Tag Archives: Atheism

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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Read Me On Secular Progressive

By the by–as of last Wednesday, I’m now blogging weekly at Secular Progressive on religion & politics related content, on the kind invitation of founder Mike Tracey.

I made Mike’s acquaintance when interviewing about his scoop at the Campus Progress National Conference, when Bill Clinton admitted to personally supporting same-sex marriage. (See his Nation and HuffPost articles.) It became clear during the course of this conversation that we shared interests in the realm of atheism, religion, and politics, so when he later said he was looking for more contributors to his blog on “Religion, Politics, and Everything in Between,” I agreed to jump onboard. (Granted, “jump” might not be the right verb–I did take a few weeks to make good on my commitment.)

Why Secular Progressive? Bill O’Reilly coined the term “Secular Progressive” to give a name to the group he views as destroying the foundation of society, but us “S-P’s” are more troubled by the consequences of his right-wing rants. Mike reminds us in the blog’s first post that, oh right–“secular progressive” is not an insult. It’s a label to wear with pride:

No longer can those of us who identify as secular and/or progressive allow ourselves to be caricaturized by the likes of O’Reilly without putting up a fight. That’s how the Right stole the term “liberal” and it’s how conservative Christians have demonized the term “atheist.” Us S-P’s have ourselves a set of values, and we happen to think that they’re better than the alternative, or else we wouldn’t hold them in the first place. Rather than undermine society, we think that those values will actually strengthen our communities and our governments.

So look for me at the Secular Progressive on Wednesdays, and check out Mike’s latest on what happens to him after ordering a Book of Mormon. It’s the beginning of a short series of posts–I wonder what will happen next time with the young Elders Wilcox and Marble?

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The Land Before the Fall: Atheist Field Trip to Creation Museum

I wish I could have been in Kentucky last week for the atheist field trip to the Creation, ahem, “Museum,” where “Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers.” Alas, I couldn’t make it down–but there are plenty of blogs sharing pics and videos, in particular this one from biologist PZ Myers, who is amused that the diet of a T-Rex specifies “After the Fall.”

I’m choosing to share a good laugh with PZ, rather than tearing up over the fact that people actually believe this, about the fuzzy dating: ~2348 BC is cited as the Jurassic, Upper Cretaceous, and Lower Cretaceous eras all in one. As PZ says, “Why does the geology even matter to them if they’re just going to ignore it all and compress everything into one year, a year given with such remarkable specificity?”

But it wasn’t all fun and games at the Creation Museum: one attendee got kicked out for making a snide remark to a friend (he’d earlier been forced to turn his T-shirt, which said, “There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”).

Oh well. I have to get back to fantasizing about frolicking with Littlefoot in the Land Before the Fall. Does the Creation Museum have tree stars?

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Calling Atheist Women: The Public Needs You

A couple years late, I came across Christopher Hitchens’ 2007 article on why women are “backward” in generating humor. I was duly pissed off, but I’ll keep my entire unhumorous rant on the subject to myself, because otherwise I’ll never make it to my intended destination: the union between atheism and women.

A woman commented on the Katrina vanden Heuvel post I discussed on Tuesday, saying that atheism shared the same ol’ male-dominated network as religion. As fervent a feminist as I am an atheist, I wondered: is that true?

The four big names of what’s been dubbed the “new atheist” movement are best-selling authors Christopher, Richard, Sam, and Daniel. The Bible was clearly written by men, and it’s looking like the tracts of atheism are following in that patriarchal tradition.

And yet…freed from Eve-demonizing faiths, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and humanists served a major role of the women’s rights movement. American Atheists was founded by school-prayer challenger Madalyn Murray O’Hair (think the new atheists rile people up? O’Hair called herself the “most hated woman in America”), and the Freedom From Religion Foundation was launched by a mother-daughter duo. Female writers do exist in atheist bookstores, such as Annie Laurie Gaylor and Katha Pollitt, with works focusing on the place of women in freethought vs. fundamentalist traditions.

Though some churches in the U.S., like the Episcopal congregation, have grown out of their misogyny and now ordain female priests and bishops, religion has a poor track record with women, and entrenched institutions find it hard to catch up with modern equality, even with progressive men and women working within their ranks toward change. Atheism is a logical place for women to thrive because it doesn’t have to deal with that sexist baggage–there’s no one text riddled with sexism for liberal scholars to try to explain, no one text at all to bow down to as “the word” on atheism.

But as a belief system whose explanation rests entirely in the hands of its followers, the who’s who of atheist stars does matter. It’s not so much about individual flaws and foibles as the need for missing voices (in another post, I could comment on their racial homogeneity in the same manner). Whether or not Christopher Hitchens has penchant for promoting sexist/borderline misogynistic stereotypes in his writing, the voices of public atheism are too testosterone-filled–even if raised in defense of women, it’s better that the ladies take the floor, too.

The last thing we need is another boys club.

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Oh, to be Secular in the Summer

Nation Editor Katrina vanden Heuvel blogged on something atheists had to celebrate this 4th:

“After eight years in the Bush wilderness — and an even longer period of ostracism by the Washington political establishment — a rising demographic of like-minded Americans and a new president are guiding us back to our roots as a secular nation.”

Jaws dropped when Obama referenced nonbelievers in his inauguration speech. Though the day had its issues, from Rick Warren to a multiplicity of religious references and figures, with one word Obama handed a vital commodity to “nonbelievers”: visibility.

Say what you will about Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, their snark snatched attention for atheism, which it desperately needed. (Now atheism has buses–I saw one of the mobile ads in New York yesterday.) While their less-than-perfectly-tolerant rhetoric might have offended some religious people, nonetheless I think they did more good than harm in capturing the spotlight. People often distrust the unfamiliar, so as long as atheists remain in the shadows, mistrust and misunderstanding proliferate.

Of course, Obama doesn’t need to grab headlines with ploys like Dawkins’ or Hitchens’. All he has to do is make use of his Obama star power, bringing visibility and a modicum of support.

Now, maybe you could complain that he could stand to do better than just a shout-out–and that he steered clear of the term “atheist,” which, for some reason, people tend to have trouble with (I recall a comedian once talking about coming out to her parents as an atheist–they knew she didn’t believe in God, but an atheist?!). He’s paid a lot of lip service to the LGBT community that hasn’t come to fruition either, once citing his Christianity as his reason for opposing gay marriage, and the inroads the Religious Right has made have not been reset to neutral. Just because atheists have been so downtrodden doesn’t mean we should give too much applause to scraps from on high.

Still, I’m happy for any help in confronting prejudice toward “nonbelievers” and helping draw them out of the closet. And for giving atheists a momentary warm fuzzy feeling: though rising above is admirable, it’s easier to treat religion with tolerance and respect when you’re getting a little in return.

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