January 27, 2007

Atheist Values and Public Relations

If you haven't seen this article yet, check it out while it is still available. Ms. Appleby makes some good points. Among my favorites is also one of the simplest: "Atheists don't believe in God, but that is the only generalization you can make about us." Articles like this, published in a variety of newspapers around the country, may help to change the overwhelmingly negative attitudes about atheists.

Of course, Appleby also makes the controversial recommendation that more of us should speak out, identifying ourselves as atheists. In the abstract, this is a sensible suggestion. Can you imagine if every atheist in America were to "come out" as an atheist? The many Americans who claim that they've never met an atheists or that we are all evil would suddenly have to confront the reality that we were everywhere. We would be much harder to ignore, our political power would rise, and many of the myths about us would surely fall.

Unfortunately, there are parts of America where it is simply not safe to proclaim one's atheism. Of course, these are also the places where atheists are most likely to feel isolated, fearful of being identified, and at odds with their neighbors on many issues. The obvious dilemma is that large numbers of people "coming out" in these locations would improve our safety while there is tremendous pressure on not being one of the first to do so. We all know it is a good idea, but the personal costs are still quite high at this point.

This is why I like to see articles like Appleby's. By humanizing atheists, people without firmly ingrained intolerance may become more receptive to our existence. I'm not saying this will eliminate the safety issues, but I hope that it may lead to more allies over time.

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