NYT Journalists Should Not Suggest Atheists Remain Nominal Christians

Robert Worth offers an interesting profile in the New York Times of a former pastor who became an atheist leader, but I wish he had skipped this editorializing toward the end: “I did later wonder if all the public atheism had done DeWitt more harm than good. Couldn’t he have remained a nominal Christian, as so many others have? … Open confrontation with faith, some would say, just provokes angry gestures from the faithful.” It’s like suggesting gay people should pretend to be straight to not anger homophobes.

And the failure to recognize that it’s the same unacceptable intolerance is part of the problem.

The dialogue on this issue continues to revolve around the idea that atheists shouldn’t “provoke” religious people by daring to admit their beliefs (the audacity!), rather than challenging the discrimination and hatred directed toward atheists by some hostile religious people.

I hardly think that, in 2012, a NY Times journalist would ask whether a gay person couldn’t just act publicly straight, so as to not upset certain religious persons, but atheists don’t receive the same consideration (yet). Yes, Worth reports the argument as “some would say,” but (aside from being a lazy journalistic statement) gives no indication that he disagrees with this vague group. It’s a transparent mask to disguise his own editorial voice.

If Worth needed to wonder aloud in his article, “From Bible-Belt Pastor to Atheist Leader,” he could have responsibly followed up his musings by recognizing that public atheism doesn’t “just” provoke anger from “the faithful.” Worth might have acknowledged that social justice movements require brave individuals standing up for their beliefs, especially those who live in conservative religious areas and face the most difficult environment, like former preacher Jerry DeWitt, the article’s subject. It clears a path for those still in the closet to one day come out safely — because they shouldn’t need to hide.

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