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Mar 07 2012

“Atheists are not being persecuted”

Another pile of foetid dingo’s kidneys bashing atheists at spiked.

The title (not necessarily chosen by the author): God save us from atheist whining. The subtitle (ditto): A US campaign encouraging atheists ‘out of the closet’ is fuelled more by victim culture than secularist principles.

Says a UK publication, says a Swedish writer. I wonder if they really know enough about the US to be sure it’s a matter of “victim culture” as opposed to just plain victims. I wonder if they really know how bad it can get here. I wonder if they pause at all over this business of sneering from a distance at people who face very real persecution. I would urge them to refresh their memories on what happened to EllenBeth Wachs.

This idea that closet atheists need to be coaxed out into the open, and that they need to claim the right to rally together as proud non-believers, has become a central tenet of the ‘new atheist’ movement. The approach comes across as a curious blend of therapeutic thinking and fearmongering, and it is expressed with a kind of fervour that would not be altogether alien to the deeply devout. Silverman, for instance, believes that the Christian right ‘has unleashed an unparalleled slew of efforts aimed at Christianising the country’. The same kind of shrillness is heard among those religious people who imagine that atheists are tearing down the social fabric of America and are conducting a ‘war on religion’.

But is it untrue? Is it simply false that the Christian right is trying to Christianize the country? Rothschild doesn’t bother to say. She seems to think that calling it “shrill” is the same thing as demonstrating that it’s false. It isn’t.

In an article outlining the importance of coming out, Silverman speaks of the ‘fear of rejection’, the ‘shame’ and the ‘mental and physical’ toll experienced by closet atheists. Admitting you’re a non-believer is, Silverman says, ‘the first step’, but he implores readers also to be ‘proud, open, honest’ atheists and not ‘another closeted victim of the Christian right’. The advice here reads like a 12-step programme for people recovering from religion. Rather than a positive clarion call for secular values, this is a self-help scheme for people who see themselves as traumatised abuse-victims.

Again – easy to say if it’s not your problem. Try being Jessica Ahlquist for a few days. Try experiencing life in a Cranston high school as opposed to a Stockholm study.

But are Silverman’s sentiments even borne out by reality? Are atheists really a beleaguered minority in the US? Is it really a great taboo today to profess that you do not believe in God?

The so-called ‘new atheism’ movement has been headed up by esteemed writers like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens, and supported by famous people like Bill Maher, Tim Minchin and – unsurprisingly – the band Bad Religion. In other words, this is an outspoken crowd that does not need to cower in fear or meet behind closed doors.

What’s that got to do with it? What does the second paragraph have to do with the first? Is Rothschild really so stupid or so spiteful or so callous that she fails to understand the difference between being a teenager in a small town in Nebraska and being Richard Dawkins? And for that matter, the “esteemed writers” are also targets of vicious abuse, so her point fails there too.

Excuse me while I pant with fury for a moment. That paragraph is really disgusting in its shruggy indifference to the very kind of mendacious bullying it’s increasing itself.

…atheists are not being persecuted for denying the existence of God or prevented from holding secular values and expressing them in public.

Oh really!

She’s just making it up. You’re pathetic, spiked.

Thanks to Sigmund for the link.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    Bruce Gorton

    In the related links they have…

    The tyranny of science! Umm, yeah.

    Basically from what I can gather Spiked is essentially a website developed for the sort of British white guy who feels it is a grave injustice when someone tells him to stop saying “nigger” and thinks his child porn collection constitutes free speech.

  2. 2
    maureen.brian

    Sometimes being the mother-in-law of that organ’s deputy editor feels like a real burden!

  3. 3
    hyperdeath

    You shouldn’t really expect anything better from that miserable group of Holocaust deniers. Albeit not that Holocaust, but the numerically smaller events in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. George Monbiot has a good article about them here.

  4. 4
    Ophelia Benson

    Maureen – I bet it does!

  5. 5
    Tom Morris

    Spiked is quite an amazing website: whatever the issue, they’ll find a new and unique way of being stupidly wrong about it.

  6. 6
    Cam

    a kind of fervour that would not be altogether alien to the deeply devout

    Oh, am I tired of this cliche. Do these people know no-one else who is enthusiastic?

  7. 7
    Ophelia Benson

    It’s remarkable, isn’t it, the way brave iconoclastic blah blah spiked jumps on every cliché there is if it suits their purpose?

  8. 8
    dirigible

    Spiked are still going?

    I think this proves that there is no God.

  9. 9
    Dunc

    I wonder if they really know enough about the US to be sure it’s a matter of “victim culture” as opposed to just plain victims. I wonder if they really know how bad it can get here.

    I wonder why anybody still thinks anything at spiked is written in good faith.

  10. 10
    nankay

    I first read this at huffPo. Fortunately she was torn to shreds in the comments–most of which basically said, “Oh yeah? Wanna come over to the US and say that?’

  11. 11
     

    What a bunch of idiotic statements. Could a person be an OUT atheist in the USA and run for high political office? Can you imagine someone being interviewed–or engaging in a public debate–and outwardly admitting to being an atheist? Can you further imagine that person’s candidacy NOT being demolished? Come on now, let’s be serious. There’s a reason all these idiot candidates shove their religion in our faces constantly.

    So, I wonder if Rothschild could explain how atheists are not persecuted, if they cannot be open about their beliefs, and be treated equally.

    I live in North Carolina. This is a state which still has a constitution that denies atheists public office:

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

    Now, you would be right to point out that this is not enforceable, because of the overriding US Constitution. But is that the point? If the state constitution barred “any person who is of colored skin”, would it not have been amended by now?

  12. 12
    Escuerd

    Just read her reply (linked to a couple of comments above). She apparently can’t admit that she got this wrong, so she does an awkward little dance to explain how she was still correct, and her ignorance about living as an atheist in the U.S. didn’t change a thing.

    Roughly, her points are as follows (paraphrased except for point 4):

    1. Sure, lots of surveys shows that most Americans don’t like atheists, but it’s OK, because a lot of that dislike is justified by their being obnoxious elitists, and also because of point two:

    2. There can be no such thing as an atheist minority, because there hasn’t traditionally been such a thing as an atheist minority, and atheists don’t necessarily have “a common view of what humanity’s purpose should be or how to achieve it”.

    [Well QED, I suppose.]

    3. Black people have been oppressed more, so stop bitching. Also, what’s with “coming out”? It’s not like it’s a nerve-wracking decision that many atheist youths justifiably worry will estrange them from their family who they still depend on.

    4. “But if you can’t identify with people around you, if they won’t accept you for who you are, then ditch them. It’s not always easy, but nobody is stopping you.”

    [On the one hand, this is good advice when referring to, say, a circle of friends, but hard to apply when it's the whole damn community you live in, or the family you're still growing up with.

    But maybe she's right. If you feel like the people around you don't like you, then it can be good to seek out groups of like-minded people who can sympathize with you on this matter. Why, with enough of you, you might even be able to effect some larger changes in the way people like you are treated and perceived. You might even organize a ra...Oh wait...I mean that would be pointless, because you're not really oppressed anyway.]

  13. 13
    Demonax

    Spiked and Mr Brendan O’Neill’s “polemicism” are a symptom of the response of the Ruling Class to those who dare to question them. Remember “Encounter.”

  1. 14
    Nathalie Rothschild » Archive » New Atheists: Neither a Minority nor Heirs of the Civil Rights Movement

    [...] the comments were some emotional reactions as well as interesting anecdotes that gave me a better understanding of why some [...]

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