Paul Thornton, an atheist and a researcher for the Editorial Pages department of the LA Times, has an opinion piece in today’s paper where he argues: Yes, atheists are disliked, but we should not pretend we face the same oppression that gays/blacks/Muslims have faced:
[Richard] Dawkins, [Sam] Harris and other secularists are correct in pointing out our chances of getting elected… But they’re wrong to lump atheists with historically marginalized groups — gays, blacks and others — as sharing a similar struggle. Having a hard time getting elected to high-level office is one thing; overcoming and still struggling with the shameful American legacy of institutional discrimination is another — and atheists shouldn’t conflate the two.
There’s no doubt that other minorities have had it much worse than atheists have it today. There’s a delusion of grandeur taking place when atheists says we are in the same position now that gay people were in 50 years ago. We can vote. We get medical/spousal benefits. We could always go to the same schools as everyone else. Although one is too many, hate crimes against atheists are virtually non-existent when compared to violence against certain other minority groups.
Thornton adds at the end of his piece:
… it’s disgraceful when prominent atheists like Harris and Dawkins compare their own plight to to the truly repressed in a single breath. After all, in just a few months, California will officially sanction my heterosexual relationship with my fiancee — tax benefits and all — despite my membership in America’s Most Distrusted Minority.
To be fair, when I’ve heard Harris and Dawkins speak, they’re the first to point out that others have had it worse. But it’s easier for people to comprehend the struggles atheists have to deal with when we can compare it to historical (and in many cases, modern) instances of discrimination. So the parallels are made.
Also, many atheists believe if we want to make our beliefs more acceptable, we must consider similar solutions that other groups have used. Like the gay rights movement, we need to start coming out in public as atheists so that people know we are everywhere. Like many other movements, we need to be able to unite for our common goals and shows politicians we are a sizable voting constituency.
No, we’re not facing the same hurdles that other groups have faced. But as Thornton says, we are currently the least trusted and least electable. We still have a long way to go before we are accepted in America, and on that level at least, we share the stage with many other minorities.
[tags]atheist, atheism, Paul Thornton, LA Times, gay, black, Muslim, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, California[/tags]