The Dirty Word

I’m an atheist.  There I said it.  It is such a dirty word in the United States.  So much so that when I told my mother I was atheist she quite literally shhhh’ed me and has yet to bring it up again.  Although I am in a place where most of the people in my life know about my beliefs and like me either because of them or despite them, I am still unable to claim my atheist identity around others.  My extended family members are a prime example.  My grandmother is a southern Baptist and although I wouldn’t equate her to Fred Phelps she feels equally as strong as the members of Westboro Baptist Church in her biblical interpretations and belief in a higher being.  I’m sure we all have somebody like her in our lives.  Somebody that speaks with certainty about that which they interpreted from an ancient piece of fiction.  Gay is sin, women are inferior, and African Americans are not like the rest of God’s children, mainly the white ones.

It is because of these “truth” claims that atheism, agnosticism, and secular humanism (among other things) can no longer be swept under the rug and ignored.  People who identify themselves as atheists are coming out in rapid numbers and many with the aim of spurring social change.  While this promises to be a long uphill battle of human and civil rights we have to keep one thing in mind: militancy.  This is where the whole “agreeable” side of me comes in.  It happens to be one of my strongest personality traits.  I am not one who enjoys confrontation.  I would contend that there is both a time and a place to be militant and the public atheist movement is not one of them.  Some may label me as an accomodationist, but that is not what I aim to be.  I just hold the opinion that, in this case, social change will not happen when all one side does is attack or belittle the firmly-held beliefs of the other, especially when the other side is the majority.  There are many goals in the movement and many things atheists and other non-believers are fighting for, but in order to have any success we need to make it clear that we are not directly attacking Christians.  Like it or not, Christians are the main people who make policy decisions on our behalf.  They should always be free to believe, pray, and worship, but these beliefs should not be a part of the moral fabric of our society or a basis on which we make truth claims.  To do so quite literally hinders the happiness of numerous human beings.  Our human rights should not be contingent on which God(s) we worship (or not), who we love, the color of our skin or our gender.  The rights of the majority group should never outweigh the rights of the minority group, regardless of the minority we’re talking about.  I would never claim that I have faced oppression or overt discrimination because of my lack of religious belief.  At the very worst, I have felt uncomfortable or insulted, which I can handle.  I doubt I could make the same claim if I was running for public office or a member of an evangelical family.  Being one of the most hated groups in America, atheists won’t gain ground through militancy.  We can’t shove science down the throats of Christians and call them idiots.  Instead we need to let people know that we are human beings just like they are.  Until then, I’m sure you’ll pray for me.

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