by: Be Scofield on June 13th, 2010 | 67 Comments »
Being an atheist in America means being less than human. I know from personal experience, not from being an atheist but from being raised Christian in a conservative Christian town and holding negative biases about atheists. Like many others I thought that a belief in God was the foundation of morality, that Christians were superior to others and that atheists were a threat to believers. I didn’t, however, reach this conclusion consciously after weighing the facts and examining the issue independently. But rather it was something so ingrained within the culture that it permeated the social conscience. And of course atheists were just one group among many targeted by some Christians. But for several years now there have been movements both religious and secular that have championed the rights of other marginalized groups such as gays, people of color and women. Now it’s time for religious and spiritual people to take a stand for non-believers of all varieties.
Recent years have seen the spread of whats called the new atheism. Led by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennet who are dubbed the “four horsemen” they are known for their fiery rhetoric and passionate critique of all things religious. While they certainly don’t represent all atheists-some prefer a more moderate approach-they have provided an important voice of resistance and identity for a group that has remained painfully silent for to long. And atheism is one of the fastest growing identities in America. It’s now the third largest group behind Catholics and Baptists. People are fed up with the abuse scandals, hypocrisy, violence and rejection of scientific progress that is associated with so many religions and their teachings. Now that atheism has a renewed interest in the public sphere it is an excellent opportunity for religious people of all sorts to show kindness, compassion and understanding to atheists-all things which are central to their traditions.
I’m both a fan and a critic of the new atheists. I agree with much of what they say but disagree when they indict all of religion or reduce it to its most distasteful elements. I believe religion can serve a useful purpose in our world. It can offer a place of resistance, refuge, healing and renewal. But even as I support critiquing the new atheists I treat atheism like I do any other marginalized group that is targeted by a dominant culture. I liken their cause to other struggles for liberation and freedom. And that is why despite my disagreements I believe their response is just.