Today started like any other day for me. I got up and got myself and my son ready for the day. I took him to school and I went back home to work. At some point in the morning, a headline caught my attention about a 22-month-old boy, Brayden King, who died by drowning in a baptismal fountain in Alabama. I clicked on the story and read that the toddler’s mother was in church preparing for a prayer meeting and her 13-year-old daughter was put in charge of the boy. After losing track of Brayden, she searched for him and found him unconscious in the baptismal fountain. He drowned.
It’s a tragic story no matter how you slice it. While religious news outlets took the prayer and faith angle, secular sites reported the story plainly with no attempt to make sense of the horrific accident. The bottom line, though, is that a mother lost her baby, and two older sisters lost their little brother. As a father of a 3-year-old, I was saddened as I tried to put myself in her position. I just couldn’t imagine.
Then I read some of the comments about the story in secular Facebook groups I belong to and a mix of emotions came over me. I was disgusted. I was horrified. I was angry. Above all, I was deeply discouraged. Here’s a sample of what I saw on Facebook:
These examples only scratch the surface. There are many more on Facebook, Twitter, and on the news articles themselves. I can only imagine that some of the atheists who wrote these comments are the same who complain about how we’re treated in the media, by government, and by our neighbors, friends and families. It’s likely that these same people feel that atheists are discriminated against, stigmatized, and unfairly prejudged.
The first step in changing perceptions is to take control of them. If we want to be seen in a new light, then we need to walk the walk. We need to prove that we shouldn’t be prejudged — that the word atheist should not be treated as taboo. If we speak out in public forums as atheists, either in our communities or in cyberspace, then we are all representatives of the atheist movement, whether we like it or not. The power to improve our image is solely ours.
This was my response to the commenters above:
I detest atheist infighting more than most, and I avoid it as much as I can. But things like this need to be addressed. If we are to be successful in correcting perceptions, then we must look inward first. If we play into the stereotype that atheists are uncaring, evil people who hate everything and everyone, then we’ll never see progress.
Stop giving the religious what they want.