November 20, 2006

What's a Little Atheist-Bashing Among Friends?

Working out the angles
Working out the angles (Photo credit: psiaki)
If you are like me, most of the people you spend time with are Christian. Like most employed people, I spend the vast majority of my waking hours at work. All of my co-workers are either Christian or Jewish, and religion does periodically come up, even though it is by no means a frequent topic. The most common way it comes up is in the form of references to church (e.g., "I know him from church," "The other day at church...," etc.). However, it also comes up at times in the context of poking fun at Muslims or atheists.

I am not what you'd call openly atheist at work. My co-workers know that I do not attend church, but this is about the extent of it. I suspect they simply assume that I am a lapsed Christian; however, nobody has ever posed the question directly. I would be honest to direct questions, but I have not seen it as being in my best interest to volunteer this information at work.

This creates an interesting predicament about how I should respond when the atheist-bashing starts. Don't get me wrong - I have never heard direct, unsubtle atheist-bashing at work. Instead, I hear the usual comments about not being able to trust atheists because they have no morality, loyalty, etc. or wondering aloud how anybody could possibly reject their god, not celebrate Christmas, etc. These comments have rarely been directed at any specific person and have always been made in passing before someone changes the subject. Thus, it isn't like they are a particularly frequent or important occurrence. Still, they have started me thinking.

How would I respond if I was in a group of co-workers who started making racist comments? Even though I am every bit as White as they are, I am quite certain that I would respond with outrage, attempt to correct the misconceptions, and ask them not to make such comments in my presence. Why the difference? Why am I more tolerant of the anti-atheist comments, especially considering that I am an atheist? I suspect my inaction here is due to the far greater frequency and social acceptability of such comments. But does this really make sense?

I have come to a decision while writing this post - call it a pre-New Year's resolution if you like - that I will no longer hold my tongue in these situations. Frankly, I am at a place in my career where I feel that it is finally safe to risk a little more. If I, as an atheist, am not willing to speak for us and to correct misconceptions when they are voiced, then how can I expect anyone else to do so? I will speak out when necessary, and I will do so in a calm, respectful, and reasonable manner.