Imagine a man, Tom, who likes sweets but not ice cream. He has no personal disagreements with anyone who does eat ice cream; he just chooses not to eat ice cream himself. In fact, Tom is friends with several people who will eat ice cream, but no other dessert. Suddenly, out of nowhere, comes an editorial from a prominent TV personality and ice cream lover making all sorts of accusations about people like Tom who don’t eat ice cream. According to the editorial, people like Tom dislike the taste of ice cream so much that they are afraid of ice cream and generally unhappy people.
If you were Tom, how would you react? If you are anything like me, you might have mixed emotions, including confusion, sadness, and even outrage. Has this guy ever actually met someone who doesn’t like ice cream? Who does this guy think he is? How dare he claim that everyone who doesn’t eat ice cream is unhappy! Is society so hostile to people who don’t like ice cream that these sort of bigoted remarks are tolerated by a mainstream journalist?
On the website of KOMO TV 4 in Seattle, Washington, Ken Schram posted an analogous editorial about atheists. According to Schram, claimed that atheists have the following characteristics:
- They fear God so much that even hearing the word “God” distresses them.
- He has observed Atheists squeeze their eyes shut when they remove bills from their pocket out of fear that they might see the phrase “In God we Trust.”
- Some go out of their way when driving to avoid passing churches, synagogues, mosques and temples.
- Some recoil at the sight of a cross, crucifix, menorah, Star of David, or the presence of Hare Krishna proselytizers.
As the Center for Religious Tolerance points out, however, this doesn’t match the descriptions of atheism that they have witnessed:
Our Atheist staff member reports that they have never performed any of these behaviors. None of the rest of us in this office have either observed them engaging in these behaviors, nor have we seen any of our Atheist friends and acquaintances doing them. They seem to be figments of Ken Schram’s imagination.
We next turn to Schram’s armchair psychoanalysis of the millions of atheists around the world. Despite the obvious fact that he doesn’t have a clue about atheists, he then proceeds to inform his readers that atheists derive some sort of sadistic pleasure from making theists suffer. Schram writes:
And even though atheists are free to go about their disbelieving ways, that doesn’t seem enough to make them happy.
No. What makes atheists happy is making those who believe in God cringe.
So atheists go to court a lot.
Imagine if a prominent journalist wrote, “What makes Jews happy is making non-Jews cringe.” Not only would such statements be factually inaccurate, they would be held in moral contempt. Not just Jews, but all reasonable non-Jews, would find such a slur offensive. And while the fact that someone would make such a racial or religious slur would not be news, the fact that a prominent member of the media would make such a slur would be news. There would be protests and calls for the journalist’s termination.
Unlike other minorities, however, atheists are probably the only remaining minority in which it is socially acceptable to openly express prejudice against. There are probably two reasons for this. First, there are undoubtedly many people like Schram who share Schram’s views. That is not the entire explanation, however. Ironically, I believe that the atheistic community also shares some responsibility for this situation and that leads to my second reason. By “the atheistic community,” I don’t mean atheistic membership organizations or the individuals who join them. Rather, I mean the millions of atheists who are apathetic about their atheism and in the closet to their families, co-workers, and neighbors. If we as a community aren’t willing to defend ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to do so?