Every now and then, the On Faith section at the Washington Post asks a question about atheism and those of us in the fold can’t help but respond to it.
Here’s the question posed to us:
Atheist actor and writer Ricky Gervais is working on a new show, Afterlife , which features “an atheist who dies and goes to heaven.” If Gervais hopes to bring cultural acceptance of non-belief to mainstream America, he faces an uphill battle. Polls show that many Americans distrust atheists and nearly half say they would not vote for one. Should it matter whether or not a politician believes in God? As mainstream acceptance of other minority groups grows, will atheists still lag behind?
And here’s a selection of responses.
What is it about atheism that makes us so unlikeable, so untrustworthy, and so likely to lag behind all other minorities?
First, there’s a constant demonization of atheists from the pulpit. Christians can find a way to work with Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and Buddhists because they believe in the supernatural. But they have a natural enemy (in their eyes) when it comes to atheists. Church members are told that you can’t be good without god, that you need god to give you strength in troubling times. Atheists are often seen as the people who want to lure you over to the “dark side.”
Second, we aren’t afraid to tell the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes people. We aren’t afraid to say the emperor has no clothes. We aren’t afraid to point out to people that their pastors and parents can’t back up what they preach when it comes to matters of faith. And we aren’t afraid to fight back when we see people trying to fuse church and state.
The truth hurts, you don’t hear it in churches and temples, and most people can’t deal with it.
Herb Silverman, President of the Secular Coalition for America:
I wish everyone would judge candidates on their political positions, and not on their professed religious beliefs. But that might be a dream of mine more difficult to achieve than the dreams of Martin Luther King. Those who won’t under any circumstance vote for an “immoral” atheist, or whatever pejorative adjective precedes the A-word, are letting their blind faith and stereotyping get in the way of common sense.
Tom Flynn, Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism:
… people who believe atheists are numerous — in simple terms, people who know they know atheists and know first-hand that many of the negative stereotypes about atheists are wrong — tend to abandon their prejudices against the nonreligious. That phenomenon worked for LGBTs and it can work for the nonreligious. I think it’s working already.
Chris Stedman, Fellow for Harvard’s Humanist Chaplaincy:
… it isn’t enough that religious people know atheists-the quality of the relationships that exist between atheists and the religious makes a significant difference in undoing anti-atheist attitudes. As Robert Wright wrote in the New York Times last year, the LGBTQ community has learned that engaged relationships change people’s hearts and minds, and this is a model that can be applied to the issue of anti-atheist bias as well.
This is one reason I, as an atheist, believe that interfaith work is imperative. Humanizing those with different religious and philosophical worldviews is essential to ensuring that pluralism is upheld for all communities. Engaged diversity breeds the idea that all people’s rights must be protected; through positive and productive relationships, we learn that another has value, worth, and the right to dignity.
Deepak Chopra… wait, what? Yes. That guy:
Polls and casual observations cannot determine whether God exists or not. The arrogant reputation of outspoken atheists may derive, at bottom, from their disdain for the world’s great sages, saints, and intelligent believers who experienced some kind of divine presence. The fact that this is a lively question is the most encouraging sign. Better to live in a society with a healthy mix of belief, skepticism, curiosity, argument, and confusion than one where God, or godlessness, is officially sanctioned and woe to anyone who doesn’t toe the line.