Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The sad state of affairs in US religio-politics....

I think by now most of us have seen that shameful discussion on CNN on the segue Paula Zahn Now about atheists and the societal (if not institutional) discrimination against non-believers. The sheer stupidity would be laughable if the anti-atheist vitriol weren't utterly horrifying. After a news story about an atheist couple driven from their home by religious zealotry, a discussion panel was formed on air to talk about why atheists are so despised. Count them: the moderator, three believers, and- Wait. Nope. NOT ONE ATHEIST AMONGST THEM. Not even token representation. Great journalism, CNN! Is it any wonder it turned into an atheist bashing session? C'mon, there's at least 3 million atheists in the US. You'd think they could find just one.

The panel members: sports writer Steven Smith was clearly the most moderate of the three panel members, but even his prejudice was thinly veiled. I got the feeling that his emotions were warring with his intellect about it. In a man a member of a group which is routinely discriminated against, this must have felt extremely odd to him. From a member of a group so visciously persecuted in Nazi Germany, lawyer Debbie Schlussel's seemingly natural ability to reverse the role to become persecutor is chilling. But the worst of the three was clearly Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Karen Hunter. Too bad her brains aren't anywhere close to the size of her bigotry.

Read along as you watch the inanity from the above link....

The first blunder goes to Paula Zahn herself: "Do you think atheists should keep their religious beliefs secret?" Oops. We atheists do not hold religious beliefs. Freudian slip? Hmmm.... Karen Hunter's prejudice comes front and center immediately: "What does an atheist believe? Nothing." She knows nothing about atheism. I'm an atheist and I believe many things, including the belief that imposing beliefs on others is wrong. This is the whole basis, the reason d'etre of the separation of Church and State! We atheists are simply pushing back, trying to keep the walls from closing in on us, on OUR beliefs. My gut feeling tells me that this is just another manifestation of the unsupported, unsubstantiated and untrue belief that godless atheists hold no morals. "We took prayer out of schools. What more do they want?"

Simple. To be treated with respect by the religious, to not have to be insulted by swearing legal oaths to what we believe to be nonexistent deities, to not have people "witness" to me and in the same breath be offended when I counter with my own reasons for not believing. Institutionalized prayer, not prayer itself, was removed from public schools. Last time I checked I was a member of the public and I do not pray. To force anyone to pray is simply an immoral act. It was theist discrimination that was removed from shools, not trampling of theist belief being introduced.

Schlussel agrees with Hunter, completely in denial of the news item preceding the discussion: "I think that the real discrimination is atheists against Americans who are religious." Oh, the poor theists! They only make up 90% of the population! I'm sorry, but it is atheists that are forced to see religious icons everywhere in society, but I'll bet dollars to donuts that my Darwin fish on the back of my car offends many strong theists. Have they ever considered that Jesus fish are equally offensive to me? I'll take off mine when they take of theirs. She goes on: "Listen, we are a Christian nation-" Stop right there. The US is not a Christian nation, but a nation full of Christians! There is a big difference. The Founding Fathers of America were, for the most part, Deist, not Xian. Thomas Paine was unequivocal in his disdain for Xianity: "Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid or produces only atheists or fanatics. As an engine of power, it serves the purpose of despotism, and as a means of wealth, the avarice of priests, but so far as respects the good of man in general it leads to nothing here or hereafter." - Thomas Paine.

Schlussel goes on: "...and freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom from religion..." Ok. Now this is just asinine. Freedom is freedom, no exceptions. Amongst other reasons, the first amendment to the US constitution was added in reaction to the population of Britain being compelled to attend weekly Anglican services by royal decree. "[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." - Thomas Jefferson. Sounds like freedom of religion encompasses freedom from religion, at least to Jefferson. Some lawyer Schlussel is.

Schlussel: "You have these atheists selectively, I believe, attacking Christianity..." I guess it's just upstanding (when not intoxicated) theists like Mel Gibson that attack the Jewish faith. When the demographics are such that 80% of the population is Xian and it is that segment of the population generating by far the greatest amount of anti-atheist sentiment, you might think she'd expect that's what the secular community would target. But she doesn't. "I really believe that they are the ones intolerant against Christians..." As usual, conservatives get it ass-backwards. We are only intolerant of those imposing their beliefs on us.

Hunter equates the removal of institutionalized prayer from schools as removing morality from schools: "I think they need to shut up about crying wolf all the time and saying that they're being imposed upon. I personally think that they should never have taken prayer out of schools. I would rather there be some morality in schools." I'm all for teaching morality, but what's that got to do with prayer? It's that old standby, religion is the sole arbiter of morality and atheists can't be moral. Hogwash.

Stephen Smith is probably correct that most anti-atheist attacks occur in the south, anywhere with a high percentage of right-wing Xianity. He was far more tolerant and said something oddly humanist: "... you are entitled to believe what you want as long as you are not, you know, imposing your beliefs on other people..." Why can't all theists think like that?

Of course, it was ruined by Hunter: "They don't have a good - marketing. If they had Hallmark cards, maybe they wouldn't feel so left out. We have Christmas cards. We have Kwanzaa cards now. Maybe they need to get some atheist cards and get that whole ball rolling so more people can get involved with what they're doing." Wow. Isn't that amazingly stupid? "I think they need to shut up and let people do what they do. No, I think they need to shut up about it." So much for Freedom of Speech. Oh, would that fundamentalist Xians heed that advice! That's the whole reason atheists like myself are becoming vocal. Religion is beginning to encroach on letting us do what we do. Of course we're pushing back! We have NO CHOICE ANYMORE! Our right to OUR beliefs are being threatened, and Schlussel doesn't even think we should be accorded that right! At least at this point Smith spoke up in favor of free speech for everyone.

More pot-calling-the-kettle-black from Schlussel, speaking of one man that went "all the way to the Supreme Court for his child, the child doesn't know what's going on, to try to get 'under god' taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance..." This is exactly why I think exposing children to religion is tantamount to child abuse! A child is incapable of making a decision for themselves on their beliefs. What beliefs do atheists force on their children? Free thinking? How terrible! And excuse us for being offended when it is demanded of us that we pledge allegiance to a product of Bronze Age ideas that we've outgrown!

Again, Smith puts in his bit appealing for moderation, which falls on deaf ears: "There's a whole bunch of people in America that need to shut up. And they don't. So why should atheists do anything less? ...We're supposed to be tolerant, we're supposed to accepting of other peoples viewpoint even when they are not our own and the fact that they are atheists is their right..." He gets it!!! If everyone was like him I wouldn't be writing this blog. I'd have no need to. We don't all have to share the same beliefs. Individuality is one of the beautiful aspects of humanity. We just have to respect each others beliefs. Forcing children from atheist families to pray in school is not about respect but about control, about spreading theist beliefs, about institutionalized conformity to theism. This is the quintessential definition of IMMORAL.

Hunter shows her true colors, demonstrating her prejudice even as she makes a half-hearted attempt at being conciliatory: "They're not hurting anyone. I don't personally have a problem with atheists and believe or don't believe what you want, but don't impose on my right to want to have prayers in school, to want to say the Pledge of Allegiance, to want to honor my god..." HYPOCRIT! Hunter wants to be allowed to impose her belief systems on others, while remaining immune from the reverse. No one has ever tried to take away her right to believe in god, to pray, to say the Pledge. But she wants more than that. She wants the right to make sure everyone else does, too.

What I found equally interesting was that Steve Smith had great difficulty in believing the study which showed that atheists are the most despised of all recognized groups. While we are not a visible minority, as was pointed out, we are an ideological minority. The views expressed in this debacle simply underscored the results of the University of Minnesota study, Smith's incredulity notwithstanding. With intolerant, bigoted attitudes such as those expressed by these hypocrites, how far is the US from shipping atheists to concentration camps in cattle cars? Would it stop there? From the comments by these supposedly learned people it is not a big stretch of the imagination. And that's frightening.

Maybe if people such as these panelists would bother to take the time and effort to attempt to understand what it means to be an atheist, things can change. Agreement is not required, but respect is. Preconceived ideas about who and what we are need to be exposed as the misconceptions that they are.

I'm not hopeful.

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