Shocker: Atheists Live Near You

My local CBS affiliate ran a special report about atheists. Overall, it’s a positive piece. Local atheists were interviewed, including my alma mater’s campus group, the Rationalists and Freethinkers (RAFT), and Sandra Van Maren, the Illinois State Director of American Atheists.

Note, though, how the piece builds up to the revelation of an atheist family:

By all appearances, the Lows are a tight-knit, loving family. Ron and Alice are devoted parents. Daughters Morgen and Maddy are good students involved in wholesome activities…

But… they’re Godless! Can you $%*#ing believe it?!

Not to mention the “scare factor” of the title of the piece:

nextdoor.JPG

In my mind, Jim Williams is screaming, “AHHHHHHHH!”

You can read the transcript and see a video of the piece here.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Adrian

    It will be a great day when most of the US will look at this story and go “so what?” The shocker shouldn’t be that there are atheists, but that there are theists so insecure in their own positions that the mere existence of atheists should create such strong emotions.

  • http://intrinsicallyknotted.wordpress.com Susan B.

    They’re all around us! They look just like real humans!

    Really, the media scare factor has to stop. It’s just contributing to the problem.

  • Kate

    Oh no…what if one lives near me?!!? I think there’s one in my building…omg on my FLOOR…AHHHHH IN THE SAME APARTMENT…oh wait, it’s me. AND I’M HARMLESS.

    Morons. Unbiased journalism – yeahhhhhhhh.

  • http://bornagainblog.wordpress.com Justin McKean

    Kate’s comment reminds me of a book I loved when I was five. The book was “The Monster at the End of This Book” and it featured Grover of Sesame Street, who tries to get you to not turn the pages until finally he turns out to be the monster.

  • http://mytensmakt.blogspot.com/ BryanJ

    That is probably the most fair, non-slanderous report I’ve seen on atheists recently.

  • http://misterjebsblog.blogspot.com Tina

    My son drives elderly people around and was asked what book he was reading. He replied, The Atheist. She said, you’re an atheist? He said, yes. She replied, but you’re so nice!

  • Kate

    Kate’s comment reminds me of a book I loved when I was five. The book was “The Monster at the End of This Book” and it featured Grover of Sesame Street, who tries to get you to not turn the pages until finally he turns out to be the monster.

    hahahaha I thought of that, too. :) That was a book that I used to read to my brother…over and over and over. It was so exciting to read. But it makes a good point. All hype for nothing.

    Tina – my boyfriend’s mom said that to him when he broke the news (ha) that I was not only not a Christian, but atheist. Her exact words – “But that can’t be…I like her! She’s so nice!”

  • Kate

    I wonder how a story like “the JEW next door” or even “the PARAPLEGIC next door” would go over…

  • Adrian

    Kate – Interesting point. Racism and religious-based intolerance was practised unabashedly not long ago, but because of the gains they’ve made, most people are conscious of when they judge others based on superficial traits. Not that it’s gone away, but it has improved a lot.

    These “scare” pieces may still serve the purpose of getting people to think of atheism/theism in similar terms to Jew/Catholic or black/white. Conscious awareness of bias is the first step in eliminating it, but it’s a long road.

  • Kyle

    It was a pretty good piece, albeit with the shocker headline. However, I thought we lost an opportunity (and probably due to editing/time constraints) to respond to the Bishop’s asinine question of “where do you place your trust, faith etc if you don’t have god?”. It’s a flawed question because it presupposes that you have to have something to place your trust/faith in. Moreover, it’s a leading question. And I thought this side’s response was lacking punch.

  • Mriana

    It was nice to see this. It’s not often that happens. :)

  • Spurs Fan

    Man, I love “The Monster at the End of this Book”. It’s my 4-year old’s favorite!

    The “scare” factor goes down well here in rural Texas. There aren’t that many Atheists in these parts(or at least outspoken ones) and yet, we’re the proverbial boogeymen (and boogeywomen). The other day I saw the “Athiest don’t exists because God doesn’t believe in Atheist” phrase on a church sign (yes, it said it in the singular and not the intended plural). I think this was a title of a Ray Comfort (of banana-fame) book. When I saw it, I just thought, “Who are they talking to?”. There are bigger “enemies” to fry: People who drink, dance, listen to rap music, people who have sex before marriage, gay people, etc. So, why go “all the way” to Atheism?

    Maybe Atheism is so uncommon, or so it seems, that they can really put some of this nonsense in people’s heads more easily. Sort of like when Republicans call someone a “San Francisco Liberal”, when Democrat would do just fine.

    Sigh…

  • Karen

    Man, I love “The Monster at the End of this Book”. It’s my 4-year old’s favorite!

    My kids loved that book too, back in the day. I must’ve read it hundreds of times to them over the years! :-)

  • Maria

    they’re a wholesome normal looking family-but they’re……atheists!!! ahhhh!!!!

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Now I remember what I wanted to say on another thread before I lost my train of thought (which happens often with me) ;-)

    Not only are there atheists living next door to us; if we are willing to be truly honest, there is an athiest living inside each one of us (yes, even the most religious) at least part of the time. It’s just that no one wants to admit it, not even to ourselves…

    Here’s a recent thought that I’ve pondered over why some Christians (or the religious) hate atheists so much: Perhaps what we hate is what we fear, and what we fear is what we are most vulnerable to. Your thoughts?

  • http://off-center.tatuskofam.com Drew

    As long as the piece was positive, then the title and the language you quote I think is a good to get atheist haters in the door for a look see. Even if they think once or twice about getting apologetic and defensive before listening to the story, it worked on some level. But no story or argument from an atheist will cure the world from fundamentalism… I am sure there were a lot of condescending prayers from fundies after and during the piece. I wish the Nielsen ratings box could tell you how many people layed hands on their tv’s.

  • I like tea

    By all appearances, the Lows are a tight-knit, loving family. Ron and Alice are devoted parents. Daughters Morgen and Maddy are good students involved in wholesome activities…

    …but underneath this facade lies a dark, terrifying secret.

    Anyway.

    Perhaps what we hate is what we fear, and what we fear is what we are most vulnerable to. Your thoughts?

    I suppose you could make a case that fundies hate atheists because they feel guilt about/are afraid of the doubts that (hopefully) occasionally enter their minds. Just like the common joke that the religious right is so homophobic because of their own repressed homosexuality. :P

    I dunno, that may be it, but I’m no psychoanalyst.

  • ellen

    I thought the ending was great “It’s mainstream now!”

    Yeah!

    Good piece and pretty fair I thought.

  • Karen

    Not only are there atheists living next door to us; if we are willing to be truly honest, there is an athiest living inside each one of us (yes, even the most religious) at least part of the time. It’s just that no one wants to admit it, not even to ourselves…

    Here’s a recent thought that I’ve pondered over why some Christians (or the religious) hate atheists so much: Perhaps what we hate is what we fear, and what we fear is what we are most vulnerable to. Your thoughts?

    I think you’re onto something there. Many believers do a lot of hard work covering up their doubt, squelching it, suppressing it and denying it.

    The difference with atheists is that we’ve stopped ignoring that little nagging thought (what if … ? is there really… ? how could it be … ?) and eventually let our inner atheist out to play. That’s scary for people who spend a lot of time keeping their doubts and questions at bay.

  • Lysander

    The “fear effect” or “scare factor” in newspieces will never cease to abhor me.

    They’re all around us! They look just like real humans!

    That’s what I was thinking, too, except my mind had drifted to They Live; you can watch the whole movie (free) here. Any attempt to analogize atheism and religion to the movie (which isn’t what I was thinking), though, would offend one of the two.

  • pip

    Linda, I agree completely with the idea that Christians fear Atheists because they fear having to confront the doubt that lives within themselves. It’s not unlike the theory that the most ardent homophobes are the ones who are repressing their own (however mild) homosexual feelings. I haven’t talked to a lot of Christians about my atheism, but I certainly get the impression that when I do some feel personally attacked, as if my lack of faith will somehow weaken theirs. I think many people are Christian because they seek the certainty of belonging to a group, of being told how to behave, and (to a certain extent) of feeling superior to others. So if an intellingent, well spoken, decent (I’m flattering myself, but you get the point) person rationally argues against their faith, then they’re presented with the possibility that making that ‘leap of faith’ really isn’t necessary,and in fact doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

  • Josha

    “To fear to face an issue is to believe the worst is true.”-Ayn Rand

    Before I embraced my inner atheist I feared my doubts because my whole life I had been told it was wrong and sinful to do so. I also feared a world without god.

    But, of course, believing in something doesn’t make it true. And then a world without a god belief didn’t seem so scary. It seemed realistic.

  • Richard Wade

    It’s risky to psychoanalyze people en mass but for at least a handful of Christians with whom I have had extended conversations, Linda’s idea seems to have merit. These individuals (It’s important to not generalize) believed that only someone who was undeniably stupid, crazy or depraved would not believe in God.

    When faced with an atheist who was clearly intelligent, sane and decent they began to feel increasingly perplexed, then uncomfortable, then frustrated and finally threatened. It was as if the fact that they themselves were intelligent, sane and decent could no longer disqualify them from the possibility of losing their faith.

    This is a big reason why I think it is so important for atheists to conduct themselves with good manners when talking with Christians. When they cannot dismiss us with any of those three stereotypes, at least for these few their fortifications might, just might begin to weaken.

  • J Myers

    I wonder how a story like “the JEW next door” or even “the PARAPLEGIC next door” would go over…

    Oh, I do hope they run one. If I’m living near one of those people, I damn well want to know about it. I mean, Jews really exist? Aren’t they people who are just angry with Jesus? And paraplegics… aren’t they just angry with locomotion?

  • Kate

    And paraplegics… aren’t they just angry with locomotion?

    I’ll admit, I laughed…I sealed my ticket to hell. :(

    Linda, interesting point. I’ll have to think on that more, but it makes sense.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Pip,

    I think many people are Christian because they seek the certainty of belonging to a group, of being told how to behave, and (to a certain extent) of feeling superior to others. So if an intellingent, well spoken, decent (I’m flattering myself, but you get the point) person rationally argues against their faith, then they’re presented with the possibility that making that ‘leap of faith’ really isn’t necessary,and in fact doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

    THAT makes a lot of sense. Especially point #2. I think people generally crave guidelines and instructions, because being free to think for ourselves is risky, unpredictable, and just too much work. Yes, and we would also lose the benefits of points #1 and #3. Freedom is a scary thing…

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Richard,

    It’s risky to psychoanalyze people en mass but for at least a handful of Christians with whom I have had extended conversations, Linda’s idea seems to have merit.

    I wasn’t psychoanalyzing a group of people to put them in a category. I was just looking at human nature as a whole, looking for commonalities. It was not an ‘us and them’ observation, if that’s how it sounded. I was thinking that perhaps we are not as different as we would like to think.

    Consider this paradox:

    I think people want to belong and be accepted and yet stand out and be unique at the same time. That’s why we are constantly organizing into groups and sub-groups and then separating ourselves from the whole. We want best of both worlds. We look for people who are like us, but when the likes become too many (say… three?), then the differences surface agin. Yet one is not an acceptable number. So like continues to attract like. Grow – split – grow – split – grow – split. hmmm….. sound familiar?

  • kristi

    OMG, the atheists are coming from inside my house!!11!!

    I’m glad to see positive stories. Maybe this will alleviate some of the fear and misconceptions about us. But ideally they’d come up with a title that doesn’t sound like something out of a B movie.

  • Diane

    Interesting piece (though that reporter always cracks me up… we call him The Mortician at our house) but I was disappointed in Ms. Van Maren’s answer to what was admittedly a silly question. She made us sound like we’re just cast adrift on a sea of loneliness, and any Christian watching that would end up feeling sorry for poor us. We in fact depend on friends, family, society, laws, pets, etc., all the same things Christians depend on (minus one). It’s really pretty straightforward.

    Now must go build up my perimeter defenses… rumor has it there’s an ATHEIST NEXT DOOR – aayiiiiieeeee!

  • Richard Wade

    Linda, I see your point about people in general wanting both the comfort of belonging and the excitement of standing out. The grow-split-grow-split analogy really caught me by surprise. What an agile mind you have.

  • http://youmademesayit.blogspot.com PhillyChief

    The tagline at the end was great. Overall it was a good piece. Even the two christians made sense (well forgiving the minister’s last bit about trust). The one pointed out how we’re ignored by both political parties and therefore frustrated. The minister said something though that was VERY telling. He said it’s possible that there might not be more atheists now, but that they feel safe now saying so. That both points to the efforts by the religious to hold us down (and their great success in the past) plus an issue some of us have debated theists over, and that’s the existence of atheists in history. They like to point to the lack of evidence (ironic, no?) of there being many if any in history and we usually answer with the fact that they couldn’t say so if they wanted to no doubt.

  • antaresrichard

    Let me get this straight, I’m a journalist and I wanna do an in-depth piece about the “new atheists”. So whose scholarly insight do I seek? That’s right: that of the “theists” or those giving the reassuring semblance of religion!

    “‘…it’s safer for people who have struggled with faith, or don’t believe in God to be more forthright and honest about that,’ said Bishop Mark Hanson.”

    “North Park College Professor Scott McKnight, himself a Christian, offers another reason for what he calls the new atheism.”

    “Somewhere in the middle of it is a ‘humanistic Jewish’ congregation. ‘We celebrate our Judaism as our peoples’ cultural, history…’ said Rabbi Adam Chalom.”

    “And religious scholars said some people who believe in God are also buying books written by atheists to see how the other side thinks…”

    Next, I think I’ll do a story concerning the Republicans. Know any Democrats?

    Lazy journalism.

  • Karen

    OMG, the atheists are coming from inside my house!!11!!

    LOL! How about “inside my own head!” Now, that’s scary. ;-)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Richard,

    What an agile mind you have.

    Haha! Only if I weren’t losing it all the time… Have you seen it anywhere?? :lol:

  • http://beancounters.blogs.com pam

    Hello, and thanks for the linking this article. Atheists are remarkably lifelike! They walk and talk! They come with everything you see here! They hide their horns when on the playground!

    The section that slays me is this one:

    As a man of faith, Bishop Hanson still has a key question for those who don’t believe in God.

    “Where do you place your trust in times of need? Where do you place your hope in the time of a crisis of confidence?” Hanson said.

    At first, I thought he was advising atheists to acquire faith as a resource for times of crisis, like a good 401(k) plan. Then I took it as curiosity – he genuinely does not know how people with no faith get through low points in their lives. I wish I could reply to him. I’d say we have lots of faith – in humanity. So in times of crisis, we get through by marshaling our resources and counting on people to come through for us (or not come through, as the case may be). We have faith that tomorrow will be different, better. We look outward, not (just) upward. And in our experience, we’ve found the results to be exactly the same as for those who believe in God.


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