Speaking out

In my review of “Milk” I drew a line from gay activism and their growing acceptance in society, and the atheist community:

“Harvey Milk’s idea of making the fight personal by putting a face on what is otherwise an abstract idea is a good one. And the goal of getting more atheists elected into office is also a great route to take. The atheist community is only now beginning to organize and speak as one group. It’s going to be a long fight, but studies show that, as education rises, so does non-belief. Education doesn’t just mean advanced degrees; it can also mean just talking to your neighbor or friend.”

Over on Open Left Chris Bowers notes that Pastor Warren has explicitly said he hates atheists, as well, to absolutely no one’s surprise.

Bowers, who normally writes strictly about politics, is apparently a private atheist. He has internalized the social pressure, the privileged status that our society has given to religious belief.
Bowers says he rarely discusses his atheism:

“Now, atheists, like the LGBT community, are not as numerous as evangelicals. The most recent poll I could find on the subject showed 78% believed in “God,” 14% believed in a “universal higher power,” and only 7% believed in “neither” (1% was “unsure”). When you are an atheist, it is pretty obvious to you that you are in a small minority. Further, since many people, not only Rick Warren but often members your own family, consider your atheism as somehow an affront rather than just a personal lack of belief, to make life easier you do your best to never bring up religion as a topic at all. Just being left alone about it becomes both the short-term and long-term goal. I don’t even like writing about it on Open Left, because I know that some members of my family read it.”

I have never met Chris Bowers, but I have read his posts for the past 4 years or more. Based on his words, I do not take him to be bashful about voicing his opinion. He is passionate about getting involved and speaking up; and he does it in a thoughtful and well-reasoned way. That’s why I found his submission in regards to religion a bit of a shock.

That a man who has gone from being a student to being one of the leading lights of the progressive political blogosphere would suppress a significant part of his identity just shows me how marginalized atheists are.

That someone I admire would then draw the same conclusion as I is immensely satisfying; because Bowers goes on to draw the same parallel between gays coming out of the closet and finally beginning to be accepted by society (though unevenly and with still so much struggle ahead) and the fact that most atheists yield to the social pressure that says stating our non-belief in gods is, somehow, an attack on those who believe:

“However, as atheists, it is probably time that we stopped being withdrawn about our beliefs. Our public image is lower than even that of homosexuals, for example. The reason it is lower is because they fight for their rights and they fight for inclusion. We atheists don’t. If we are all working together to try and end homophobia as a tolerated, mainstream position worthy of the inaugural benediction for a Democratic President, then we should probably work to make intolerance of atheists unacceptable, too. When we start excluding certain groups, it has the potential to spill out over into all groups, as Natasha wrote yesterday at MyDD.

If I am not speaking up for my owns rights to tolerance and inclusion, how can I speak up for others? A lot of the problem is probably my own damn fault, because I have never bothered to even ask for inclusion and tolerance of my beliefs. So, let me start with this: I am an atheist, there is nothing wrong with my beliefs, you are not going to convert me, and so you are going to have to live with it.”

Absolutely right. The more of us that speak out and identify ourselves, the more people will realize that we are everywhere. Everyone knows an atheist.

When we talk about what we believe (or don’t believe), it does not mean it’s an attack on what others believe.

It is not OK to hate us or marginalize us. It has never been and it never will be, for us or any other group of humans.

And pointing out that others hate us is not equivalent to intolerance.