Atheists should publically embrace their identities
There are places in this world where I would face execution for writing this editorial. Blasphemy, defined as a lack of respect for God, is punishable by death in several countries across the globe. But as we all know, the United States does not support such laws. This is the land of the free thinkers, a country founded on secular principles and an equal respect for all beliefs. Right?
I wish that were the end of this story. The dark truth is that atheists remain one of the leading targets of discrimination in the United States. Last June’s Gallup poll revealed that, out of a list including minority groups such as gays, African Americans and Mormons, atheists were identified as the most ill-received faction in America. In fact, 49 percent of those polled claimed that they would not vote for a presidential candidate if they were an open atheist. Intolerance directed toward “non-believers” can come in many forms. Occasionally it can be subtle, but other times, not so much — the repeated denial of membership to atheists by the Boy Scouts of America comes to mind.
So, what’s with all the negativity? As is usually the case with prejudices of this kind, the culprit is ignorance. Citing an atheist’s lack of religious beliefs, bigots usually go on to make negative assumptions about the individual that move beyond what can reasonably be inferred. The simple truth is that a belief in God says as much about a person’s moral character as hair color says about their intelligence. Attempts to find a correlation have failed time and time again.
Atheists can take away lessons from other groups that have campaigned against discrimination in the past. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, for example, should be looked at as a model of effective anti-discriminatory campaigning. The strategy of “coming out,” or in other words, disclosing your sexual orientation, has been used to bring isolated members of the LGBT community closer together as well as to raise consciousness in a public manner.
Likewise, atheists too should “come out” with their beliefs. Many people have not had frequent contact with atheists, and so their information can only be drawn from the negative stigmas that are usually found floating around. People need to realize that atheists can come in all shapes and sizes — the sweet old lady who lives next door, the pickpocket at the train station, the philanthropist leading the local fundraiser and yes, perhaps even the person kneeling at the church pew on Sunday who is still hesitant to break away from tradition. It is up to the atheists themselves to come out and show that they are simply too diverse to be grouped together by sweeping stereotypes.
It has been said that universities foster the seeds of change. The young minds of today will shape the world of tomorrow. In keeping with this notion, I propose that atheists at the University begin to raise consciousness amongst their peers in an attempt to stop future discrimination before it begins. This should not be taken as a call to arms, but rather a request to be true to your own beliefs. Atheists need to support each other, as it is becoming increasingly clear that no one else will step in. To borrow one last line from the LGBT support campaigns — “You are not alone.”
I can now proudly proclaim that I do not believe in God (or a deity of any form), but believe me when I say that my hesitation prevented me from saying it for a long time. Coming from a religious background, I am fully aware that the publication of this belief of mine may alienate family members, cause some of my “friends” to lose respect for me and even threaten my future chances of being elected for public office. But, the relief that comes from being open about my convictions outweighs these negative consequences. And if I inspire others to do the same and to fight discrimination in any way they can, then I’ll know it was the right decision.
Religion in America has become an almost untouchable taboo. So sensitive is this institution that even proclaiming to be an atheist can be deemed offensive. To this I say, let our presence be known. If this is enough to rock the boat, then so be it.
Giancarlo Chaux is a School of Arts and Sciences junior.