Originally a comment by SC (Salty Current) on When a group is an acceptable target for hostility.
The suggestion that atheists privileged on other dimensions don’t face anything that could be recognized as oppression as atheists is wrong and unhelpful. Probably the element of anti-atheist prejudice that should be most concerning is the suggestion that atheists aren’t fully human* – that we lack some spiritual quality or knowledge or essence that limits us intellectually or ethically or even makes us dangerous. It should be easy enough to see the similarities with misogynistic and anti-Semitic ideas.
One problem, though, is that the insight that the treatment of atheists shares important features with that of other groups has been extremely difficult to impress upon some white male atheists who continue to spew and actively or tacitly support sexist, misogynistic, racist, transphobic rhetoric. Dawkins, for example, can deride journalists who say atheists aren’t fully human or archbishops claiming that reason is dangerous and leads to genocide; he seems to have more difficulty imagining growing up and living as an atheist in societies completely organized around such views or seeing the similarities with patriarchal or colonial ideologies.
They contest the misrepresentations of atheists by religious people and religious apologists – the portrayal of calm criticism as shrill ranting, the claims that we seek to oppress religious people and silence dissent, the mint julep tall tales,… But they can’t seem to recognize the same patterns of misrepresentation when they’re used against feminists. They resent the condescending suggestions from faitheists that our “strident” tone and refusal to abide by rules of civility that perpetuate the religious status quo are unethical and alienating allies, but they’ll turn around and demand that feminists adopt a compliant, “civil” attitude even in the face of vicious abuse.
They call attention to the various aspects of religious privilege that exist even in more secular societies, but then adopt a pose of utter stupidity when the concept of privilege is raised in any other context. They argue that we don’t want to be accepted as “as good” as religious people – that we don’t just want a place at the faith table, but are fundamentally challenging the assumptions about the moral and societal value of faith. But they don’t see the connection to those of us who are saying that we seek something beyond legal equality (though we want that, too) and challenging the culture of white male supremacy.
Appreciating that the treatment of atheists shares important features with other oppressions should lead in one direction: toward recognition of the need for solidarity with the victims of those other oppressions. Sadly, the reason it hasn’t in some cases appears to be that they view the treatment of atheists as illegitimate and the treatment of these other groups as legitimate. But perhaps pointing to the similarities across the beliefs and narratives and practices might prove enlightening.
* “Fully human” is speciesist dreck in general and urgently needs to go.
** The differences aren’t negligible, of course, and the societies most oppressive of atheists are far worse to women.