May 11, 2014

Empathy for Atheists Has Been Unnecessary for Many Christians

English: Student pledging to the flag, 1899.
Student pledging to the flag, 1899 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have written previously about the potential value of empathy among atheists in the sense that having empathy for Christians can be helpful if we truly seek to understand them. For those of us who are surrounded by Christians in our daily lives, I think that a bit of understanding can be useful.

Of course, it would be ideal of empathy was recognized as a two-way street. It would be nice if more Christians would try a bit of empathy in their dealings with atheists (i.e., understanding instead of demonizing).

Why don't we see more empathy from our Christian neighbors? Perhaps the answer, at least in part, is that empathy for atheists has not been necessary for many Christians.

Regarding a recent poll from LifeWay Research that found that 85% of Americans surveyed prefer to keep "under god" in the pledge of allegiance, Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) noted:
Most Americans are religious and they don’t have the ability to empathize with non-Christians on issues like this. They can’t put themselves in our shoes and imagine what it’d feel like to either say a pledge you don’t agree with or purposely excuse yourself out of the classroom (or remain seated) so you don’t have to participate. They still conflate religion with patriotism, even after those remnants from the Soviet era should’ve burnt out.
Hemant is certainly correct that most Americans are religious, but I would not necessarily conclude that most Americans lack the ability to empathize with non-Christians. Some may indeed lack the ability to empathize with others, but I suspect that many more are not exercising this ability because they do not want to do so or have never found it necessary (i.e., Christian privilege).

The more we atheists speak out, the harder it will be for Christians to ignore us. By sharing what it is like for us to be surrounded by reminders that we are hated, we may help some Christians begin to consider how this would feel. The more we atheists begin to organize around church-state activism, the more difficult it will be to maintain Christian privilege. In such an atmosphere, I imagine that some Christians will find it helpful to try some empathy in their dealings with us. Those that refuse to do so may find themselves becoming increasingly marginalized in much the same way the rabidly anti-LGBT Christians are starting to be marginalized.

Of course, none of this will happen overnight. More importantly, none of it is going to happen without us working to make it happen. We need to speak out, tell our stories, organize, and embrace church-state activism. Sitting back and waiting for Christian privilege to erode on its own is not going to bring about results in our lifetime. We are going to have to expend some effort.

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