Chris Stedman has a piece at Religion News Service arguing against the claim that atheism coming out of the closet is comparable to the movement for LGBT rights.
Austin Cline claims on About.com’s atheism section that “atheists [are] hated more than gays,” and bestselling author Richard Dawkins has frequently compared the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) rights movement to the atheist movement—drawing heavily from the LGBTQ rights movement for his “Out Campaign,” which encourages atheists to “come out.” And these are just a few examples in a long line of well-intentioned atheist activists and organizations—who generally consider themselves LGBTQ allies—comparing the LGBTQ rights movement to the atheist movement.
There are things about this comparison that, on the surface, make sense: atheists and LGBTQs are marginalized communities that deviate from normative ideas about how people should live, that often share an experience of needing to reveal our identities to others (sometimes with terrible consequences), and that experience social stigma.
He’s right, it’s not a great comparison. Mind you, comparisons often work by comparing a single aspect of the X and Y as opposed to comparing the entirety of each, and in that sense, as Chris says, this one makes sense at least on the surface. But his point is to underline the reasons it doesn’t work as a comparison.
Anti-atheist bias does exist, of course—particularly in other parts of the world—and it should be strongly condemned and combated. The prevalence of violence in the U.S. motivated by an anti-atheist bias, however, is more than eclipsed by violence motivated by heterosexism.
In 2012 the FBI reported that the largest percentage of reported hate crimes were those motivated by racial bias. After that, the next largest percentages of hate crimes were motivated by bias against sexual orientation and against religion (primarily against Jews and Muslims). But of the reported hate crimes motivated by bias against religious belief (18.7% of all hate crimes), only 0.9% stemmed from an anti-atheist/agnostic bias. In other words, the magnitude of violence against atheists and agnostics does not begin to compare to what many other communities experience.
There’s an odd thing about that FBI report though. It doesn’t include women as a category:
By bias motivation
An analysis of data for victims of single-bias hate crime incidents showed that:
- 48.5 percent of the victims were targeted because of the offender’s bias against a race.
- 19.2 percent were targeted because of a bias against a particular sexual orientation.
- 18.7 percent were victimized because of a bias against a religious belief.
- 12.1 percent were victimized because of a bias against an ethnicity/national origin.
- 1.4 percent were targeted because of a bias against a disability.
That’s it; that’s the list of categories. Because, what, there are no crimes in which the victims are targeted because of the offender’s bias against women? That can’t be right…
Chris goes on to zero in on what I think is a very important point, which is that the root of a lot of violent hatred is disgust:
A myriad of religious and political institutions have perpetuated and sustained anti-LGBTQ attitudes throughout history, and these attitudes are still frequently expressed and enforced through religion—but calling religion the source would be misguided. (Besides: if atheists consider religion to be human-created, then it follows that anti-gay attitudes come from humans who sometimes express them through religion.) Instead of originating from religion, studies suggest that negative attitudes toward gay people are influenced by intuitive, moral disapproval linked to the emotion of disgust. An important series of studies from Paul Bloom and Joshua Knobe at Yale University, David A. Pizarro at Cornell University, and Yoel Inbar at Tilburg University suggest a strong link between disgust and negative attitudes toward homosexuality. Because of this link, anti-gay attitudes are frequently articulated through the rhetoric of disgust or dehumanization—“homosexual activity just isn’t natural” or “homosexuality is an illness” being two common examples. Sometimes this rhetoric is religious, but it seems to reflect an emotional source that’s ultimately not.
Yes, and that also very much applies to hatred of women. I’m lucky enough to be reminded of this any time I want to be (and often when I don’t); I can just look up what people are saying about me on Twitter for instance. (And if I don’t there will always be someone new who tweets some friendly disgust at me.) Like “Mykeru” for example.
@chsvns You just dropped that into
#feministselfie By the way, do you know Ophelia Benson queefs talcum powder?
Sexual disgust at its finest. Wholly irrelevant to anything, just an expression of sexual disgust for the sake of it. Once you notice that kind of thing, you notice how pervasive it is. It’s sad. All the little baby girls napping in their cribs today…they’ll all grow up to be the target of sexual disgust sooner or later.
Anyway I think Chris is right about this. Chris is right and Leon Kass is profoundly, horribly wrong. Disgust is not a good source of moral intuitions.