August 1, 2007

Give Dawkins Money or You're Not a Real Atheist

Richard Dawkins OUT Campaign
Richard Dawkins OUT Campaign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I trust that you've now heard of the OUT Campaign, championed by Richard Dawkins. What an ingenious way to sell crap! Okay, maybe I'm being too hard on Dawkins and the folks who support this campaign (to my genuine amazement). In truth, my real objection has little to do with Dawkins trying to make a buck off of this and more to do with a statement by a certain prominent blogger that those who refuse to wear Dawkins' mark have no right to claim that they are helping the atheist movement.

Atheists are increasingly looking to the gay rights movement as a model for how to gain respectability, political power, and to ensure that our rights are protected. The key lesson many atheists seem to have taken from the LGBT community is that "coming out" solves all ills. The idea is that if more atheists were to come out, we'd be impossible to ignore, we'd have tremendous strength due to our large numbers, it would no longer be possible to discriminate against us, etc.

This sounds good in principle, but it strikes me as naive and more than a little condescending. Those of us not fortunate enough to live in the UK with Dawkins or in progressive regions of America may have realistic concerns over our personal safety. How dare these atheists suggest that adolescents are being disingenuous by concealing their atheism from family members! How can they presume to know whether any of their readers are in already abusive situations which would be made far worse by such a disclosure?

Others of us are worried that publicizing our lack of religious belief would only increase our alienation or interfere with our careers. As a tenured associate professor at the University of Minnesota, PZ Myers has evidently decided to flaunt his atheism. Good for him, but is he really going to tell nontenured assistant professors in the South that they should announce their atheism too? Can he be so naive as to imagine that this might not have a negative impact on us? And worst of all, does he truly believe that anyone who refuses to wear Dawkins' scarlet letter is not helping?

For the record, my atheism is known to my family and close friends. I answer direct questions honestly, regardless of who asks them. However, I will not go around broadcasting my atheism. I am far more effective in my job without my beliefs coming between my students and I. I am a more effective blogger without the temptation to hold back for fear of who might be reading my words. I am a more effective citizen in my local community without my atheism alienating those with whom I must interact. You see, I am a hell of a lot more than just an atheist, and I'd like to keep it that way.

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