February 9, 2020

For Those Who Are Curious About What Atheists Want

deer

I guess the title of this post is a bit of a misnomer. Atheists are far too diverse for me to be able to reasonably claim that we all want anything. The best I can do is talk about what I want or try to address some of the most common things I hear from atheists about what they want while recognizing the diversity. But...(you had to know that was coming)...I did want to share one very brief thought with you about something I'd bet almost all atheists could agree we'd like to see.

Imagine a scenario where an elected official or someone running for political office says something most reasonable people find racist, sexist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic. I realize we don't have to stretch our imaginations much because this sort of thing still happens. And when it happens, the response is usually one of understandable outrage. It isn't that these scenarios are always (or even usually) career-ending; however, there is usually a response that makes it clear to the guilty party that they probably shouldn't have said what they said.

If we focus on the religious aspect of this and expand it a bit, we could imagine our elected official or political candidate making statements that were blatantly bigoted toward members of various religious groups (e.g., Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Mormons). In most of these cases, there would be immediate public outrage and pressure to apologize. Before the ordeal was over, the person involved would probably learn that they should not have said what they said.

I realize I'm just one atheist speaking here, but I'd like to see this extended to bigotry directed at atheists. That is, I'd like to see it become equally unacceptable for an elected official or a candidate running for office to make bigoted statements about atheists as it is to make them about any of these other religious groups. Specifically, someone who says that atheists should not be permitted to hold public office because they are evil should be treated to the same reaction as someone who said this about Jews, Catholics, etc.

In truth, I'm not sure that most atheists would agree with this. I know I said so above, and I'd really like to think so; however, I suspect that there are at least some atheists who will not be able to get past what they will perceive as a free speech issue. We can certainly debate whether public outrage is an appropriate response in any of these cases, but that is not my point here. My point is that if there is going to be public outrage in the face of bigotry directed at these other groups, the reaction should be similar when atheists are the group being targeted. Why? Because this tells us a great deal about the degree to which bigotry against atheists is socially acceptable.

I'd like to see a significant reduction in the socially acceptability of anti-atheist bigotry. I'd like us to reach the point where an elected official or a candidate running for office would perceive making bigoted statements about atheists to be harmful to their chances of winning or remaining in office. I'd like our elected officials and candidates running for office to realize that atheists are going to be an increasing proportion of their constituency and behave accordingly. This does not mean they must agree with us and abandon their faith; it does mean they must overcome their bigotry.