Posts Tagged 'Discrimination'

Bad News For Brazilian “Ateus”

The Brazilian flag reads “ordem e progresso” – order and progress. Yet, it looks like the land of samba and sugar cane still has plenty of progress left to make.

You may recall a study that came out awhile ago in which it was found that 48% of all Americans would vote against any candidate for any political office who was revealed to be an atheist. Many candidates are smeared to look like atheists, or in some cases, smeared for simply attending an event run by atheists. But compared to Brazil, this is the land of milk and honey for those who don’t believe. According to a similar survey conducted there that I recently uncovered, only 13% of Brazilians would vote for an atheist candidate. And to top it off, the nation’s most recognized landmark is a giant statue of Jesus. Ouch.

However, there is a glimmer of hope. Brazilian nonbelievers have been making their presence felt on the internet and elsewhere in the public sphere. One Brazilian youtube user, aside from confirming the belief that all Brazilian girls are hot, has alot to say about religion and why she is an ateu – an atheist – and she’s even taken the trouble to speak English in all her clips. The best thing atheists and secularists can do, whether in the US, Brazil, or elsewhere, is to increase our visibility. Most people have their public perceptions of atheists shaped by the least atheistic people out there, and by standing up we can show more reasonable people that we aren’t the monsters we’re made out to be. And if the situation improves in Brazil, some countries even worse for atheists than it is might learn by its example.

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From the Archives: The Nonbeliever Non-Issue

Here is a post I originally made back in the Obamathon Man days. I’m reposting it here in its entirety. Enjoy.



I have already commented on Obama’s mention of “nonbelievers”… twice. But it seems three times is the charm; it’s kind of a big deal, both for me who is a fierce supporter of this move as well as for our nation’s controversy mongers (read: Fox News) who decided that acknowledging 19 percent of the US population was an offensive thing to do. And they’re not alone, AOL News (speaking of controversy mongers) reports that Bishop E.W. Jackson of the Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, VA, is not happy about Obama’s decision to acknowledge nonbelievers’ existence. “[I acknowledge that] this country is one in which everybody has the freedom to think what they want,” says Jackson, but “We are not a Muslim nation or a nonbelieving nation.” It is this erroneous and perverse sentiment that those who identify themselves as nonbelievers – we – are fighting against.

First of all, the idea that “we are not… a nonbelieving nation” is contradicted by American history. There is no indication that any of the founding fathers wanted the United States to be an explicitly Christian nation. The treaty of Tripoli, written during the administration of George Washington with the Muslim nation of Tripoli (modern day Libya), firmly indicated the religious inclinations of the US government:

“The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Washington himself went so far as to say:

“No one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny”.

A litany of founding fathers’ quotes relating to secular government can be found in this video, which defends Obama’s statement about nonbelievers. The secular nature of American government suffered during the cold war, when “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, and “In God we trust” was added to American currency. But our nation has retained the cornerstone of its religious freedom: the Establishment Clause, the source of official “separation of church and state” in America. Our government does not enforce or give preference to any one set of religious beliefs, or lack thereof. But separation of church and state works both ways: the state is in turn free from the dictates of any religion or non-secular belief system. Even if a religious group constitutes a majority of the populace, it does not hold the right to enforce its views on the minority; the founding fathers recognized the dangers of a tyrannical majority and guarded the nation against majoritarian prejudice by statute. If this is a Christian nation, is is just as much a Wiccan or Jain nation, not to mention a nonreligious nation. The government does not recognize the legitimacy (or dominance) of a religion or of nonreligion by taking a head count.

But the fact that this bishop would state that “we are not… a nonbelieving nation” highlights a terrifying reality all “nonbelievers” are all too familiar with: many people feel that discrimination against us isn’t wrong. Numerous state constitutions prohibit atheists from holding government positions. Administrators at Myspace have routinely deleted a prominent atheist/agnostic group while at the same time founder Tom Anderson personally pledged to defend Christian groups. A majority of Americans vow never to vote for an atheist even if he or she is well qualified. And let’s not even begin with the boy scouts.

Arguments for the legitimacy of discrimination against “nonbelievers” generally go something like: “Nonbelief is different from race, gender or sexuality. People choose their faith, and if they choose poorly, they are responsible for any discrimination they incur.” An anonymous email posted at about.com argues:

“I am fond of any number of faithless people, but I am quite convinced they have made a serious miscalculation in a fundamental matter.”

But this is really just a demonstration of what a terrible instrument religion can be, especially if the population at large is convinced that discrimination against the nonreligious is acceptable. Discrimination against those who don’t believe is an assault on freedom of thought, and there is no other freedom without freedom of thought. The real message of the anti-nonbeliever arguments is: “Join us, think like us, or suffer”. Tragically, many people who would otherwise be nonreligious are bullied into conformity by the societal pressure this reasoning propagates.

This is not acceptable. We must be allowed to think what we want, for if we can’t, our very existence ceases to be meaningful – not to mention the volumes of freedom-loving rhetoric that would be rendered hollow if free thought didn’t exist. And yes, freedom of thought means you have every right to agree with Christian doctrine if you so choose. But freedom ends where imposition begins, and Christians don’t have the right to impose their thoughts on those who choose not to embrace them. This includes all other faiths as well.

Readers might wonder about my use of quotation marks around the term “nonbeliever”. I do this because I personally only identify as a nonbeliever as it applies to religious dogma. Unlike some of the nonreligious, I accept the term “belief”, and there are some things I believe strongly. I believe in human rights. I believe in human dignity. I believe the highest calling for each of us is finding that delicate balance between living our own lives and making the world a better place for everyone.

As a nonreligious person, I will defend to the death the rights of citizens to believe, I will respect Christian individuals as my equal under the law, and I will demand they do the same for us nonreligious people. I call on all those who share my lack of religion to do the same. Those who try to make society worse for those who don’t conform to their ideology, like Bishop Jackson, are on the wrong side of history. To paraphrase Obama, “This is not merely a Christian nation, a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, or a nation of nonbelievers. This is our nation.”


Blogical

I’m starting this blog as an outlet for my thoughts on religion, it successes, shortfalls, and how I get along without it. As an atheist and secularist, I often get accused of only believing in “cold logic”, to which I respond, “What’s so cold about it?" Just because I think critically where where religious people don’t doesn’t make me cold, immoral or unfeeling. I’m not anti-religious per se, though I feel some religious practices do get a free ride where they shouldn’t. The main reason I’m an atheist is that I think a life lived on secular priciples is a better way to live. In reading this, you’ll probably see plenty of ideas you’ve heard before, and hopefully a few you haven’t. With any luck, you’ll understand where I’m coming from, and we’ll both be better off.
The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism
(image: happy human)

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