Thursday, June 25, 2009

I'm confused. Again.

I'll admit it. It doesn't take much to confuse me but please tell me what I'm missing here.

I do understand their message. I do believe that moral and ethical people can be found almost anywhere and that carrying around proof of baptism or having a religious text tucked under your arm are not required. I'm not questioning the message, just the greater purpose behind this campaign created by New York City Atheist Inc.

Apparently, this isn't a reaction to a Christian message of salvation (basically: you non-believers are going to hell) that previously ticked off some atheists in London who felt compelled to respond with their own message (basically: no, we're not.) My question is this: how is either party certain of their message? And if that's the case, don't they cancel each other out?

According to the atheists behind the New York campaign, the purpose of the bus placards is to end the estrangement or separateness atheists feel in our society. In fact, a successful campaign will create "atheist pride" or promote "acceptance of atheism."

This is the place where I get confused. I had no idea there was a lack of atheist pride on our country. And I had less of an idea that atheists feel estranged from society. And my sense of human nature is that for people who look down on the atheists that surround them, signs they read on the side of a bus aren't going to change their minds.

But let's go with this premise - why not? Maybe atheists do feel separate and unwelcome in many areas of our society. Maybe they don't feel quite at home at the local VFW or the corner bar or the gym or the grocery store or the Starbucks or the post office or the mall as the believers do. Maybe when they attend concerts, ballgames, movies, plays, WWF matches or the opera, they feel like everyone is staring at them, singling them out as different. Maybe when they check 'atheist' on their job applications, they feel just a little nervous about disclosing their non-beliefs. Maybe standing around with the other parents, watching their kids play soccer, is an uncomfortable experience. Maybe applying for a mortgage, or shoppng for a car or taking a vacation is always cause for alarm.

You know how everything just feels different when atheists are present. The entire atmosphere changes and never in a good way. It ruins the experience for the believers who are trying to enjoy themselves.

For God's sake (if you will): what? Is it necessary for yet another group in America to declare their need for acceptance? Are atheists the new protected class among us? Isn't it enough that there are a number of groups that deal with actual prejudice or mistreatment? Now we have to be concerned about atheists and how they're not getting a fair shake.

My favorite part of the Times article included the quote from Jane Everhart, spokesperson for New York City Atheists: “People who are religious have been advertising for generations,” she said. “But atheists never have. We have not come out, and this is part of our coming out.”

Question: Why would atheists have a desire to advertise? To convert believers into no-believers? And what do we gain by swelling the ranks of atheists?

I know that organized religion has its problems. I get that. I also know that religious groups of all kinds do an enormous amount of good work, and sure, they don't have an exclusive on doing good deeds. Once again, I'm certain that you don't have to show proof of religious affiliation to help out at the local soup kitchen.

I don't want to get all Rodney King here but jeez: can't we all just get along?


Richard said...

I consider myself to be an agnostic humanist, not quote an atheist, but almost. Your blog entry dated June 25, 2009 really makes the point that this kind of display is necessary. Would you have been so shocked and compelled to write about a bus with a placard on the side from the United Church of Christ? I bet not. Until we agnostics, atheists, and other similar free-thinkers are fully accepted by society, this type of advertising seems appropriate to me.

Many times I do feel ostracized or fearful because of my belief (non-belief?) and I am afraid and embarrassed to identify myself as agnostic. This kind of feeling is common among other people I have met that don’t fall into nicely categorized little dogmas. We are constantly reminded of religion in everyday life. On our currency. On courthouse walls; despite the fact that the very first amendment to our constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”

You end by saying “I don't want to get all Rodney King here but jeez: can't we all just get along?” Apparently we cannot - read Paul Carpenter’s column from today (6/26) and consider the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka. They seem to get along with no one. As long as these extremist zealots run around saying things like ''Thank God for Sept. 11'' we need to remind everyone that you don’t have to believe in God to be a moral and ethical person. We can just be good for goodness sake!

renee said...

Hi Richard -

Thanks very much for your thoughtful reply.

I try not to make decisions based on the extremists that occupy either end of a spectrum. People who thank god for 9/11 as punishment for our sins don't usually hit my radar.

Quite honestly, your perspective is helpful. Any discomfort you feel as a result of your perspective on the existence of god is surprising to me. As a believer, the many reminders of religion in our society do tend to go right past me, whereas they may serve to remind you that you are not exactly in the mainstream.

That said, the semi-superior attitude I've personally experienced from atheists who tend to pity my naive, misguided view about the existence of a supreme being is sometimes more than I can bear. That's what troubles me and prompted the "get along" comment.

If I truly do 'believe,' and hope to draw people into my tent, I'll act in ways that reflect my own ethics and morals, and most likely include non-believers at large in my prayers. Other than that, I'm happy to live and let live.

Maybe the signage is a little "protesting too much" for me. I never imagined atheists (as a group, assuming you can categorize people as such) as immoral, unethical people. The signage separating morality and ethics from religious beliefs bascially elicits this response from me: I never thought morals and ethics were found only in believers. But if you want to remind me, by all means.