I must protest!

The ScienceBlogs buzz today is on Atheism and Civil Rights, and the opening blurb gets it wrong.

Richard Dawkins and other contemporary atheists have argued recently that America’s faithless are subject to discrimination akin to that faced by women, racial minorities, and homosexuals. But is atheism better understood as a civil rights issue, or a public image problem?

Nisbet has successfully “framed” Richard Dawkins in the old sense of the word. He has not made that claim. I haven’t made that claim, unless you’re taking “akin” in the weakest, most meaningless sense of the word. So ignore the blurb, unless you’re looking for another example of how “framing” skills can distort a debate.


  1. QrazyQat says

    I now have to officially say that when I see you mention framing, PZ, I don’t read the post. Get over it.

  2. says

    Right. Atheists are despised, generally completely misapprehended and feared like the boogeyman in someone else’s closet, but never do I recall Dawkins or our esteemed host (or any of the rest o’ the lot {-; ) suggesting our ostracism occurs under the same aegis as the discrimination which is still faced daily by folk whose gender, skin-tone or ethnicity mark them as “other”.

    Last time I checked, no prospective employers nor voter registration centers were grilling me ’bout the particulars of my religion, or lack there-of. The employers, at any rate, did seem quite comfortable with my pale-skinned maleness though.

    Go figure…

  3. PeteK says

    “If you read my books, you’ll find that I don’t actually talk about God at all. The reason I seem to always talk about God, if I may say so, is that people like you are always asking me about it. I’m not very interested in God. I mean, from my perspective, why God? Why not Thor or Zeus? Why not Apollo or Athena? There are all sorts of gods that people have believed in, and I don’t think any of them are much more interesting than any other.” Richard Dawkins, to Ben Wattenberg.

  4. says

    I frankly don’t even understand this guy nisbett’s argument. if someone’s civil rights are violated, then it’s a civil rights discrimination problem, in that instance. i don’t understand why he seems to think the whole thing should be described as one type of issue or another, when it’s many different issues. Examples of which were provided to him and summarily ignored in the comments on his blog.
    if he’s indeed saying that instances of civil discrimination (funny term) are just a “PR issue”, then he’s a complete idiot.

  5. CalGeorge says

    Maybe we should be added to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    I have a mental impairment that causes a rise in blood pressure whenever religious doofuses open their mouths.

    I need a special companion-interpreter by my side to explain that, yes, it will be alright, calm down, don’t worry, it’s only a religious doofus, the horror will pass, etc.

  6. Neil says

    I hate to be petty, but damn. Why do people feel the need to “officially say” anything? There is not one person, not one, on the face of the earth or anywhere else in the galaxy who gives a rat’s ass what you read or don’t, QraztQat. Get over yourself.

  7. autumn says

    Well, atheism isn’t exactly a trait that leaps out visually, or by one’s name, so it’s probably more akin to homosexuality. Acting straight to avoid being beaten up or denied a job is a moribund American tradition, although still extant. Closeting one’s atheism is a tradition still very much in effect across wide swaths of America. I live in a fairly liberal city in the American South, and I guarantee that I can find a dozen public businesses (OK, bars) where I would be physically removed, at best, if my lack of belief was made known.
    So, yeah, still a a bit of a problem.

  8. says

    Is that what they call “framing”? The word I’m more familiar with is “spin”, esp. as used in British politics: pushing a debate in a certain way by selective use of facts, and/or telling people what the agenda should be. The article tries to give us only two ways of looking at atheism – “a civil rights issue, or a public image problem” – to the exclusion of all other considerations. That’s “spin”. Don’t fall for it. 8)

    It’s become increasingly easy to spot, in politics for example: whenever some spokesperson says any of the following, or similar, that’s “spin”:
    – “the real issue is …”
    – “is it a matter of (a), or (b)?”
    – “the question you should be asking is…”
    – “what I will say is …”
    – “tell your viewers/listeners to …”

  9. says

    Misapprehension seems to be the right description for whatever discrimination befalls atheists. The remedy (as with many things) is better education. That may be a form of public relations, but it is distinct from “spin.”