Atheists Are Not Oppressed, says LA Times Writer

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]

  • Prokop

    Being in an atheist in LA is a lot more pleasant than being an atheist in the Bible Belt.

  • http://www.thadguy.com Thad

    I wonder if the present, and happily limited, discrimination against atheists is because they are not thought of as that much of a threat. You have a good point that if atheists become more public they may also become more accepted. However, one should also be careful about trying to avoid an adversarial role.

  • http://atheisthussy.blogspot.com/ Intergalactic Hussy

    I would also like to add that you can’t tell someone is an atheist by looking at him/her…

  • http://inthenuts.blogspot.com King Aardvark

    If you’re in the bible belt and don’t wear a cross or have a jesus fish on your car, it may at least generate suspicion.

  • http://www.brad-johnson.com/forum/index.php Kevin Malone

    If you could tell someone’s an atheist by looking at him I suspect there’d be a notable increase in the amount of documented discrimination against atheists.

  • Richard Wade

    Ditto to all the comments above. Let Thornton tell it to Charles Smalkowski. It’s easy for Thornton to be so glib in his research library in L.A. If he was a tradesman in Oklahoma he’d have a different view.

    Yes, the most outrageous incidents are rare, but there’s a lot going on that never gets reported. Atheists are blackballed at work, turned down for jobs and socially shunned. Many pretend to be Christians just to avoid the problems.

    Pointing out, however correctly, that others have it worse does not make me feel better or safer. It just reminds me that the potential for worse abuse is all around me.

  • Darryl

    One of the few pros in having the Bushies in power now is that it makes atheism look good by comparison. Just ask the Rev. Jerry Falwell–competence supercedes everything else when you’re in need. Let’s see what our fellow Americans think come Nov. of ’08. Will they vote for redneck religion or competence?

  • valhar2000

    I agree with Richard Wade.

    The discrimination atheists face is very similar to the one that gays face, becuase their situations are parallel in many ways. For examplel whereas a black person could not (except in a very few cases) pass for white, a homosexual can pass for heterosexual by going through the motions and saying the right words. This is what atheists do.

    Thornton may think that this ability to hide gives atheists an invaluable advantage over the oppressed racial minorities of yore, and he is probably right, but it still is unpleasant, unfair and unacceptable, as well as damaging to society as a whole.

    I therefore think that comparisons like the ones he disparages so are very much on the mark, except, of course, when one begins to use strawmen.

  • AnonyMouse

    It is true that atheists do not receive the same social discrimination (i.e. segregation, restriction of rights) faced by other groups in the past. But if you look beyond these cursory differences, there are still plenty of reasons to draw the comparison. We are struggling to make our voices heard, to make our position respected in a place inhabited mainly by others. And in many places we are still the victims of incredible hatred and misunderstanding. In that regard, although we are fighting a different battle, we still have a great deal in common with the warriors of yesteryear.

  • Siamang

    Anonymouse..

    You are posting on a bunch of old threads.

    This one’s from two years ago.

    If you want to be part of the conversation, post in the current threads that actually might get read!

    Welcome, BTW.