Friday, May 27, 2011

Why I Do This

In my first post, I discussed my history as an atheist, including the fact that I have been calling and recognizing myself as an atheist for the last three years. But people often wonder why be outspoken about it? Aren't you just being preachy? Isn't that the same as religion?

Well. No.

It's not preachy because I'm not out to tell you what to think. I'm just trying to get you to think. That is also a way in which it is not religion. There is also no leadership in atheism. Yes, there are leaders of some of the organizations, but there is no pressure on anyone to follow those leaders. If those leaders are doing things that are positive, we tend praise them; if they do something negative, we tend to call them out. Much the same goes with the people who write books. If these authors have good ideas, we will promote those ideas; if their ideas are bad, we will let them know. And, by the way, no atheist I know of considers any of these books to be "holy." Atheism is as much a religion as bald is a hair color.

This still doesn't answer why you need to speak out about it.

There are many reasons to be outspoken about atheism. For one, I get upset, even angry, about all the negative impacts religion has on people. That is a very long list, one that I am not going to go into here, but Greta Christina has a post listing many problems, so I suggest checking that out. One of those things to be angry about that I would like to address here is
that the 41st President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, said of atheists, in my lifetime, "No, I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God."
This upsets me.

But what happened to Damon Fowler this past week really upsets me! Damon's school, the Bastrop High School in Louisiana, was planning to have a prayer at the graduation ceremony. School (we're talking public schools, not private) prayer was determined to be illegal by the Supreme Court back in 1962.
[Damon] contacted the school superintendent to let him know that he opposed the prayer, and would be contacting the ACLU if it happened. The school -- at first, anyway -- agreed, and canceled the prayer.

Then Fowler's name, and his role in this incident, was leaked. As a direct result:

1) Fowler has been hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community.

2) One of Fowler's teachers has publicly demeaned him.

3) Fowler has been physically threatened. Students have threatened to "jump him" at graduation practice, and he has received multiple threats of bodily harm, and even death threats.

4) Fowler's parents have cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and thrown his belongings onto the front porch.
I have become used to Christians behaving badly when they get defensive about their beliefs, but #4 is just outright unacceptable!

I am upset that this is not an isolated incident.
According to JT Eberhard, high school specialist for the Secular Student Alliance, "In Alabama, Auburn High School is refusing to allow an SSA affiliate. In Cranston, Rhode Island, a public school is facing an ACLU suit for refusing to take down a sectarian prayer [a banner posted in the school gym]. In Texas we had a student who was told he could have a secular club if he called it a philosophy club and didn't affiliate with the SSA.

And I haven't even started on my anger over creationists pushing their non-scientific beliefs into science classes. I am angry as to how far behind the United States is on understanding evolution.

(At least I can take a slight sigh of relief when I see that the polls on evolution have at least not gone down. 16% (or 54% when you count the "guided by God" gap fillers) is still a dismally low number, though.)

But let's forget the science side of things for a moment and return to the Fowler story. Again, the major disappointment is that his parents have disowned him! This is a huge problem. This alone is reason enough for me to be outspoken about atheism. I believe speaking out is a way to help people like him. Now, you may be wondering how does speaking about atheism help a kid who's been disowned by his parents? It helps by raising awareness.

Below is a recent poll on how accepting Americans are on the issue of gay marriage. Note that there has been over a 40 point swing over the last 15 years. This is amazing. How did this happen? Well, some have suggested that the most important factor may be that people now know gay people. Gays used to be demonized (and still are by fringe groups) by people claiming that they are sexual deviants that like to molest children. People could get away with such claims when not many gays were "out of the closet" because, let's admit, people are lazy and aren't very good at fact checking. However, when people get to know gay people, they see that these claims are bullshit based on personal experience. It turns out that gay people are really not all that different from heterosexuals. It turns out that gays pose no threat to heterosexual marriage.

Atheists likewise are demonized. As I mentioned in my first post, there are people who claim you need to believe in a god to be moral. Likewise, people have accused atheists of eating babies. As with the gays, people buy into these ridiculous claims as they do not know atheists and do not see that atheists really are not all that different than everyone else. As I said in that first post, I've been an atheist my entire life. For any family members who may be reading this that have known me for years, I'd like to ask you, "Could you tell I lacked a belief in a god?"
This is part of what frustrates me with the Fowler situation. He was probably a critical thinking atheist for a number of years, though his parents probably did suspect. Not that it matters; the fact that they threw him out of their house for any reason (I cannot stress this enough) is despicable. I know atheists who are older than me who live miles away from their parents that still don't have the courage to come out (of the atheist closet) to their parents. When I see or hear stories like this, it reminds me of how much trouble my own parents have had as accepting me as an atheist. (Which, as I pointed out in my first post, feels odd now that I am aware that my mother may be an atheist herself!) This is wrong. And a way to fix it is for people like me, who have already dealt with their parents and who live in a liberal, open-minded community where I do not need fear being ostracized, to be the ones to be fully open about our lack of belief. There are bound to be family members who read this that had no idea. Many of them probably hold misconceptions about atheists. Some of them may want to disassociate themselves from me and maybe even my immediate family simply over the fact that I am an atheist. That's fine by me. If you are that intolerant and bigoted, I don't want to acknowledge my relationship to you, either. For those family members who do stay around, but are not necessarily "comfortable" with atheists, I have a message for you: The non-believers are here, we are growing in number, and we have no plans to remain silent about unfair treatment.

I'm quite sure this is an atheist poking fun at the notion that we eat babies, by the way.

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