Today someone shared with me a link to a promotion for an episode of ABC’s “What Would You Do?”
For those unfamiliar, the program uses actors in public spaces to test how the general public will react to particular situations that often involve moral responses. I’ve seen one where a man slips drugs into his date’s drink in front of other bar patrons while his date is in the bathroom. Many people came forward to warn the woman about what had happened, and a few challenged the man with the drugs directly. In another segment, they had a pretty blonde woman struggling with her bike lock at a local park. Passersby stopped to assist her. When the person struggling with the lock was changed to a young black man, however, the responses were quite different–hostile and accusatory.
It’s actually an interesting concept that challenges social prejudices and perceptions. It sometimes makes us look deep inside America’s, and perhaps our own, prejudices.
However, a recent segment highlighted a negative (and highly inaccurate) atheist stereotype, showing an atheist obnoxiously confronting a family in a restaurant, as the family tried to have a prayer before their meal. The atheist actually gets up, goes over to the family, and tries to tell them to stop praying because it makes her uncomfortable.
How many times has this happened in your presence? If you’re like me, the answer to that is “never.”
Outside of our well-publicized stint with Patrick Green on our “Foolish Atheists” episode (please don’t e-mail Patrick!), I’ve never seen an atheist actively try to repress anyone’s right to free exercise in a space where such expression is legal. On the contrary, I’ve heard from atheists who have had to endure religious promotion in their workplace, atheists who have been threatened or abandoned by their religious families, atheists who have relatives trying to indoctrinate their children in secret. But I have yet to see an atheist act like the one in this segment.
I posted a comment at the Facebook page for this promo short–as have (at this time) about 1,600 atheists, some of whom you might recognize. I encourage you all to add your voices there. I see this as nothing short of perpetuating harmful defamation against this community and hope (perhaps in futility) that we might get something in the way of an apology from the station or the program itself.
While we have atheists suffering real persecution (see Jessica Ahlquist and Steven Hewitt as real world examples of what happens when an atheist stands up on behalf of religious freedom–even if you’re a child or a veteran!) The Religious Right is most often the group doling out the bigotry and bullying, not on the receiving end–although to hear them tell it, they’re one of the most oppressed powerful, well funded, well organized, politically connected majorities in modern times. Their god should do a better job of protecting them against the disempowered, disorganized, politically disenfranchised, socially mistrusted atheist minority.
Someone in comments offered a suggestion for how this show could have been more realistic and also more relevant to the current public reality: They suggested the family have one older child who refuses to participate in the prayer for reasons of conscience, and have the parents respond with derision, insult, punishment threats, bullying and other forms of coercion. I’d love to see if my guess about what would happen in this Texas town would be correct. I would guess that patrons in the restaurant would side, in large part, with the parents and even help to shame the child to conform. That’s actually a scenario we DO often hear about in our letters to the show–with disturbing frequency.