It seems that Christians as of late have stepped up the persecution complex. They have always had one, but ever since the government started not bending over backwards for them (as much), as well as the wider public, they have been screaming, “Persecution!” and “War on Religion!” every chance they can get.
When the Supreme Court ruled in Engel v. Vitale (1962) that public schools could not force students to pray and in Abington School District v. Schempp (1963) that students could not be forced to read the Bible, the Christian right believed that their rights were being taken away.
If forcing children to take part in their religion is a “right,” then yes, that right was taken away. And that’s a good thing. If the Court ruled that about Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Satanism, or any other religion, Christians would be jumping for joy over secularism.
But when it affects their religion and their ability to invade public schools, then they’re obviously being persecuted by the godless liberals who want to enforce Shariah Law (that’s a somewhat paraphrased sentiment that some conservative Christians have expressed in recent years, like Newt Gingrich).
A common thing we will see, or at least I have, is the shirt that says, “This Shirt is Illegal in 51 Countries,” and it has a nice little cross on the front and a giant one on the back with a Bible verse.
Yeah? Well, a shirt that says “Atheist” is illegal in probably just as many, if not more, countries. In fact, in seven countries a person can be put to death for being an atheist. You’re not special, Christians.
I think I’m going to make a shirt that says the same thing but has an atheist A on it (copyright!) and make every atheist wear them everywhere to annoy Christians and let them know that they are not special and not the victim of any kind of special persecution anywhere in the world that is not also, if not exclusively, shown towards gays and/or atheists, least of all in America.
This sort of sentiment that Christians are enduring some kind of special persecution, in American public schools no less, was embodied in a recently released video, called “The Thaw,” made by a fundamentalist Christian organisation by the name 0f Reach America. The video, which stars only children and teenagers, is all about how Christian students are apparently being persecuted in public schools.
I made a response video to this, which is the first legitimate video I’ve made in a long time, where I completely demolished the idea that Christian students are being persecuted in public schools and that Christianity is being “frozen out” of the public square. JT Eberhard also did a brilliant response to the same video over on his blog.
Nonetheless, there are even more examples that can be pointed to.
In a small town in Oklahoma, a high school student recently complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation that all of the classrooms in his public high school were displaying the Ten Commandments. When the FFRF contacted them and said that the district could be sued if they did not comply with the request, the town of Muldrow, Oklahoma went into full persecution mode.
In response to the brave student’s actions, the student’s sister was harassed at school and the student himself has been shunned by his school and confronted by a linebacker on the school’s football team.
According to the Huffington Post:
Multiple petitions have been signed by hundredsof people, pray-ins have been held at the school, pro-Christian messages lit up Twitter with the hashtag #FightForFaith, and church officials and politicians have railed against the request to remove the religious postings.
The school said that if students wore the shirts they would be asked to turn them inside out, which probably just added fuel to the persecution fire.
Pastor John Moore of Muldrow First Baptist Church said (emphasis mine), “It’s Christianity under attack. It was promised in the scripture [that this would happen].”
They want this to happen. They want to think that they are being persecuted, even though they obviously are not, because they believe that Jesus told them that this would happen and that this would be a sign of the End Times.
The thing is though, they are not being persecuted. They are being told to respect the same laws and Constitution that everyone else is told to. Christianity does not get a special pass to be forced onto students just because they think they have the right to force it onto them.
They think equality means persecution, because they’re so used to be the favoured class in America. They’re used to having a dominance over public life, politics, and culture in America. When that preferential treatment is slowly stripped away and replaced with equality, they are dragged kicking and screaming through the Courts, crying persecution.
The students in “The Thaw” video kept saying that they are being bullied by other students for being Christian. No, they’re being bullied. Being Christian has nothing to do with it, although that may be what the bullies are targeting (statistically speaking though, those bullies are probably Christian too). Gay kids and kids who are perceived to be gay are bullied every day to the point where they commit suicide. Atheist students are bullied. Muslim students are bullied. I was bullied for being bisexual, for being an atheist, and for being effeminate. I had a fucking Bible thrown at my head in a public school!
In the cases of Jessica Ahlquist in Rhode Island, Damon Fowler in Louisiana, Matthew LaClair in New Jersey, and so many other students, including the student in Muldrow, the towns all believed that they were being persecuted and that their rights to believe in what they wanted were being taken away, because one student stood up for what was right and stood up against the majority.
In all of these cases, they believed that because they could not force religion into public schools anymore, that their right to freedom of religion was being taken away. The townspeople, students of the school, and people all across the country threatened these students with bodily harm, rape, and even death. But the Christians are the persecuted ones.
Wanting the government to treat everyone equally through a policy of neutrality is not persecution. Wanting equality is not persecution. Wanting what is right is not persecution.
If you think Christians are persecuted in America, then you should try not being one. Try being the minority. Try being the minority that is literally the most hated minority in the United States, more than gays or Muslims or anyone else. Try being us for one day. Try living in our shoes.
Most atheists were at one point in time religious. We’ve lived in your shoes. We used to think just like you. We know what it’s like to be you. You have no idea what it’s like to be us. Try it. I dare you.
If you would like to hear these points flushed out more, I have a talk called “Step Into the Shoes of an Atheist,” one of the many talks I can give at secular conferences or for secular groups, though I plan on making this particular one a talk that I give to churches and interfaith groups mostly instead of atheist and secular groups.
As always, be sure to read Alise’s wonderful post. And thank you, Alise, for wishing me a happy birthday. I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, and birthdays aren’t that important to me in my atheism either, but nonetheless, thank you.
It is very hard to respond to this kind of argument without being sarcastic or somewhat condescending. I will try not to be though.
If I said to you, “It takes more faith to not believe in Santa Clause,” you would find it ridiculous, no? Now, I am not trying to offend anyone by comparing a god to Santa Clause, but to atheists, that’s how ridiculous it is. That is how we feel about this kind of talking point when it is spewed at us by people.
What people don’t realise when they say these kinds of things is that they are inherently admitting that faith is bad or, at least, illogical to have. It’s the same when people say, “Well, atheism is just another religion.” It’s a tacit admission that religion is bad.
But that’s what religion and faith are to us. Illogical. Bad. Causing harm.
Nonetheless, this kind of remark is also an admission of ignorance of what atheism is. Atheists are simply unconvinced by the claims being made that gods exist, let alone that fallible men wrote down and recorded the infallible and everlasting truth of these gods.
There is no faith involved. There is no faith required to not believe that Leprechauns, Unicorns, or the gods of other religions are real (again, I’m not trying to offend by drawing these comparisons).
I am not 100% sure that a god does not exist, but I am equally not 100% sure that Santa Clause or Unicorns do not exist (or that I even exist). It does not mean that I have faith that Santa Clause does not exist, and it most certainly does not mean that I have more faith than someone who believes in something that there is no reliable evidence for (and to which there even is some evidence to the contrary).
Speaking of evidence and proof. Some people think, because you can’t prove or disprove the existence of a god (which I contend with here), then it takes faith to believe either way. The null hypothesis is that there is no god and that a god must be proven to exist before believed in.
It does not take faith to believe the null hypothesis. That’s how science works. And this is where Alise is spot on when she points out, when atheists are talking about proof for a god’s existence, we are using the scientific method and scientific thinking to come to our conclusions.
We are not talking about the beauty of nature, appeals to emotion or tradition, or personal experiences, which are not evidence or proof of anything, let alone an all-powerful creator of the Universe.
If you find yourself tempted to say this to someone, just remember that atheists do not have faith that a god does not exist anymore than Christians have faith that Santa Clause does not exist, let alone have more faith than someone who does believe in these things. We simply trust in the scientific method and the demonstrable wonders it has done for our world.
I love how Alise ends her post. It is worth reading over and over again.
As Christians, I think we have become a little bit careless with our use of faith, and I would encourage us to look at some of the things that we see as requiring faith and maybe choose a different word. I could say that both my husband and I have faith that one loves the other, but it’s not simply faith – it is something that we live out each day. There is tangible evidence of our love for one another. Perhaps instead of using faith, we can use trust.
Next week’s The Christian Guide to Atheists: Atheists Hate God
At the University of North Texas, where I am a student of Political Science, when I would find other atheists on campus, it would be almost a knee-jerk reaction for the majority of them to ask, “Are you on Reddit?” I found it peculiar how popular the site is amongst high school and college atheists.
In my time as an atheist, which is to say about four years now, I have never really gone to the subreddit r/Atheism a whole lot. It is not because I have some aversion to Reddit for any particular reason. I simply prefer social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and of course this blog, to get my messages across, rather than the forum style that Reddit has.
Recently I came across this piece from Vice by Luke Winkie, which is about six months old but is making its way around the internet once more, called “Hey Atheists, Just Shut Up Please.”
In it, he bashes what he calls “Reddit Atheists,” which he says are all “bitter, faux-enlightened young people” for their supposed “frothing-at-the-mouth ideological stupor” and their making of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins as “their fire-and-brimstone pin-up boy.” First off, I fail to see why them being young is at all relevant. That is simply ageism.
Although Winkie paints with a very wide brush, and I personally think he is talking about all atheists, he does make a somewhat valid point about some atheists on the internet. Some, I will not say all or most because it simply would not be true, can be hateful towards those they disagree with, especially the religious (even though the religious can be just as hateful on the internet, just like everyone else). These people are simply the loudest and the most public though.
Winkie compares his “Reddit Atheists” to evangelicals trying to force God down everyone’s throats, which is only slightly a valid comparison. We will see all the time in the news about the crazy preachers who want to build a fence around all the gays so that they die off. They just happen to be the ones that get our attention for their outlandish statements and beliefs.
Same with atheists on the internet. That is why Winkie posts some of the most hateful comments he got from atheists on a piece he once wrote. I am sure there were plenty of comments that were not as vitriolic as the ones he talks about, but they probably did not get his attention like those comments did.
This is sort of how the Atheism+ movement, and I use that term as loosely as possible, got started. Those who started it did not see the comments that disagreed with them in a polite manner. They saw the ones that were completely inflammatory, just like how we only see the crazy preachers or how Christians only see the angry and loud atheists, and called them names like “bitch” or “feminazi” or were harassing them for being women or something of the sort, which I mostly deem as trolling and not as actual conversations or debate. This caused those initially behind the idea of Atheism+ to wall themselves off from any and all disagreement, an effect called “cyberbalkanisation,” where they could have an echo chambre where everyone agreed with each other, and anyone who disagreed (like Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience) would be banned.
These are some of the ways internet atheists can harm the movement. It can split us off into warring factions like Atheism+ or make us look unappealing to everyone by how we act when we feel like we can express ourselves freely or when we think no one is watching.
This is obviously not an attack on the people of the internet. I am one of them and have been for almost the entirety of my time as an atheist. However, from the outside, atheism on the internet can look rather hateful.
Imagine this: You’re a person, a church-going Christian, who knows hardly anything of atheists other than what you have heard from your priests, which is that they are hateful, arrogant people that hate God and that want to take away your rights to worship God. You probably have never even met an atheist before (or at least, you met them, you just didn’t know they were).
You decide for some reason to just Google, as this is how most people learn about things these days, “atheists” or “atheism” to learn more for yourself, and the first thing that comes up is Reddit’s r/Atheism or a video by an atheist YouTuber or an atheist blog. Nine times out of ten, the stuff being said is going to be hateful, angry, arrogant, rude, and sometimes even bigoted things.
Not all atheist blogs or videos are trying to be offensive. Some Christians and other theists are going to be offended just by us disagreeing with their most sacredly held beliefs or even by our mere existence, but when our most popular venues are ripe with hate and immaturity, it makes us all look bad and reinforces that stereotype that atheists are hateful, arrogant people.
I am not saying that we need to change drastically and constantly watch everything that we say all the time, but we need to find a way to have a rational discourse that does not involve constant caps lock or calling people names simply for disagreeing. We need to have an image on the internet that is not this arrogant person that constantly talks down to everyone, even if it is tempting to do so. People are watching what we are saying. Let’s try to make atheism look from the outside like something that isn’t just for “bitter, faux-enlightened young people.”
One last thing on Winkie: among the many ignorant things in his article, he said near the end, “By the way, what is more arrogant than assuming someone can be reasoned into abandoning their faith?” He apparently knows nothing of atheists then. The vast majority of people who are atheists were once religious. I was a Jehovah’s Witness. My partner was Assemblies of God (one of the denominations who speak in tongues). To think that people cannot change their minds is naive, at best. At worst, it perpetuates the cyberbalkanisation of the internet and the aversion of atheists to reach out to theists in a polite manner.
In response to people who call agnosticism “cowardly atheism,” I’m going to start calling agnostic atheism “retarded atheism.”
Now, many people will be offended by that remark.
How dare I call them such! Who am I, the arbiter of labels? Is it up to me to redefine what people call themselves and mock them repeatedly just because I do not agree with their position? No!
I know many atheists on the internet and in “real life,” that are afraid to call themselves atheists, or simply refuse to and call themselves something else instead of using the word atheist. I’m not here to call them cowards for doing so, unlike some people I know. However, I have a problem when people claim that atheism is synonymous almost with skepticism, humanism, or “freethought.” People will try to replace atheism with these other labels that do not describe all people who do not believe in a god or gods.
First, “freethinker” is just a pretentious term. If we don’t want theists to think we’re arrogant, calling ourselves “freethinkers,” which makes it seem like we are superior to them somehow, is not the way to do it. Theists call themselves “freethinkers” too anyway. Calling yourself a “freethinker” is like calling yourself a non-conformist. As well, not every atheist thinks freely. There are stubborn, close-minded atheists too. It’s not something that is exclusive to the religious.
Skeptic is another one of those terms that is equated with atheism. Same with “freethinkers” (can you tell I don’t like the label “freethinker” yet?), not everyone is skeptical. Being skeptical of religion is not the same as being skeptical in general. There are many atheists who use homeopathy or believe in all kinds of crazy things that most people would laugh at. Sam Harris, one of America’s leading atheists, believed that there was evidence for psychic powers (he has since recanted this claim).
In a quick, relevant tangent, evolutionist is another label that is given to atheists. However, not all atheists believe in evolution, and there are theists who do believe in it. Some atheists believe, my brother used to, that aliens created us in a fashion similar to the creation myth of Genesis or some nonsense like that. Another reason we aren’t all freethinkers or skeptics.
Then there is humanist. This one is used a lot to replace atheist, probably the most of all of them. Humanism is the “philosophy asserting human dignity and man’s capacity for fulfillment through reason and scientific method.” Not all atheists are humanists. I would say most in Western countries are, as atheists tend to be more liberal, but it’s not something that can be used to describe all atheists. There are conservative atheists (yes, they do exist) that are far from being humanists. Was Stalin an atheist? Unfortunately, yes. Was he a humanist? Certainly not.
Atheist is the term used to describe someone who lacks belief in a god. That’s not a humanist, and that’s not a skeptic or a “freethinker.” I get why people use these terms as euphemisms in certain cases, but it just does not describe people who lack belief in a god or gods. The only thing that people who lack belief in a god can be called are atheists. People can be humanists, skeptics, and “freethinkers” (and evolutionists) and still believe in a god of some kind, and atheists can still call themselves these things, but these terms do not replace or even equate atheism, and they should not be used as such.