The biggest problem atheists have ever faced in the United States is that anti-atheist bigotry is an integral – sometimes necessary – part of Western theism, especially in Islam and Christianity.
Christianity is the main propagator of this issue in America
The religion dictates that, no matter what you do, god/Jesus/the holy spirit will forgive you. All you have to do is ask, which means that you must believe. Non-belief is the only truly unforgivable sin in Christianity, even worse than blasphemy and child-molestation. For those things, you can be forgiven, but only if you believe and pray.
If you die a non-believer, it’s said that St. Peter will greet you with his middle finger at heaven’s gates, and knock you down to the depths of burny, fiery, torturey hell for eternity. This is true – and just, as god decrees it to be so – no matter what your reason is for not buying into the Christianity Tales.
This leads to a large population of Christian adherents living with the belief that all non-Christians, especially atheists, actually deserve to suffer every human rights violation imaginable. After all, god says it’s deserved!
It wasn’t always this way. The intelligent, mostly-deistic founders of the United States did what they could to separate the church from the state, guaranteeing equality for minorities, because they knew what it was like to suffer at the hands of the tyrannical religious majority of Great Britain. The United States of America was supposed to be different.
It is different, but that difference is being threatened. George Bush senior said, during his presidency, “I don’t know that atheists should be considered citizens.” A couple of decades later, his son came into power to finish the Iraq conflict that his father started, stating that his religious beliefs determine his policies, and thus painting the U.S. like some kind of theocratic monarchy.
One thing many theists don’t understand is that, in a legally secular country like the United States, atheists actually do have, and deserve, the upper hand – not to an ultimate degree, but to a higher degree than adherents of any religion. The atheist who says, “Public school officials should not engage students in prayer,” is on the side of the law, as well as the well-being not only of fellow non-theists but members of non-Christian religions. The Christian who says, “That’s a denial of my and my children’s right to pray in school!” is incorrect – all students and officials can pray whenever they like, to what ever entity they like, as long as the class isn’t disrupted.
Keeping schools free of religious bias
It might look unfair, but remember that what matters is keeping public institutions like schools free of religious bias: the staff may not encourage children to favor any particular religion, let alone engage in that religion’s practices. Secularism is non-theism in action, and it’s the only way to make sure governments treat all citizens fairly. It is the practice of non-favoritism. Christians sometimes think that being prevented from pushing their religion on others is persecution or a denial of their free speech rights. However, it isn’t: the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits Congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion. The education system is not exempt.
Yet, with talking head Ben Stein leading the creationist “Intelligent Design” movement into the courts, in hopes of moving it into science classes, free-thinkers are threatened. The movement is nothing more than biblical literalism dressed up in glasses and a monotonous voice, and teaching it to children (many parents are doing via homeschooling) will do nothing but drive what was once the world’s most science-friendly country (Americans are credited with the telephone, the light bulb, and the automobile) into a technological ditch.
In several of America’s states – Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Maryland – an atheist can not legally hold office. This means atheist politicians must closet their position on the supernatural in order to even get a chance to work for the country.
Voting a publicly atheistic man or woman into the presidency is practically impossible for deeply Christian United States citizens – for some reason, mainly their lack of education and cognitive dissonance, many Christians figure that if you don’t believe in god, you don’t believe in “anything.”
“Under god” wasn’t added to the American pledge of allegiance until 1954, and “In god we trust,” didn’t appear on cash until 1957. Both changes were, at the time, attempts to build solidarity against the anti-religious communists in Russia. Now, they are examples of bigotry – the forcing of theism onto non-theists. Further, every time an atheist is forced to swear on a Christian Bible (or any holy book) in court, it is bigotry – although not of the worst sort. It merely renders the atheist’s promise less binding.
The main dramatic talking points in the United States – abortion, gay marriage, global warming – are only dramatic due to the unsupported backward notions of Christianity, especially those of the fundamentalist sort.
It’s the notion of the soul that threatens abortion; it’s the assumption about what marriages “god wants” making gay marriage so tough to achieve; it’s the belief that Jesus will return in fifty years that keeps Christians from caring about the environment (god gave us the earth so that we may rape it, you see, and after all, he’s coming back to fix it all anyway, so who cares?).
By pushing dogmatic Christian ideals into politics, Christians are discriminating against atheists, as well as anyone else who doesn’t buy into Christianity. Christian beliefs are scientifically unsupported, yet they’re held anyway, at the expense of the bodies, health, and lives of non-adhering free thinkers.
In December of 2008, in the Washington Capitol, Christians were allowed to display a manger scene to celebrate the Christian side of the Solstice season. Because the state legally may not treat any religious perspective with favoritism, an Atheist group put up a sign stating that there is no god, and further, that religion is a superstitious myth that “hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
First, Christians (including Bill “F-ing thing sucks” O’Reilly) expressed outrage – how dare atheists try to “steal” Christmas from Christians! According to many Christians, expressing disagreement constitutes oppression – and this was demonstrated, ironically, as some Christians later stole the large, heavy, expensive atheist sign and threw it in a ditch – effectively (albeit temporarily) denying others the very right to freedom of expression that they themselves were enjoying by setting up a manger scene.
Freedom to protest
A short time later, more than five hundred Christians showed up to protest the inclusion of the atheist sign (which was replaced) – using their freedom to protest, to protest someone else’s freedom to protest. The irony is practically painful – yet these Christians, in their smothering bigotry, were blind to it. The basic belief demonstrated by the debacle is this: “Atheists don’t deserve the rights we deserve.” Apparently, “You celebrate it your way, and I’ll celebrate it my way,” isn’t good enough for them.
Fortunately, the Capitol displays became something of a joke. Westboro Baptist Church, of “God Hates Fags” fame, was granted the right to post a sign amongst the displays saying that “Santa Claus will take you to hell!” A Festivus pole joins these, as well – a reference to the TV show “Seinfeld,” placed to show a sense of humor about the whole episode.
It’s the Christian push to make people to say, “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays” as though it’s owed to them that really demonstrates anti-atheist bigotry – or more so, anti-everyone-else bigotry. It’s common knowledge among non-Christians that Jesus is not the reason for the season – the reason lies in many cultures, most notably, the pagan celebration of the winter solstice.
Putting down non-believers in abhorrent fantasy is a staple of Christianity, yet Christians won’t accept a group’s right to publicly disagree with them. Theists like to say, “You’re wrong and you deserve to suffer for it,” while atheists tend to say merely that “You’re wrong and you deserve a better education.” Such is the fundamentalist Christian sense of entitlement.
Even worse, a lot of Christians build solidarity with other religions by acknowledging that, “Well, at least they agree with us on something, but those atheists, well, they’re evil.” In order for differing religions to shake hands, atheists are used as a common scapegoat. Surveys have shown that atheists are the most distrusted and hated group in the United States, for no greater reason than unfounded religious fear and bigotry – hatred for atheists is often the only thing multiple religions enjoy sharing.
Correlation between secularism and high quality of life
World wide, the correlation between secularism and high quality of life is a constant (Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Japan), while the correlation between fundamentalist theism and low quality of life is also a constant (Middle Eastern countries and the United States come to mind). Somehow, the world’s Evil Atheists are getting along just fine when allowed to move freely, and are even doing good things for their countries. The obviousness of such trends could be shockingly relevant to a theist – that is, as long he holds peace, low infant mortality rates, public health care and good education in high regard.
There is no good reason to hate a group of people simply for being skeptical thinkers with naturalistic tendencies, or for refusing to be brainwashed and manipulated by money-hungry evangelicals. This, however, isn’t what Christianity and Islam teach. Since such bigotry is inherent in these faiths, it’s necessary for non-theists, agnostics, atheists and brights to stand up and point to the Constitution in self-defense: theists are not likely to do it for them.