September 15, 2009

America's Most Distrusted Minority

This sort of thing only works if you Readers actually make comments. Again, I'll throw out a topic for your discussion. I'm not going to participate in these discussions for a while. Nor should you assume that I agree with the propositions I throw out; they are thrown out to elicit comment and discussion. When I want you to have my opinion, I'll give it to you. In the meantime, I'm curious about your opinions:

Proposed: "Atheists in the United States can only gain social respectability if they form into organized groups that engage in philanthropy and public service."


wetblanket said... all NAMBLA needs to do is adopt a highway? Probably one of the newer ones, not something from the Eisenhower system.

As an atheist, I don't think the majority of believers view atheists as they do NAMBLA members, but I venture to guess they are in the same radius. I think it would be hard for atheists to gain acceptance for a variety of reasons, no matter how much "good works" they involved themselves in, they are still fighting certain perceptions.

1. Atheist are immoral. Not matter how many studies and surveys that are produced to show no correlation between religion and morality, most people perceive it to be true, because of that, atheists will be seen as immoral

2. Atheist are intellectual elitists. This could be an area where good PR would work, a campaign to show the diversity among atheist, but with people like Dawkins and Hitchens getting all the press, for many theists, the atheist is an over-educated elitists who looks down and mocks believers.

3. Atheist are liberals. This piggybacks on the the elitists scenario, but it dovetails into politics, which of course is helped along by the extreme right-wing punditry who want to promote the idea.

Maybe, and this is just my opinion, on an individual level, one on one, people might be accepting of atheists (like how people sometimes accept their gay cousins), but when they are seen as a lobby, then believers fear there is some "agenda" at work and tend to circle the wagons.

State of Protest said...

"Atheists in the United States can only gain social respectability if they form into organized groups that engage in philanthropy and public service."

Problems with your proposition:

1. It assumes "atheists" is a group that is not respected socially, but overlooks the fact that there are plenty of socially respected individual persons who happen to be atheists. Therefore it contains a false premise.

2. It assumes that, even if true that atheists are not socially respected, those doing the disrespecting are a. quantitatively relevant, b. qualitatively relevant. (In fact, it's quite likely that most people in the U.S. just don't care one way or the other, but the media likes to hype the fanatics who make a big deal out of teaching evolution in schools, etc.) (I think the issue is mainly the status quo, and the idea that lawmakers assume their constituents won't reelect them if they ever favor the non-religious.)

3. It assumes that philanthropy and public service are objectively defined such that the terms would be interpreted by atheists and non-atheists in the same way. For instance, if an atheist donates to a secular charity, a religious person could deem that not helpful (because it's not in the name of God, or based on religious motivation, or doesn't result in religious benefit). This also assumes that the persons in charge of doling out social respect are religious people.

4. It assumes that atheism and "goodness" go hand-in-hand. There is no "goodness" in atheism, just as there is no "evil." Atheists are merely non-believers who are persecuted for that very lack of belief. There are plenty of bad and irrational atheists out there, and the message that needs to be sent is not that every atheist is intelligent and respectful of life and liberty, but that every atheist is a human being, and a person deserving the same default legal and social respect allotted to anyone else.

Historically, no minority has ever gained social respect solely because of good deeds. Minorities gain rights and respect by challenging the status quo, threatening to retaliate, not taking no for an answer, lobbying for lawmaker support, and spending anywhere from decades to millennia as the disrespected minority, working through the muck to finally make a stand for themselves.

I think the proposal could be modified to incorporate those factors.

Counter proposal: "To gain social respectability, atheists in the United States must actively challenge the status quo, individually as well as in groups, lobbying for laws and constitutional amendments that ensure equal rights and treatment for non-believers in the same way that was done for women, racial minorities, and what is currently being done for sexual preference. Atheists must also take steps to ensure that other groups do not gain unfair and unconstitutional advantages based solely on religious preference -- this is similar to how women (and men) should always be alert for laws that give unfair/unconstitutional advantages to men, and how other minorities must watch for laws that give such advantages to majorities. Currently, it's probably impossible for this to be accomplished without a great amount of funding or other support, and that is generally facilitated by a benefactor or large organized groups."

DaveBuck said...

I disagree with WB and SP.

A minority group can gain acceptance through good works. Or, at least shed light on the lack of association with bad works. No legislation is needed and it doesn't have to be through large organized groups.

Simply being out of the closet and being a part of society will cause a decrease in prejudice.

My anecdotal example is with the Boy Scouts. In two southern cities, we've joined scouts and were upfront from the start that we aren't religious. The response from pack and den leaders is, "no problem". Later, others see my son is a good kid and come to rely on me as a trustworthy parent who helps out. And, they know I'm not religious. This is how prejudices are washed away.

The more individuals who come out, the quicker we'll see the same level of acceptance as other minority groups enjoy.

State of Protest said...

DaveBuck, good thing you aren't gay (or at least openly to the Scouts). You could be the nicest, most trustworthy person on the planet, and the Scouts would still get rid of you just for that. That's one of the fundamental issues my argument is trying to address -- that atheists need to assert their right not to be discriminated against just for being atheists, and that starts with establishing and codifying those rights.

As for the topic, the proposed language stated that Atheists in the U.S. can "only" gain social respectability in such a way. I don't disagree that atheists can gain social respectability by engaging in philanthropy and public service. I disagree that it's the only way, and I disagree that it's the most effective way.

You could argue, though, that it's just as essential as anything else proposed.