Who’s Experiencing Discrimination Now?

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My quarterly religion column in the Newport News Daily Press asks,

Which world do we live in? Is atheism really “the last big taboo in the U.S.?” Or is there a rising tide of legal pressure against Christians?

[From Tom Gilson’s religion column – dailypress.com]

I submitted this article to the paper just before the news broke that HHS was requiring religious employers to include contraceptives in their employee insurance plans.

(I’ve notified them of an incorrect byline on the article.)

16 Responses

  1. K. Steele says:

    I feel compelled to point out some omissions in your recent article printed in the Daily Press.

    First of all, you try to compare the discrimination of atheists to the “discrimination” against Christians. There are distinct differences between the two that almost make this an apples to oranges comparison. The atheist discriminations are coming from societal pressure, and the Christian discriminations are coming from adherence to the Constitution.

    The establishment of religion is prohibited by the United States Constitution, and this has been largely ignored since its ratification. Removing religious exclusions of all religions except one in a state associated organization is simply bringing that organization into compliance. Under no circumstance are Christians not being allowed to practice her faith exactly where they are supposed to practice their faith: in the church. If you were intent on making this an actual Christian nation, and turning the government into what would essentially be a theocracy, I would like to point you to the numerous theocracies and countries around the world and ask you how well those countries are doing and what their freedoms to oppressions ratio is compared to that in the United States.

    In contrast, atheists endure discrimination from society that is far more sinister than a technicality of the law. Over the years I have read articles about families being chased out of their neighborhoods, receiving death threats, vandalism of property, losing elected office, and general social outcasting. From my recollection of most of these events, the ones doing the discrimination usually reference some form of Christianity (the Bible, or statements like “you are going to hell”).

    Unfortunately, it appears that most Christians do not practice their religion as they are supposed to by, as you pointed out in your article, “treating nonbelievers on lovingly”. I can assure you that if you and others in the Christian leadership were to focus on eliminating hypocrisy in the Christian religion, and less about trying to make yourselves victimized (such as in the factitious “War on Religion”) then I can assure you that you will have less atheists and a much stronger and legitimate religion.

    I would like to provide a relevant and recent article to illustrate the absurd discriminations against atheists:

    http://host.madison.com/wsj/lifestyles/faith-and-values/religion/in-the-spirit-some-florists-won-t-deliver-to-atheist/article_202f00ec-540f-11e1-8513-0019bb2963f4.html

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    K. Steele,

    Thank you for your comment. I hope you recognize that in this article I wasn’t actually trying to show that one group’s experience was worse than the other’s. They are different, and I think I recognized that.

    The constitutional issues you raise are controversial at best, especially the idea of non-establishment being “ignored since its ratification.” It seems more than likely to me that those who wrote and ratified the First Amendment knew what they had in mind with it. Contemporary interpretations have changed massively. How could we conclude that they were wrong all along? That seems an odd thing to think.

    You say,

    . Removing religious exclusions of all religions except one in a state associated organization is simply bringing that organization into compliance.

    I don’t think this reflects the facts of the cases. I doubt that you have looked into the matter and found that, for instance, there is an Islamic student society that has been instructed that it must admit active deniers of Islam into its leadership.

    Under no circumstance are Christians not being allowed to practice her faith exactly where they are supposed to practice their faith: in the church.

    Now this is extremely problematic. You are telling Christians where we are supposed to practice our faith, and it is only in one place. Apparently one narrowly-defined place; for you deny Christians the legal right to practice our faith in, for example InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at SUNY Buffalo. But who defines what “church” is? Your limitation has no basis. And who ever said that a faith is only to be practiced in a private place? Christians would agree that we practice our faith when we give humanitarian aid following disasters, when we help our sick family members, when we visit prisons, when we donate food to the Food Closet, when pray before meals in a restaurant, and when we share the truths of Jesus Christ with our neighbors and co-workers. Furthermore, we would agree that not to do those kinds of things is specifically not to practice our faith at all. Your definition of practicing our faith is a definition of non-practicing.

    If you were intent on making this an actual Christian nation, and turning the government into what would essentially be a theocracy, I would like to point you to the numerous theocracies and countries around the world and ask you how well those countries are doing and what their freedoms to oppressions ratio is compared to that in the United States.

    I would ask you to study some history and learn under what system of belief the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence arose. Lest you think that I’m saying the Declaration was a “Christian” document, which would obviously be a distortion, I direct you to a more nuanced view of it: Politics, Power, and the Abandonment of Truth. Christianity in America is not seeking theocracy, and to say otherwise is to misunderstand both Christianity and theocracy.

    Atheists have been discriminated against unjustly, as you say, and this is wrong. As I said, my point was not to say that one group’s treatment has been worse than the other’s.

  3. K. Steele says:

    Thank you for your response, Mr. Gilson!

  4. Carlyle Bland says:

    Dear Mr. Gilson, 
    In reference to you Daily Press article of February 12, 2012 “Two different planets” – discrimination and isolation against atheists v. legal pressure against Christians.

    First,  The problem with your argument is the pretext – it is not who is being pressured more: christians or atheists.  There are two different events occurring one is an article that is showing anecdotal stories of prejudice against atheists to underline studies that support that conclusion. The latter is a story about a group that wants to use public funds and have a religious test/oath for officers of the group.  The latter is in clear violation of the intent of the framers and the actual words in Article VI, paragraph III.  Religious loyalty oaths have been abhorrent to some framers(and seeing it shows up in the final edit of the U.S. constitution – at least the majority of framers) going back to the Jefferson/Madison Statute of Freedom of Religion act in Virginia.   Jefferson thought so much of that statute it is one of the only three things on his tombstone: after author of the Declaration of Independence and before Founder of the University of Virginia.  In fact, I would argue the only thing more disliked than an atheist is a state sponsored religious loyalty oath.

    The fact that the state does not want to have to enforce a groups religious loyalty oath/test does not mean that the state is discriminating or preventing that group from existing.  It simple means that the taxpayer does not have to fund it.  If a group wants to discriminate against a member because he is having a legal sexual relationship.  A group should be able to do that: just not use university funding.  You call it coercion, I believe it is actually following the law.  I would further argue that a group that wants a religious oath would be worse off to receive state funding because it would inevitably put secular people being the arbiter of religious issues.  Such as, wether a self-proclaimed christian who believes sex outside of marriage is not sin can be an officer of a christian group that believes sex outside of marriage is a sin.  In the case that you presented, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship would allow Mr. Jackson to be in club but to be an officer in the club he could not engage in sex outside of marriage.  I don’t see why he could be in the club but, as soon as he is made the treasurer he has to change his lifestyle.  In every group I have been in getting anyone to be treasurer was hard enough, much less adding on a religious loyalty oath.  I would personally focus on the honesty aspect of ones character for that position.

    Second, you said to call atheism the last big taboo is far fetched:  The facts show the contrary.  Countless surveys have shown that atheists are still the most despised group in America.  The 2006 Gallup poll shows that atheists would not get a vote by 50% of the population.  A 1995 Barna poll showed that 92% of born-again Christians have negative impression atheists.   Your statement that it was reasonable for atheists to think about the social acceptance of publicly proclaiming their lack of faith kind of proves the point.

    Third, You are alarmed that Christians would treat non or different believers unlovingly.  Jesus treated non believers unlovingly – Matthew 15 the woman from Canaan who was not of the house of Israel and Jesus did not want to help the women’s daughter.  He relented after being pressured by his apostles.  Now it has been said that this was a test of faith for the woman but it sounds to me like Jesus being a bit unlovingly to one he originally perceived to be a non-believer.  Catholics officially blamed jews for the death of Jesus and not lovingly until after World War II.   Jews, Muslims and Pagans were taxed at unlovingly higher rates than Christians in certain communities in Europe. 
    Catholics and Protestants have a history of treating each other quite unlovingly in Ireland.  Christian Klan members treating African Americans unlovingly in Birmingham Alabama.  In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a time when some version of Christianity isn’t treating some group unlovingly.  And I didn’t even mention  the Crusades or the Inquisition talk about treating someone unlovingly.

    Lovingly,

    Carlyle Bland

  5. Crude says:

    Religious loyalty oaths have been abhorrent to some framers(and seeing it shows up in the final edit of the U.S. constitution – at least the majority of framers) going back to the Jefferson/Madison Statute of Freedom of Religion act in Virginia.

    You mean “but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”? And you honestly think this was meant to apply to campus groups? Hell, do you think it applies to any office whatsoever, including an office of a church?

    I think the founders would have utterly detested people warping their words for their political and social agendas.

    I would personally focus on the honesty aspect of ones character for that position.

    The argument that honesty and other morals are completely distinct from each other is unpersuasive. I agree, though, that – given your terrible interpretation of the law – you really should focus on the honesty aspect of things in general.

    The facts show the contrary. Countless surveys have shown that atheists are still the most despised group in America. The 2006 Gallup poll shows that atheists would not get a vote by 50% of the population. A 1995 Barna poll showed that 92% of born-again Christians have negative impression atheists. Your statement that it was reasonable for atheists to think about the social acceptance of publicly proclaiming their lack of faith kind of proves the point.

    Y’think this may have anything to do with atheists, especially in the past half decade, having a nasty habit of going out of their way to offend and insult religious believers and denigrate their beliefs whenever possible – in books, in letters, and elsewise? By all means, ask me for examples of this. I’d love to dump ’em on you.

    Keep in mind a fair chunk of the irreligious – not to mention, anecdotally, more than a few agnostics – seem to have a dim view of atheists as well. Nor is this terribly new – the Cult of Gnu may have been trying to make a splash since around 2005, but Madelyn Murray O’Hare used to be the public face of atheism and was embraced by many atheists at the time. Now, granted, Christians have some terrible representatives too – look at Westboro. I can find plenty of Christians, however – even Christian leaders – denouncing the Westboro Baptists.

    Can you point me at atheist leaders who, after he said that his mission was to destroy Christianity, denounced Dawkins? Also, do you think it’s reasonable for Christians to have a dim view of people who say or who support the desire to destroy their religion, or the impact it has on society?

    Now it has been said that this was a test of faith for the woman but it sounds to me like Jesus being a bit unlovingly to one he originally perceived to be a non-believer.

    And this couldn’t be you straining to find the worst interpretation possible, if barely thinkable, eh?

    Catholics and Protestants have a history of treating each other quite unlovingly in Ireland.

    And how much of that conflict had to do with strictly religious views, rather than secular desires for political power, social grievances, etc? If a Christian scientist develops a medical cure, is that Christian act or a secular act? But if a Christian kills another man out of spite or envy, is that a Christian act or a secular act?

    I give you a C+ for the talking points, but a D for persuasion. Unless it’s to folks who agree with you anyway – then B-.

  6. James T says:

    Thanks for the article Tom, but I wish it were longer.

    I believe that many atheists have this distorted view that somehow, their lack of belief in the spiritual is ‘new’ to the world (I’m sure you’ve posted on this elsewhere, and I know there are several books on the subject). Hence, they feel they have to fight and be belligerent to gain rights that they perceive have hitherto been reserved for religious people.

    I wish they would read some history and find out that atheism has been alive and well for some time, most especially in academic pursuits. Carlye, as crude pointed out, misrepresents history and current events. But these twisted truths are alive and well in the world!

    That Dawkin’s could go out and declare ‘War’ on Christianity without widespread condemnation of intolerance speaks volumes of where we are headed. Imagine if I declared a war on a culture: “We have to defeat the stupid French! They don’t know the truth!” I know it’s, at least partially, a response to militant Christians, but since when is being a bigot an acceptable response to bigotry?

    There was an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail recently on “Religion and the parental prerogative”. Of course, the militant atheists were out in force in the comments section. I noted that intolerance breeds intolerance, but was soundly trumped.

    We had the horrid case of a family convicted of killing the daughters and first-wife to save ‘honour’. And so of course, all religion is to blame: ‘Stupid theists, forget your God and embrace universal tolerance!’

    How long will it take before these people tolerate theists? I’m tired of being an apologist, but I suppose it’s a good thing in the end. Belief is a wonderful, liberating thing, and I wish they would at least try to imagine the ‘other’.

    And I should note some atheists do, but boy, I’m tired of every fool attacking my belief system as ‘stupid’ or ‘ignorant’ or ‘intolerant’. I’ve never come across so much hateful language as that which comes from the new atheists.

    (Sorry, long post. Hopefully it makes sense as I’m writing a little late.)

  7. d says:

    Crude:

    Y’think this may have anything to do with atheists, especially in the past half decade, having a nasty habit of going out of their way to offend and insult religious believers and denigrate their beliefs whenever possible – in books, in letters, and elsewise? By all means, ask me for examples of this. I’d love to dump ‘em on you.

    Gee, you don’t think it could have anything to do with the fact that the religious institutions and cultures have tabood atheism for centuries? Did this negative view of atheists really just spring up around 2001-2002 (or whenever) when Dawkins, Harris, et al. released their books and stirred up a little movement?

    Even the Bible calls atheists fools. Take a cursory examination of apologetics literature from any time-frame, and it won’t take you long to find negative generalizations about atheists, and their morality, their trustworthiness, their character, etc – and in many of of the examples you find, I bet if you replaced the word “atheist” with “Jew” – you might think you are reading pages out of Mein Kampf. And even where the more reasonable apologists take a measured tone, their views certainly have never taken hold in the general religious population.

    I would actually say something like the reverse – the in-your-face attitude of some new atheists is a direct response to tabood status they face in religious cultures.

    Apologists are used to just insulting or generalizating negatively about atheists without fear of reprisal, so much so that they probably don’t even realize they do it, when they do. But now that atheists have a bigger voice and respond back, I think many religious have the sensation of being attacked – when they’re really just getting a little of what they’ve been giving to atheists for centuries.

  8. d says:

    James T:

    We’re so used to Christians declaring war on other cultures, we’re completely desensitized to it.

    In fact, its called by benign, good soundings names – like conversion, prosthelytizing, and missionary work.

    Maybe we should call it Jihad instead?

  9. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    We’re so used to Christians declaring war on other cultures, we’re completely desensitized to it.

    In fact, its called by benign, good soundings names – like conversion, prosthelytizing, and missionary work.

    Maybe we should call it Jihad instead?

    It is clear that you are not “completely desensitized” so the the pronoun “we” is innacurate.

    So proselytizing (def. proselytize: to recruit someone to join one’s party, institution, or cause) and missionary work is comparable to Jihad? Maybe you like, as the typical member of the cult of Gnu, to spout ignorant idiocies in your proselytizing — err, Jihad — for atheism?

    I retract that last question; it is an affirmation and with no maybes.

  10. d says:

    So proselytizing (def. proselytize: to recruit someone to join one’s party, institution, or cause) and missionary work is comparable to Jihad?

    In the cultural sense, yes.. Christianity’s mission is cultural genocide, as Tom has referred to it. Christianity, at its core, attempts to assimilate and usurp other cultures, molding them to the Christian view of what culture should be.

    But then again, that’s essentially what it is when any idea about how to live or what to believe displaces another. The evolution of all belief, results in some sort of cultural genocide, all the time. And its often a good thing.

  11. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    So in post #8 you say that proselytizing is akin to Jihad, a word which has a precise definition and a definite conotation — and either you chose that word purposefully or you simply do not know what you are talking about — and even say that the reason why we, Christians that is, do not admit it, is because we have become “completely desensitized”.

    Now, in post #10, missionary work and proselytizing is akin to cultural war, and it is even a Good Thing.

    Oh well. I have already given up on getting anything resembling an informed, cogent, coherent argument from you. Just bluster and emotional hot air.

  12. d says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    James T was aghast at the lack of admonishment from other atheists by Dawkins’s “Declaration of War” on Christianity. Here’s what he said:

    That Dawkin’s could go out and declare ‘War’ on Christianity without widespread condemnation of intolerance speaks volumes of where we are headed. Imagine if I declared a war on a culture: “We have to defeat the stupid French! They don’t know the truth!”

    But my point is, we don’t have to imagine what its like for Christianity to declare war on a culture – war on other cultures is innate in Christianity, and its been embroiled in those wars for its entire existence.

    Christians refer to their “wars” with flattering terms… like “spreading the Good Word” or some such other thing – but its the same damn thing as Dawkin’s “War on Christianity” – or Cultural Genocide – or Cultural Jihad, even.

    It’s people throwing their beliefs into the area of ideas, arguing for them, living them, and trying to convince others to do the same.

  13. SteveK says:

    More of the same rhetoric: “Everyone but ME should shut up and sit down. Everyone but ME should keep their beliefs out of the public square”.

    Nope, d. Not gonna do it.

  14. d says:

    More of the same rhetoric: “Everyone but ME should shut up and sit down. Everyone but ME should keep their beliefs out of the public square”.

    That’s not MY rhetoric at all. Where does this sense of victimization come from? Tales of the end times when Christians are predicted to be persecuted?

    Christians are free to bring their beliefs to the public square. But you can’t bring them to the public square, and the expect them to remain unchallenged, uncriticized, or even respected.

    Its anyone’s prerogative, who disagrees, dislikes or otherwise objects to your beliefs to say so, as vocally as you would state your own beliefs. You’re not a victim when they do.

  15. asdf says:

    Of course, d, you assume that Christian culture is not superior. Our beliefs dictate, in fact, that it is, in that it alone provides true meaning and purpose, while others only exasperate. Whether you like to believe it or not, we might annoy people with our proselytising, but our given method of spreading Christianity is not meant to be forceful, and this is key. People take up Christianity on its own benefits and truths, not because they are coerced into it.

    That means that they agree, perhaps, that our culture is more worthy than their own which they forsake, if it even comes to that, whether it be Islam or a pagan tradition. Not every aspect of every culture is worth keeping, I’m sure you can recognise. It’s hard on our postmodern ears, but the free market of ideas will eventually weed out the morally insecure and less worthy ones on its own. The comparison to Jihad misses, on the things that we find so repugnant in Jihad in the first place; violence, coercion, intolerance.

    Oh, and as for the Bible calling you atheists fools, biblically, a fool is someone who doesn’t live their life according to reality, so by definition, if you’re taking the Bible at its word (that it is indeed the inerrant word of God), atheists are fools. And for those of us for whom the existence of God is as clear as the nose on our faces, suddenly atheism feels extremely foolish.

  16. Crude says:

    Gee, you don’t think it could have anything to do with the fact that the religious institutions and cultures have tabood atheism for centuries?

    First of all, look at what you’re saying. Theistic religions regard atheism as a taboo in their culture and institution? Holy crap, notify the historians. Next you’ll tell me that conservatism is frowned upon among Democrats.

    Now, I can get into a nice, long conversation here about how atheists were and were not treated ‘for centuries’ that directly goes against your claims, other than serving the general point that religious groups think atheism is incorrect, and atheists are wrong in a big way.

    But the fact remains: atheists have been acting like tremendous jackasses for a long time now. Say “Well Christians have acted like jackasses too!”, but at that point you’re just trying to excuse the behavior – you are not denying it. And most of all, you’re not condemning it.

    Tell me, d – when Dawkins announced his intention to destroy Christianity, who were the atheist leaders who condemned his rhetoric? I can name a few who endorsed it, but who condemned it? I’m having trouble there.

    Remember Blasphemy Day? I believe it’s a yearly event, though if so it has gone unnoticed after year 1. Where were the condemnations there? I recall Kurtz kinda-sorta didn’t like it, and supposedly that partly led to him being looked down on in his own organization.

    Now, scream all you like ‘Well Christians deserve it because..!’ But holy hell, don’t then turn around an, in a fit of inanity, express outrage and sadness that Christians have a dramatically low opinion of atheists, as another atheist did (and as is, frankly, pretty common. So much for that ‘reason’ thing.) Especially when this has basically been the public attitude of atheist leadership for decades.