Last night, the anonymous atheist who donated money for the New York City atheist bus campaign was named “Worse” (i.e. #3) on Keith Olbermann‘s list of Worst Persons in the World:
Olbermann said the following:
Tonight’s worst persons in the world. The bronze: To the person who donated the scratch for ten thousand dollars worth of ads on the sides of buses in New York City, promoting atheism. They read, “You don’t have to believe in God to be a moral or ethical person.” The hope, from president Ken Bronstein of the group NYC Atheists, is to get people to stop hiding their non-belief — to stop hiding it. No complaint about the message — however, while Bronstein says, “We want to get atheists to come join us, to get out of the closet,” unfortunately the donor who made the ads possible is keeping his identity anonymous.
So I’m not all that upset with Olbermann. He treated it with sarcasm, like a joke, rather than anything evil.
I think the snark is uncalled for, though.
In most other cities, money for the ad campaigns came from hundreds of anonymous small donors.
In NYC, the money came from one large donor. (It’s not that they couldn’t get tons of small donors, but if someone wants to give you all the money for the ad, you take it.) Had the person *not* remained anonymous, I suspect much of the publicity they’ve received would’ve focused on the donor and why he/she wanted this message heard.
With the anonymity, the focus has been on the message itself. Just as it should be.
There’s also a possibility that the donor feared being associated with atheism (it could cost him/her a job or a spouse) but wanted the message to go out regardless. Some people don’t come out because of the stigma associated with the term “atheist.” You can still urge others to come out even if it may not be the right move for you personally.
Greta Christina takes this reason very seriously:
There are some realities about living as an atheist that you may not know about, Mr. Olbermann. Coming out as an atheist can have serious real-world consequences. Parents get denied custody of their children for being atheists. People get harassed and vandalized by their neighbors for being atheists. Teachers get suspended for being atheists. Teenagers get harassed and suspended from school for being atheists. Politicians whip up anti-atheist fear to try to get elected. (And that’s just in the US. I’m not even talking about parts of the world where atheism is a crime, punishable by imprisonment or death.)
I’m not calling for an apology from Olbermann. This isn’t all that serious, and at least he said he had no problem with the actual message. I do wonder, however, whether he ever considered the donor’s possible reasons for remaining anonymous.
(Thanks to Claudia for the link!)