February 10, 2014

Anti-Christian Bigotry From Atheists

English: The British Atheist Ariane Sherine at...
Ariane Sherine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If I were to say that anti-atheist bigotry is a problem in many parts of the United States, most atheists would agree. Such a statement would be about as uncontroversial as one could expect to find on an atheist blog. Many of us have experienced religiously-motivated bigotry directed at atheists first-hand in our daily lives; many more have seen examples from our news media and elected officials. And of course, it is regularly on display from many prominent Christians. It would be fairly difficult to question the existence of bigotry aimed at atheists. If you are one of the lucky few who doubts it, a few seconds on Twitter should erase those doubts.

But what about anti-Christian bigotry on the part of atheists? This gets us into somewhat more controversial territory, doesn't it? We recognize that Christians enjoy a privileged status in the U.S. and that their fantasies about how non-Christians standing up for our rights equate with Christians being persecuted are just that - fantasies. However, I think we have to accept that some atheists are bigoted against Christians. And whether we like it or not, several of them are expressing this bigotry in public.

A few weeks ago, I was searching various atheist-related hashtags on Twitter to see what people were talking about when I ran across a few examples of anti-Christian bigotry on the part of atheists. One was complaining about A&E's reversal of their decision to remove Phil Roberstson by saying that this sort of thing was why he "hates all Christians." Hating someone you've never met simply because they are Christian? Yeah, that's bigotry. A few minutes later, another atheist opined that Christianity should be outlawed and that "Christians are evil." And then I saw an atheist with over 2,000 followers telling a Christian to "go kill yourself." When I looked at the conversation, I saw that the Christian had been respectful and was merely asking the sort of questions one might expect from someone who had not given the god question much thought. And for this, he was told that he should kill himself.

Seeing this sort of thing on Twitter is not terribly surprising. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I see it almost every time I use Twitter. But this does not make it any less disappointing. I don't know about you, but I'm not interested in trading one form of bigotry for another. I do not oppose anti-atheist bigotry from Christians because I hope to replace it with anti-Christian bigotry from atheists. That is not the goal. At least, it isn't my goal. The problem is the bigotry and not the direction it takes.

Now, it is no secret that atheists can be irrational and can say some incredibly stupid things at times. None of us are immune from this. We can be every bit as tribalistic and petty as the religious believers we like to complain about. And evidently, we can also be rather bigoted.

Ariane Sherine recently wrote an insightful article, The scathing slurs of my fellow atheists make me despair. While her views of religion appear to be quite a bit more positive than my own, I do think she is correct to suggest that petty name calling probably isn't helping anybody lose their faith.
There’s a quip often quoted by atheists: a militant Christian shoots an abortion doctor, a militant Islamist detonates a bomb, a militant atheist writes a book. This may be true, and yet the “book” in question is often so full of unpleasant barbs and wounding prejudice that most shy away from reading it. We atheists can write whatever we like in our books. We tend to be eloquent writers, too. We have the power to change the world. Why not fill our books with kindness?
I have previously defended the ridicule and mockery of religious beliefs, and I'll likely continue to do so. But I think this can be done intelligently and without resorting to calling people names. What I absolutely will not defend is bigotry and callous exhortations for religious believers to commit suicide.

Some atheists are bound to be concerned that the anti-Christian bigotry being expressed by some atheists will be used to strengthen the stereotypes many Christians hold about atheists (e.g., that we hate Christians). They will advise atheists "don't be a dick" without explaining what they mean because they are worried that this kind of thing will fuel the bigotry we face from Christians. This is understandable. It does become a bit more difficult to correct the misconception that we atheists hate Christians when some atheists are loudly proclaiming their hatred for all Christians.

Still, I find the concerns over our public image to be secondary at best. The primary lesson, at least for me, is that it is becoming increasingly apparent that atheism is not enough. Shedding our god belief is important, but we need to stop kidding ourselves that this will somehow make us more rational, more tolerant of others, and the like. If we want a better world, we are going to need to do more than shed religion. We are going to have to promote reality-based education, critical thinking, reason, skepticism, and perhaps even empathy for others. Merely promoting atheism and hoping everything else will somehow fall into place probably won't get us where we'd like to be.

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