Ep 24 – The Atheist Label Roundtable
This is a special Christmas 2012 edition of C-Webb’s Sunday School. I have asked several of my good internet friends to answer a specific question, record their responses and send me the audio so I can compile this podcast. The topic of discussion is: “Should atheist openly use the atheist label?” I have received responses from Dumbass of dumbassmedia.info, Phil of The Week in Doubt, Jesse and Tim from Why You’re Wrong and Patrick from Red Friend Blue Friend and of course my response as well. I hope you enjoy this special holiday episode.
For the most part I value the opinions of others. I try to respect most viewpoints but that doesn’t me I agree or condone all viewpoints nor do I agree all viewpoints are valid. I think there are topics that are worthy of discussion and that requires multiple angles. Because of this, I have asked some of my skeptical and non-believing friends to assist me in this discussion. What follows are the views and opinions of these friends. They are theirs and theirs alone. I hope these discussions expose the listeners to different viewpoints and will hopefully facilitate further discussions. I hope to expand this to include individuals with different worldviews such as believers. If you are a believer or non-believer or anyone and you want to participate in future discussion, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the contact page at cwebbssundayschool.com.
Now I will present to you Dumbass from dumbassmedia.info.
Up now is Phil from The Week in Doubt Podcast
Now I present to you Tim Wilson and Jesse Dybka from the Why You’re Wrong Podcast at whyyourewrongpodcast.com
Up next is Patrick from the Red Friend Blue Friend podcast which can be found at redfriendbluefriend.com
The word atheist means different things to different people. I describe my position on the existence of good using the term atheist, which literally mean without god. I don’t think that atheist or atheism is a philosophical stance, more of a statement of belief. I do not believe there is sufficient evidence for any gods or goddesses that is a statement, a position, not a philosophical stance. If someone asks me if I believe in God and in most cases, this means the Judean –Christian God, I would say ‘no, I’m an atheist.’ If the conversation continues and I am ask what I believe in, my philosophical stance is secular humanism. But what happens when the conversation stops at the word atheist? What does this conjure up in the believer? Is the word atheist so taboo that non-believers should avoid using it? That is what I am going to explore here.
In 2011 a new study published by a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia found that atheists are the least trusted group when compared to other groups including gays, feminists, Christians, Jews and Muslims [link]. Granted this was a small sample, only 770 people but this supports the findings by the 2006 University of Minnesota’s survey where 2081 believers ranked atheist at the top of the list of least trusted and that we don’t share their vision of America [link]. With studies like these, one would think atheist should keep their mouths shut and go on their merry little way. Atheist should keep their beliefs and opinions to themselves or when they are questioned about their religious affiliation, they should just say “I’m spiritual, not religious” or “I was raised Catholic.” It would be the safe thing to do. If you have a lot to lose like family, money, work or social status, keeping quiet is probably the rational choice.
Everyone’s situation is different. Everyone has their own circumstances and their own reasons for keeping quiet about their atheism. I am open about my atheism but I don’t throw it into people’s faces. When I am asked what I believe, I tell the truth. I tell people I am an atheist. Do I get that question often? No but when I was in graduate school, I was very vocal and open. I would challenge ideas and push people into uncomfortable positions. I would debate with my liberal Christian friends, my conservative Christian friends, my spiritual friends and my non-believing friends (regrettably I only had two of these). Have I lost family members and friends? None that I would call close family and friends. I’m not a jerk about it but I am not shy about it either. We have the freedom to think and be anything within the extent of the law. I won’t be going to jail for doing these podcast and claiming God does not exist. Are their social ramifications? I think those two studies make the case that there are but I want to look at another social movement that involved people hiding who they were and show you why it’s important to be open about your beliefs.
I would like to draw some parallels to the American Gay Rights Movement [link]. In 1969, an event that is now called the Stonewall riots occurred. During a police raid, gay patrons fought back and this sparked a three day riot. At that time, the gay rights movement was limited to a number of small activist groups but after this riot, activist groups were empowered and starting springing up everywhere. Then in 1973, homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The gay rights movement marched on and over the years won several important court cases and demonstrated that a large percentage of the American population identified as being homosexual. Fast forward to recent memory and we have the abolishment of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” which allowed homosexuals in the military to serve openly without fear of punishment for the first time. We also have several states passing marriage amendments to allow same sex couples to have the same rights as heterosexual couples. The American people have slowly changed their minds on this topic. In 1996, 68% of people said same-sex marriage should NOT be recognized and only 27% said it should be. In 2004, that gap narrowed to 55% saying it should NOT be recognized and 42% saying it should be. Finally in 2011, for the first time 45% of people opposed same-sex marriage and 53% approved of same-sex marriage [link]. That is a huge change in under twenty years.
What does this tell us? It shows the public opinion is changing and becoming more accepting of homosexuals. Why do you think that is? Is it because homosexuals sat quietly by and kept hidden? Did they stay in their role as a second class citizen or did they speak up and demonstrate that they are just like straight people. They live, they die, they laugh they cry, they love and they hurt, they are believers, non-believers, mothers, fathers, children, husband and wives. They are productive members of society, doctors, lawyers, homemakers, police officers and military veterans.
The word atheist carries a certain stigma, that much is true So did the word homosexual, although we do have some ways to go, public opinion can and does change. Should atheist sit quietly by and know their role in society or should we stand up and say “I’m an atheist but I’m also a husband, father, son and a veteran.” I think it is pretty obvious what atheist have to do. Unless your life or lively hood is in danger, stand up and say “I’m an atheist.” The more you are out and proud, the more people will get used to the idea of having atheist amongst them.
I have a personal story about a friend that was a believer and if you’re a regular listener of my podcast, you have probably already heard this story but I am going to tell it here again because it fits within this conversation. I am not one to shy away from a religious or political discussion but I do think there is a time and place to have such discussions. I would get into discussions with classmates and friends and often times they would be somewhat productive. I was speaking with a classmate over email and the topic of religion came up, specifically Christianity. Now my friend is big into social justice like most social work graduates tend to be. She had a difficult time reconciling her Christian belief with same sex rights. Eventually she was defending a belief that she didn’t believe in anymore, Christianity. She came to the realization that being a Christian didn’t make much sense if you can pick and choose parts of the Bible to support you own belief. I asked her what about the Christian faith makes her need Jesus. What she lives and practices are not exclusive to Christianity? Is it the threat of hell? She responded back and said that she no longer considers herself a Christian and she thanked me for being open about my beliefs for two years, being outspoken and a vocal critical thinker. I won’t take full credit but I do feel that by me being an open atheist and skeptic, it allowed her to see that there are non-believers that care about the same issues she does and that they are raising families and are overall happy with life. It showed her that this person can have all these things without believing in a god, why do I need my childhood god anymore? My point is simple, it’s important to be outspoken with your beliefs for no other reason than letting people around you know that people like you exist. This one story makes my efforts worth it.
Let me leave you with these words. Acceptance doesn’t come from passivity. Civil rights do not come through knowing your role in society and willfully remaining there. Are atheist persecuted like homosexuals, African Americans or any other minority groups? I don’t think it is to late level because being an atheist is a choice; you cannot change your skin color or sexuality but just because it is a choice, doesn’t mean we need to sit idly by. Be visible, be heard and be respectable and honest. Don’t hide who you are. As atheist, we know this one life is all there is, why not try to make as big an impact as possible? In a positive way, leave this world a little better than when you were born. Just don’t be a jerk; no one likes a jerk, no matter what they believe.
I want to sincerely thank Phil, Jesse, Tim, Patrick and Dumbass for putting together those pieces. I know it takes time and effort and I greatly appreciate it. Now, let the comments come forth. If you want to contact me or any of my guests, you can find contact info at cwebbssundayschool.com plus links to all my guest websites. If you are interested in being a part of these discussions, please contact me at email@example.com or on twitter @cwebb619. Thank you for joining me for this episode of C-Webb’s Sunday School. Doubt even this!