September 16, 2013

Atheists Depicted as Unpatriotic and Ungrateful

Dana Perino starting a daily White House press...
Dana Perino starting a daily White House press briefing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After former White House Press Secretary, Dana Perino, and her colleagues on Fox News' "The Five" spewed forth some anti-atheist bigotry on the air, I wondered whether this sort of thing was any less acceptable than it was when George H. W. Bush did it in 1987. I am not sure we have a clear answer yet, but I was more than a little surprised by the lack of response to this one.

It certainly seems like there are more outspoken atheists now than was the case in 1987; however, our response to these comments was rather mild. I suppose this could be due to our difficulty in coming together because of our infighting, but I'm not convinced this is the main reason or even terribly relevant here. I wonder if we have become so used to this sort of bigotry that we do not notice it as much as we would if it was directed at others. Imagine what would have happened if Ms. Perino had said that she was "tired of" Jews or Blacks and that they should leave the country. I suspect that many atheists would have been even more upset by this than they were by what she actually said, including those who were neither Jewish nor Black.

In a guest post at Religion Dispatches, Rob Shryock wrote:
…all The Five’s banter revolved around one central theme: atheists are unpatriotic and ungrateful for what their country has given them. This is perhaps the most popular stereotype about atheists: it’s the “Muslims hate our freedom” of atheist-bashing. For example, just a day prior to The Five segment, Fox and Friends’s Steve Doocy questioned the patriotism of the family that brought the case in Massachusetts.
He's right. The only misconception about atheists I encounter more often than this one is the notion that we are immoral simply because we lack god belief. And given the fierce determination of many Americans to believe that they are superior to every other nation, one could certainly make the case that patriotism and perceptions of morality are closely linked.

Are we okay with being perceived as unpatriotic every time we stand up for the separation of church and state? I'm not. Are we okay with being viewed as enemies of the state because we refuse to go along with one particular mass delusion? I'm certainly not. Anti-atheist bigotry may be one of the last bastions of bigotry to be socially acceptable. It is up to us to change that.

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