Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pity the Poor Skeptics

The "Reason Rally" was successfully launched in Washington DC last, according to CNN. Even in the rain, people showed up to make their presence known to a world that is apparently unaware of them. Advocates are claiming that they "will never be closeted again," and speak of "coming out."

Is atheism is the the new gay? This is news to me, but the CNN article does make the comparison.

I heard one of the event's organizers interviewed on NPR. He claimed that atheists are discriminated against in the marketplace and even are fired from their jobs once their atheism is revealed to their employers. When the NPR interviewer pressed him on his evidence for his claims, the man offered an embarrassingly weak defense.

I was not aware that atheists had any kind of a closet to come out of. I've known atheist folks for quite some time, and none of them were particularly hesitant to proclaim their non-belief. Is disagreeing with an atheist tantamount to unfair discrimination? Do job applications in the general society of America have a box where you check that you have some sort of acceptable religious faith? This, again, is news to me.

Also, atheism as a way of thinking about ultimate reality (or the lack of it) isn't really all that new or unknown, is it? Bertrand Russell's book Why I am Not A Christian was published in 1925 and has been standard fare in philosophy and religion courses ever since. As a philosophy, atheism has been traced back thousands of years in human history.

I once made friends with a young man who was the president of the Atheists and Agnostics Club of a nearby major university. There are 30,000 students in that university. When I asked my young friend how many members he had in his club, he told me that there were eight, counting him. Eight. Out of 30,000 students. That's a percentage number with a whole of zeroes after the decimal point. I must admit that I offered my sympathies to him, recognizing that it is often difficult to draw a crowd when the topic is ultimate reality.

Maybe these atheists are upset, not because of discrimination, but because most people really don't care that much about their non-belief. Maybe they want us to care. Maybe we could make caring for atheists a law. That would probably do it.

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