Thursday, February 23, 2006

Atheist Civil Rights?

Gathered around the plastic red-and-white tablecloths in the back room of a San Francisco hofbrau, 30 of the Bay Area's "out" atheists were recasting themselves as the protagonists of America's newest civil rights struggle.

As they described the strain of being openly atheistic in an increasingly religious culture, many wished their godless crusade would emulate one social movement in particular -- the fight for gay rights.

"You can be elected as an openly gay politician in this country, but you can't be elected as an openly atheistic one," said Lori Lipman Brown, who was hired last fall to be the Washington, D.C., lobbyist for an organization devoted to atheist causes, the Secular Coalition for America. She's believed to be the first paid lobbyist for the unbelievers in the nation's capital, the front lines of the culture wars.

Civil rights struggle? What a bunch of whiners. In what way are your rights abridged at all in this freaking society? Hmm? Oh, that's right, in no way whatsoever.

Oh, you don't like having to see your fellow Americans be religious? That hurts your poor widdle atheist sensitivities? Deal with it! We have a right to expression of religious sentiments just as much as you have the right to express none at all.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a bunch of whiners. In what way are your rights abridged at all in this freaking society? Hmm? Oh, that's right, in no way whatsoever.

Wow. Most people have that same reaction when Christians whine about being persecuted.

Hal said...

At least when Christians, or any relgious group, do it, their complaint is "We want to express our religious devotion in 'X' way, and we're not being allowed to do so."

This? This is just self-pity. Boo-hoo, people don't like atheists, boo-hoo. We want politicians to make it all better for us, boo-hoo.

As soon as somebody passes a law saying that atheists have to register with the government or aren't allowed to take certain jobs . . . then we'll talk.

meera said...

there are actually state constitutions that discriminate against atheists.

the north carolina one, for example, states:

The following persons shall be disqualified for office:
First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.

(Article 6, Section 8. Disqualifications for office. )

south carolina's state constitution similarly says: No person shall be eligible to the office of Governor who denies the existence of the Supreme Being... (Article 4, Section 2. Qualifications of Governor.)

aaaand, just so you don't think this is limited to the carolinas, tenessee:
No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state. (Article 9, Section 2.)

there is also a pretty famous exchange between george (h.w.) bush and robert i. sherman, a reporter for the American Atheist news journal (a journal that is fully accredited by the state of illinois). this took place at a formal outdoor news conference at o'hare airport on august 27th, 1987. bush was campaigning for the presidency, and sherman was invited to cover the national candidates as member of the press corps.

Sherman: What will you do to win the votes of the Americans who are atheists?

Bush: I guess I'm pretty weak in the atheist community. Faith in God is important to me.

Sherman: Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?

Bush: No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.

Sherman (somewhat taken aback): Do you support as a sound constitutional principle the separation of state and church?

Bush: Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists



i would say not being given a job and being told that you are not a citizen nor patriot based on religious beliefs is a good reason to feel like you're being discriminated against.

-Murphy said...

From what I'm reading, the choice of "civil rights" as descriptor of their aims is the choice of the journalist, but that's relatively minor.

There are strong parallels between claims of persecution by more traditionally religious groups (as with the controversy surrounding the absurd French law that banned outward signs of one's religious beliefs in schools, drawing the ire of French Muslims, who weren't allowed to wear traditional garb and Christians, who weren't allowed to display a cross, alike) and the prospect that's being proposed by the quoted source in the article. They're not whining about anyone else expressing their religion at all, but rather that they should be able to say that they don't believe in a higher power without worrying about losing their job. Is that the case? I'm not sure. Maybe. Maybe not. It shouldn't be, no matter whether the person in fear of losing their job is a Christian, Athiest, Zoroastrian or Sikh. In a way, it's similar to wanting to express one's religion, just that their religion is entirely humanistic. But that's their choice.

Then again, I define athiesm as a faith. I don't buy the claim made by the 73 year old that atheism is more of a "head thing" than any other philisophical pursuit, and I don't think what they're doing is similar in nature to gay rights organizations, both because of the relative ambiguity of the origin of homosexuality and the fact that atheists aren't being hit with hatchets for hanging out in athiest bars.

More importantly, why don't we have religiously affiliated bars? Perhaps coffee shops are more appropriate. Get some coffee and discuss the philosophy of your choice. "Latte with the Lord". "Mocha with Mohammed". "The Buddha and Bagels." "Athiesm and Apple Crisp." I think I'm on to something.

*drops out of grad school*

-Murphy said...

Addendum:

Krispy Kreme and Krishna.

How I missed the genius in pairing donuts and coffee with an avatar of Vishnu, I have no clue.

Anonymous said...

Oh, you don't like having to see your fellow Americans be religious?

I don't like teachers praying in front of my child.

I don't like random Christian a-holes telling my child he's going to hell.

I don't like anyone pushing puerile, anti-rational Christian mythology on anyone else.

Anonymous said...

Then again, I define athiesm as a faith. I don't buy the claim made by the 73 year old that atheism is more of a "head thing" than any other philisophical pursuit,

How is atheism a "faith"?

Icarus Poe said...

"Oh, you don't like having to see your fellow Americans be religious? That hurts your poor widdle atheist sensitivities? Deal with it! We have a right to expression of religious sentiments just as much as you have the right to express none at all."

Do you support your fellow American's rights when they are non-Judeo/Xian?

"Then again, I define athiesm as a faith."

So you would support your fellow American's rights to be an atheist and to have a voice in how our government displays certain messages? Would you support "In Reason We Trust" on our currency?

Frankly, if you are representative of the type of scientific doctoral candidate that Northwestern is churning out these day, I'll send my daughter to Purdue.

BigHeathenMike said...

To quote:
"Atheism is a faith in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby."

Only someone who has no idea what he is talking about would say something so patently retarded as, "I define athiesm as a faith". Oh, and it would be great if you'd learn spell it as well.

Please, please read something apart from your goddamn bible and what the local religious I-can-do-what-I-want people are peddling.

-Murphy said...

Funny, with the spelling comment. It's called a typo. While I'm glad that you've never slipped while typing a quick comment, I am sorry to say that occasionally, when typing, I manage to transpose two letters.

"So you would support your fellow American's rights to be an atheist and to have a voice in how our government displays certain messages?"

I do. I support the rights of people to pick what they want to believe without having to face negative consequences for it. Atheists should be allowed to pursue roles in government.

"Would you support "In Reason We Trust" on our currency?"

I don't really care what's on our currency, as long as it buys stuff.

"Only someone who has no idea what he is talking about would say something so patently retarded as, "I define athiesm as a faith". Oh, and it would be great if you'd learn spell it as well."

To me, it takes as much faith to say that a deity can absolutely not exist as it does to say that one does. To say that one can prove the non-existance of a deity is to fall into the absence of proof fallacy and, lacking proof that your stance is correct means that you're guessing. Maybe you're right. Maybe theists are right. Personally, I don't think that we, as a species, have enough evidence to go one way or the other on the issue.

"Atheism is a faith in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby."

No. Nontheism is a faith in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby. That is, not addressing the question would fit there. Atheism does address the question of whether or not something exists, and cannot be described, as you've suggested, as the absence of an activity. It's an active statement.

But you guys go ahead and presume whatever you want about me. That's just fine.

"Please, please read something apart from your goddamn bible and what the local religious I-can-do-what-I-want people are peddling."

I find this funny because I believe you're addressing it to me. And you're presuming things about my theological stance.

(Hint: You've got me wrong. But good try.)

Icarus Poe said...

"Maybe you're right. Maybe theists are right. Personally, I don't think that we, as a species, have enough evidence to go one way or the other on the issue."

Then you're an agnostic?

As for the atheism-as-faith idea and your comments therein, you might want to look up atheism in the dictionary. As with many complex concepts there are nuances and shades:
Atheism

-Murphy said...

"As for the atheism-as-faith idea and your comments therein, you might want to look up atheism in the dictionary. As with many complex concepts there are nuances and shades"

I concur. My assertion is simply that the assertion "there is no god" is one of faith. Definitive proof either way is lacking, and the assertion that a deity does not exist is made without evidence. It may be impossible to prove in the sense that this is one of the only cases in which the statement "a negative cannot be proven" applies, but to ignore that and say that one believes definitively that no god exists is an outright declaration of faith. Admittedly, the comment was made using a narrower defintion of atheism, though one that your link to the Wikipedia article highlights and one that I consider more useful (I believe I may have contributed to that article, incidentally).

The alternative, more literal definition, "lack of belief in god or gods" is, of course, not a statement of faith. It's a statement of noninvolvement. I didn't mean to imply that that, a lack of belief in a deity, was a statement of faith. Sorry if it came across that way.

It appears that we're simply operating on two different definitions of the word atheism, both, in my opinion, valid. I suppose I should have specified which definition was in use.

-Murphy said...

I believe I'm operating under the same premise as Issac Asimov in the statement :

"I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I'm a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time."

That is, I'm using the same definition he's using there. He's defining (as is often defined) atheism as a belief that there is no God, and that, as Asimov recognizes, is a statement based in emotion, or faith.

billzebub said...

If I told a woman at work that I loved her everyday to the point that it made her uncomfortable and dread coming to work, I could be let go. If I told the same woman that Jesus loved her everyday to the point that it made her uncomfortable and dread coming to work, it is my religious right.

Anonymous said...

Listen, Jesus was a retarded whiny little bitch, but thankfully, he lived in a right-wing government that didn't believe in separation of church and state, and they nailed his ass!! Gotta love that!

Anonymous said...

In what way are your rights abridged at all in this freaking society? Hmm? Oh, that's right, in no way whatsoever.

So the pro-life movement, which is currently trying to criminalize abortion and punish women and doctors, has nothing to do with religion whatsoever? And have you read some of Justice Scalia's rants lately? If he could, he would rewrite the first amendment and remove the establishment clause.

Open your eyes and look around you. The Evangelical Christians are openly waging a culture war against anyone who doesn't agree with them. They aren't shy about it either, they will willingly tell you that they are God's chosen people and all of us sinners are going to hell. And they have no problem putting their beliefs into our laws.

Icarus Poe said...

"That is, I'm using the same definition he's using there. He's defining (as is often defined) atheism as a belief that there is no God, and that, as Asimov recognizes, is a statement based in emotion, or faith."

But there is a lack of evidence (in the sicentific use of the word) for the existence of a supernatural deity, and that in itself is an indication of non-existence. Just like I don't need faith to not believe in bigfoot (for which there is at least some, albeit questionable, evidence), I don't need faith to say I don't beieve in the God of Christianity.
Atheism is based on a distaste for conclusions lacking evidence, and to call it a faith is just plain wrong (sorry Isaac).

K'vitsh said...

I'm just a silly little Canadian, but doesn't your constitution read something about not only freedom of religion, but freedom FROM it? I also think it reads something about there not being any test of religious persuation for someone running for public office.

But then again, most Xians have no idea what the founding fathers actually had in mind for their country. It sure as hell wasn't this.

-Murphy said...

I agree, Icarus. You don't need faith not to believe in god. But the statement "There Is No God" is one that there isn't sufficient evidence for (lacking evidence for God's existence is not evidence for God's nonexistance. The lack of evidence that God exists does not mean that there is no god, just that we don't have evidence for the existence of a deity. Nothing more can be concluded through formal logic.)

I think we're agreeing here, and were just using two definitions. That's nice and good.

Bob said...

In what way are your rights abridged at all in this freaking society? Hmm? Oh, that's right, in no way whatsoever.

Huh? Are you high, Hal?

As soon as somebody passes a law saying that atheists have to register with the government or aren't allowed to take certain jobs . . . then we'll talk.

Yes, I was right the first time. You are high.

Oh, you don't like having to see your fellow Americans be religious? That hurts your poor widdle atheist sensitivities? Deal with it!

Atheists "whine," but xians are "persecuted." Interesting choice of words for a grad student, Hal.

Icarus Poe said...

"I think we're agreeing here, and were just using two definitions. That's nice and good."

Uhm...using two definitions is not what I would consider "agreeing". I'm guessing this conversation is over....

-Murphy said...

Uhm...using two definitions is not what I would consider "agreeing". I'm guessing this conversation is over....

There are two definitions in this case. Strong atheism, defined as the assertion that no god exists is faith-based as the the lack of evidence to suggest a deity is not evidence that the deity doesn't exist (fallacy of negative proof). Unless objective proof exists showing that their is no god, this continues to be defined by what is essentially an emotional response, just as, unless proof exists for God's existence, belief is faith based. An emotional response.

Which is what I said.

Weak atheism, the lack of belief in a deity, isn't a faith-based belief.

Which is what you said. Which doesn't contradict what I said, and which I agree with.