Over at the Council for Secular Humanism, DJ Grothe and Austin Dacey argue that atheism is not a civil rights issue. Matt Nisbet chimes in in similar fashion. I must respectfully disagree.
Grothe and Dacey argue:
"But do unbelievers really suffer comparable harm? Atheists are not denied equal access to housing for lacking belief in god, nor are they kept from seeing their partners during life-threatening scenarios in hospitals. Atheists don't earn sixty-five cents for every dollar earned by believers, nor are they prevented from voting."
The reason there aren't as many public issues with discrimination against atheists as one might think given the common ministerial rhetoric out there, seems rather obvious: it is easy to hide, and we all learn rather early on that we should. We don't like to suffer that harm more than once.
We are not like blacks in that one can't tell we are atheists by looking at us, and we are not like homosexuals in that we have no public meeting places bashers can go to find us. In that regard we are not like them, but that is only in degree, not in kind. Were we all to walk around with t-shirts that said "I'm an atheist", the situations would be very similar.
"To our knowledge, there is no such thing as 'atheist bashing.' If there were cases of such harm, one would expect to hear about them in the media and the courts, or at least in the common knowledge of unbelievers. So, where are the cases? On many occasions we have put this question to leaders in the nonreligious community and have never been presented with a single compelling example."
I guess your standards of compelling differ from mine. When you have a slobbering football coach scream threateningly at you when he notices you aren't saying the Lord's Prayer with everyone else, when you have a good friend stop talking to you just for asking that she not prosyletize in emails, when your good friend is told to leave her uncle's house and never return because she told him she was an atheist, when your girlfriend says "you aren't an atheist" with the same tone that she might say "you aren't a bad person", when your mother apologizes for you to family and tells them you really aren't an atheist, when your wife has to explain to your otherwise intelligent inlaws that you do not in fact eat babies, I'd say that's atheist bashing. You just don't hear about it very much because we learn to just shut up about it.
"Sure, it would be hard to be elected to higher office in America as an avowed unbeliever, but it would also be impossible for a socialist or a Mother Earth spiritualist."
What a ridiculous comparison. Socialism is a political position, so obviously it is acceptable for someone to vote against a candidate who was a socialist if that did not match with the voter's political opinions. As for Mother Earth spiritualists, their difficulty would arise from the fact that they hold bizarre beliefs with little evidenciary backing, and this would lose votes the same as a flat earther or Raelian. In a Hindu society a Christian would be viewed the same way and for the same reasons. But atheists are atheists precisely because we DON'T do this. A majority of Americans say they would never vote for an atheist for president because we apply what is considered a virtue in any other area of thought (demanding evidence before accepting a claim) to religion. If that isn't atheist bashing, then what the hell is?
"Civil rights struggles are related to a more general approach to social action known as 'identity politics.' In identity politics, people organize around their shared identity rather than their party affiliation or political ideology. This is quite appropriate for groups whose collective, historical experience of oppression has forged some substantial unity in belief and social agenda. Yet atheists have no beliefs in common but their disbelief. Imagine a voting bloc that would back a candidate merely for lacking faith in a personal deity."
In other words, discrimination against atheists isn't a civil rights issue because we are not politically organized. What a bunch of semantic claptrap. I suppose Grothe and Dacey would claim the same about emancipation of the slaves. They had no unity in belief and social agenda, they don't count. Shame on you both.
Let's not forget the president claiming you can't be a good citizen (as Bush Sr. did), or the fact that we are portrayed as the hero in popular entertainment 0% up until recently when the figure has spiked up to a scary 5% or so. Seems pretty akin to what blacks when through, when only fairly recently have gotten roles that weren't stereotypically black. This has an effect on people's views, and is plain old bigotry.
It's not complicated reasoning really. If friends and family are willing to ostracize you over your atheism, what might people who don't give a rats ass about you do? Most of us would rather not find out. In that way, the best analogy is probably to people with HIV. They too are demonized beyond reason, but you don't hear a lot of cases of people being discriminated against for it because they can choose not to tell anyone, and stay hidden.
Now have at the semantic argument over whether or not bigotry agaist atheists qualifies as a civil rights issue if you choose. I do not. The reality of the discrimination is enough for me to make it an issue worthy of addressing in our society.
"On occasion, atheists are discriminated against because they have a public image problem, and the Dawkins/Hitchens' PR campaign, by radicalizing a movement of attacks and complaints, only makes this public image problem worse, generating more discrimination."
I disagree, especially with regard to Dawkins. People react the way they do to what he says primarily because they are used to religion getting a free pass from the kind of frank criticism he levies. I have never seen an actual quote of his that warranted the shrill complaints about his supposed irascibility, and I've read and seen a lot of him. He just calls religion for the unusupported bullshit it is the same as he would for something like astrology.
Hitchens is no doubt incendiary, but I have yet to see any data that supports the notion that he makes the problem worse. Just from observing book sales and other social trends, it would seem he and the others are giving atheists the confidence to stand up and be counted like everyone else. No one highly offended by what Hitchens has to say was going to side with us anyway.
"Instead of mobilizing a movement of sophomoric attacks and complaints that paints as black all religious Americans,"
You make my case for me. Why are atheist criticisms of religion automatically labelled "sophmoric" and "complaints"? Because atheists are just supposed to sit down and shut up, of course. It's fine and dandy that someone winning an award thanks the gods for helping her. Never mind how ludicrous that is. Call it as it is, and you are being sophmoric. THAT is sophmoric.
"atheists need to focus on offering a positive vision of what it means to live life without religion; both in the popular entertainment media but also as leaders who span divides in our communities, (instead of just generating further polarization.)
I agree that atheists ought to be focusing on the positive, and I'd argue that most of the atheist authors of these so-called attacks are doing just that. Dawkins is fabulous to listen to talk about the wonder of the world, and our quest for knowledge of it. He gave a moving talk of giving a religionless funeral service, and how enriching it was. Of course, people always want to focus on his views of religion, so that is what gets the press. But read and listen to what the man actually says when left to his own devices, and a very different picture emerges.
As for polarization, just check your average pulpit this weekend, where thousands of ministers will be ranting to their flock of how atheists have no morals, and aren't really atheists anyway, and can't be trusted to tell the truth, or be faithful, or a whole host of bigoted garbage. Hitchens at his acrimonious best doesn't begin to come close to that. Could we atheists do things a little better? Sure. But let's not forget where the real dividers are on this issue, and how their bigotry is no less real, than when they were ranting about negroes.