religious lose out. It isn't just a matter of our government no longer representing us; we receive the message that we are unwanted and even despised. Negative public attitudes toward us are normalized and become socially acceptable. It is bad enough that many of our neighbors hate us; when our government behaves like this, we must begin to worry about things as basic as our safety.

August 27, 2014

The Right to Believe

Nest of the flamingo according to old beliefs
Nest of the flamingo according to old beliefs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We hear quite a bit about one's right to believe certain things these days. I'm not sure why this is such a popular subject. It is almost as if many people are convinced that this right was somehow in jeopardy. But it is not in any jeopardy. None whatsoever. Nobody can take away your right to believe whatever you want. And as far as I can tell, nobody is trying to do so.

We all have the right to believe whatever we want, no matter how wrong we may be. Beliefs, just like all our other thoughts, are our own. They are private unless we decide to make them public. Nobody else can even know what we believe unless we choose to express it.

We do not have the right to express our beliefs without consequence, and we certainly do not have the right to act upon our beliefs without consequence. When someone wears a "god hates fags" t-shirt to a job interview with a politically progressive company, he or she is unlikely to get the job. If I list "atheist activist" under special skills on my resume, I won't get the job. When someone acts on his or her beliefs by shouting racial slurs at persons of color through a megaphone, he or she will probably face some negative consequences for his or her behavior. These consequences are about how one is expressing or acting on one's beliefs and not the beliefs themselves.

August 25, 2014

Is Separation of Church and State Still Relevant?

Mouzinho da Silveira, whose influence during t...
Mouzinho da Silveira, whose influence during the post-War era would result in changes to the economy, the separation of church and state and the reorganization of municipalities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The question contained in the title of this post seems like an odd one to ask, and perhaps it is. I've found myself wondering lately whether most atheists still consider the separation of church and state to be a relevant area for activism and how it ranks among all their other priorities for activism.

Why do I ask? From what I see on the Internet these days, many atheists would rather talk about Ferguson, ice buckets, Gaza, ISIS, transphobia and trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), whatever Richard Dawkins recently said on Twitter, who said what about various bloggers at the Slyme Pit, and a host of other subjects. To be clear, I'm not saying that there isn't still plenty of church-state content out there. Church-state violations are happening daily, and Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist), as just one example, continues to do an outstanding job of covering them. But it seems like I'm seeing less of this content being shared on social media than many of these other topics.

We can certainly have many interests and be involved in activism in multiple areas simultaneously. The fact that many seem captivated by these other topics does not mean that they are uninterested in church-state activism. But since it seems to receive less attention than it used to and less attention than these other subjects, I wonder whether separation of church and state is still as high a priority for most atheists as it once seemed to be.

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