Hey Bible Belt believer: Why do YOU persecute atheists?

Confession: I live in the Bible Belt. Even worse, I’m a — gulp — conservative Christian.

But here’s the good news: I haven’t persecuted any atheists today!

Of course, it’s still early, and I haven’t left my house yet. There’s still time for me to track down a nonbeliever, give ‘em hell and chase ‘em into the baptistery.

That’s what we do in (how dare they believe in) God’s country, right?

In case you’re wondering the reason for my sarcasm, CNN’s Belief Blog (which I generally love and praise often … but not this time) just published a piece with this provocative headline:

Atheists in the Bible Belt: A survival guide

I guess this possible headline was too long:

Atheists gather to make fun of religion, lament constant mistreatment by everyone in the Bible Belt

Let’s start at the top:

Raleigh, North Carolina (CNN) – Back home, they erase their Internet histories, look over their shoulders before cracking jokes and nod politely when co-workers talk about church.

But in a hotel ballroom here on a recent weekend, more than 220 atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers let it all hang out.

The convention was called “Freedom From Religion in the Bible Belt,” and it was part celebration of skepticism and part strategy session about surviving in the country’s most religious region.

They sang songs about the futility of faith, shared stories about “coming out” as nonbelievers and bought books about the Bible – critical ones, of course.

“Isn’t it great to be in a room where you can say whatever you want to whomever you want without fear of anyone criticizing you for being unorthodox?” asked Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as he opened the two-day convention.

The Godbeat pro who produced this feature is one of the best at his craft and does an excellent job of presenting the atheists’ side of the story.

I just wish CNN had considered that there might be another perspective. This “survival guide” assumes that the atheists’ assumptions are based in fact. Maybe they are. Maybe not. Or maybe, like a lot of things in life, the truth is complicated.

What’s missing from this story? Any real context or feedback from believers in the Bible Belt on how they actually view atheists.

Instead, we get broad generalizations like this:

Fewer than half of Americans say they’d vote for an atheist politician; a similar number say they wouldn’t want their children to marry a nonbeliever. A recent study also showed that businesses in the South are more likely to discriminate against atheist job candidates.

“I don’t know what they think we are, Satanists or baby eaters or who knows what,” activist Todd Stiefel told the atheists gathered in Raleigh, “but it’s kind of scary.”

I realize this story had a specific focus and a finite amount of space. I just wish — when CNN decides to accuse people like me of being the problem — we’d get a chance to respond. That’s all I’m saying.

But I’ve got to run. The day is young, and I need to go be intolerant toward someone.

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • praxagora

    So the CNN “Belief Blog” is journalism?

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Yes, definitely. Some great journalism produced there.

      • helen

        Not today, evidently!

  • Ray Ingles

    Man I wish I could find the illustration I’m looking for. The statistics are pretty straightforward, though. If one group is significantly smaller than another, then the chance that people from the smaller group will experience prejudice from the larger group is far larger – even if the rate of prejudice in both groups is exactly the same.

    In short, it doesn’t take a lot of prejudice in the majority for the minority to feel it. Just because you and all your friends are tolerant, friendly, salt-of-the-Earth types doesn’t mean atheists in the Bible Belt can’t experience intolerance on a regular basis.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Interesting point, Ray, one that could have added some perspective to the story if a third party had expressed it.

    • fredx2

      Also, if your small group goes around saying that the large group is a bunch of delusional idiots, and that the larger group must be constantly mocked and derided as a bunch of anti-science morons, that may factor into your treatment

      • helen

        If you are in the minority, you can say anything; a majority response can be shut up with, “You’re prejudiced!” and the media will chime in.

        Funny that it doesn’t work that way when Christians are in the minority! Then persecution evokes… crickets!

      • Ray Ingles

        Every single Christian goes around saying that atheists are fools that are corrupt and do vile deeds; not one atheist is good.

        Oh, wait, not all Christians go with Psalm 14:1? Many Christians actually treat people, even atheists, like human beings?

        Then is it possible that not all atheists fit your description either?

        I went out of my way to point out the statistics work the same “even if the rate of prejudice in both groups is exactly the same.” I didn’t claim that Christians were more likely to badmouth atheists than vice versa. It didn’t take long, though, for you to claim the opposite, did it?

  • fredx2

    Well, at least the media is starting to address the fact that one side constantly accuses the other of starting all wars, being an evil force in the world, abusing their children by bringing them up in their faith tradition, and that their kind must be eliminated from the earth in order for humans to be happy.
    Oh, wait. That is what atheists constantly say nowadays.

    • Ray Ingles

      Quote one prominent atheist who claims that religion and/or the religious start “all” wars. As to the ‘child abuse’ bit, that’s hardly a majority position, and indeed many prominent atheists want comprehensive religious education.

      As to ‘being an evil force in the world’ and ‘their kind must be eliminated from the earth in order for humans to be happy’… plenty of religious people, including Christians, say that about atheists.

      Frankly, you’re pretty much helping make the case that atheists can indeed be discriminated against.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    One problem is that some groups which don’t want to discuss or debate specific issues are very quick to cry “hate” at anyone who disagrees with them or wants to convert them to a different point of view whether in religion or politics. Do you disagree with Pres. Obama on some issue–then you must be a racist. Are you against gay “marriage” as social policy–then you must hate gays.
    However, a number of observers of the current scene, claim this is part of a strategy by some to shut up or discredit anyone who disagrees with them.

    • Ray Ingles

      Do you want as much regulation of guns as there is of cars? Then you want to take away everyone’s guns and call in the UN troops. Are you against governments offering sectarian prayer? Then you want to restrict everyone’s “freedom to believe and worship” “in the public square”.

      Yes, trying to shut up or discredit those who disagree is indeed a strategy. Just please don’t pretend that only one group is guilty of it.

  • SCBluCatLady

    Interesting article! Of course we don’t persecute atheists! Why do atheists persecute Christans by way of legislation that restricts our freedom to believe and worship? *crickets*……

  • angloperuano

    I’m curious to know why atheist demonstrations don’t occur outside mosques but are primarily focussed on christian churches. Is it because Christianity is is seen as a soft touch while mosques are totally unforgiving and hostile towards ?

    • dabhidh

      There’s that, but I also think that the modern popular atheist movement is more emotionally-based than philosophically-based. These are people acting out against their parents and peers and society. They don’t care that much about unfamiliar religions because those religions are also opposed to Christianity, which is the image of the authority system which they wish to reject. Mosques don’t represent a threat to them – they just represent a bunch of people they don’t know doing things they don’t understand – but Christian churches are the fortresses of The Enemy who would deny them the pleasures of promiscuity and other attendant decadence.

      • Ray Ingles

        So, yeah – atheists are promiscuous and decadent, but nobody ever stereotypes them.

        Say, did you know that atheists tend to be more knowledgeable about religion than even most religious people?

        • dabhidh

          People stereotype the hell out of atheists and I never said that they didn’t, but I do think that there’s some truth to what I said. Every time I’ve spoken to atheists about why they are atheists and what objections they have to religion, the idea that religion would curb their sex lives always comes up.

          And the average atheist may know more about religion than the average religious person, but the average atheist does not know more about religion than I do, so the poll does not shame me.

          • Ray Ingles

            People stereotype the hell out of atheists and I never said that they didn’t,

            No, but Bobby Ross Jr., the author of the post we’re commenting on, did. Thanks for helping me show him he’s wrong.

            but I do think that there’s some truth to what I said

            Somehow I suspect that if someone said, “Sure, I stereotype Christians, but my stereotypes are true,” you’d be a little dubious.

    • Ray Ingles

      Mostly because atheists can prioritize like other humans. Allegations of ‘creeping Sharia’ aside, Muslims don’t tend to try to get government recognition of their religion, in the Americas at least. On the other hand, the recent case over sectarian prayer was massively Christian, with one single Wiccan prayer and two Jewish ones.

      Also, note, I haven’t actually heard of any atheist demonstrations outside any Christian church. I’ve heard about protests outside government buildings where prayer or religious displays were going on, but I literally have never heard of an atheist who claims that people don’t have the right to have churches or have prayer or religious displays on private land.

      • dabhidh

        If Muslims “don’t try to get government recognition of their religion” in the Americas, then that’s one fairly exceptional situation. Look at any of the countries in the ME and elsewhere, and even European countries which are gaining a sizeable Muslim population – Sharia is not “creeping” there, it’s stampeding.

        I think it’s pretty crazy that an atheist would be more terrified of Christians trying to influence government than Muslims, seeing as Muslims actually hold the transformation of civil institutions to be a duty demanded by Islam. I think that as you see the Muslim influence grow in America in the next few decades (as doubtless it will), you will see the difference, and you will not like it much.

        • Ray Ingles

          It’s the context. I’m sorry, I honestly don’t think there’s any realistic chance of Muslims enshrining their beliefs in the United States government. And I live near Dearborn, MI, the largest Muslim population in the United States.

          To a large extent it’s because people tend to notice when someone tries to impose a religion onto them that they don’t agree with. Christians already protest when anyone but Christians do invocations in the Senate and so forth. Muslims would have to become the majority population in the United States to ‘impose Sharia’, and my (not-yet-conceived) grandchildren will die of old age before that’s even a remote possibility.

          Note, also, that keeping the government disentangled from religion in general keeps the government from being entangled in any particular religion. So everyone should have common cause with atheists on that score.

          • dabhidh

            I sincerely hope you’re right about Sharia but I am not at all sure. Sharia law has already made an influence in UK law and I don’t think that Muslims had to establish a majority to do that.

            http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10716844/Islamic-law-is-adopted-by-British-legal-chiefs.html

            The difference is that the Christian faith has always had a significant cultural influence in the U.S. going back to its founding and before. Christians are not trying to impose an alien culture upon America, just trying to resist the erosion of Christian influence in the culture. Now, if you’re going to argue that Christianity has never had any significant influence in the U.S., we will not agree.

            If there comes such a time where there’s a push to impose any kind of Sharia in the US and the atheists oppose it, I will gladly make common cause with them. I won’t make common cause with them in attempting to pull down monuments or stop prayers that have existed for generations in the US though, because I don’t think that they are entitled to a Christianity-free society. They are entitled to a society in which they can be atheists without persecution and ostracism however.

          • Ray Ingles

            Actually I see the key difference is that there’s always, by design, been a separation of church and state in the U.S. The U.K., on the other hand, has had an established church for almost as long as there’s been Europeans in the Americas. Including religious considerations in the fundamental laws is an established principle across the pond, but not in the U.S. Makes it easier to give special accommodations to another religion when one’s already through the door.

            I don’t disagree that Christianity has had a significant influence in the U.S., even in politics. And much of it was even constitutional – but not all of it’s been so.

            Nor do atheists claim they are “entitled to a Christianity-free society”. A government free of religious entanglements, though, yes.

  • Howard

    People keep telling me this is a blog about journalism. If so, what has CNN got to do with journalism?

  • Hegesippus

    It’s all about God!

    So they gather to talk about no God, sing about no God, buy books about no God. Sounds like they are more interested and active regarding God than many! It seems more like a rebellion against God, or more likely, against a perception of God and His followers.

    Surely a true belief that there is no God would lead to solid indifference…


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