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So, you don’t see atheist discrimination? June 1, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society.
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A challenge (via Atheist Apostle…via Dead Logic)

Wear if you dare!

 

Now, I have been wearing shirts that advertise my atheism for many years.  I have some acquaintances who question why I wear them as well as why it matters.  They are atheists too, in most cases, and nobody seems to care about it around them.

Well, a few things:

1) Most of my acquaintances who make such comments, especially people I’ve known from from high school, are very privileged private school educated, upper middle class, white men.

2) They rarely or never talk about their atheism, especially to non-atheists.  How would they know if discrimination existed? It’s easy not to be discriminated against if you are so deep in the closet nobody can see you there.

3) I’m not sure if most of these people would know what discrimination looks like, from the receiving end, if they did experience it.

My own admitted privileged status in our culture means that I don’t fully comprehend the repercussions of discrimination myself, and this is magnified for those who don’t expose themselves to being out atheists.  I am well aware of my ignorance about the experience of serious discrimination.  But what small amount of lack of privilege that being an atheist entails in our society (especially when compared to what women, non-white, trans, etc (not to mention the various intersectionality that people experience), I can assure you it does exist.

It’s nothing immediately dangerous (in the vast majority of cases, but I also live in a liberal metropolis), and in most cases it amounts to awkward conversations with clueless people.  It certainly can make job-hunting problematic, as advertising atheist activism on a resume may not be wise.  Although I once did get hired for a job (years ago) while wearing a “Hi, I’m your friendly neighborhood atheist” shirt.

So, atheist discrimination, in comparison with discrimination received by other groups of people is comparatively tame.  But it exists.  The more people that come out of the closet as atheists, the better it will eventually get.

So, whether you wear a shirt like the one pictured above or not, keep in mind that there are significant religious privileges in our society, and that we need more people standing up, speaking, and acting in the name of social justice of all kinds.

All social justice activists are working to make their activism irrelevant.  Let’s make atheist activism irrelevant.

Marriage rights and religious discrimination September 21, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Now, I’m no lawyer, but I have some thoughts,  Any lawyers who come upon this are free to slice and dice the argument as they like.  This will, of course, be a brief sketch of the idea, not a comprehensive argument.

Marriage and family

Now, those who think about marriage rights in the United States, as well as many other Western nations, have had to deal with the question of gay marriage in recent years.  And while I know some atheists who oppose gay marriage, it is my opinion that their opposition to such things are ultimately based upon cultural values and traditions which are carried to us on the back of religious doctrines and tradition.  That is, while homophobia, discrimination, etc are natural human phenomena which are merely magnified and perpetuated by the many kinds of religious institutions, it is primarily religion that is the social basis for opposition to equal marriage rights.  There simply is no coherent argument against gay marriage.  Religious arguments, while still not coherent when seen from the outside, are at least more internally consistent.

The so-called definition of marriage is deeply problematic, and not challenged often enough.  The idea that it is only marriage when institutions, both civil and religious, wed one man and one woman, is not particularly traditional or universal.  The history of marriage, which is too complicated to summarize effectively here, is one based upon property relationships.  Contained within but also found outside of the traditional religious scriptures of many faiths is the idea that a wife is property, and the idea that marriage is a union of two people whom love one-another and both enter into willingly is a relatively modern idea.  The idea of the nuclear family, with (stay-at-home) mother, (bread-winning) father, and children (and possibly grandma or an uncle or aunt being around) is an idealized picture that is not more than a hundred years old.  Sure, families may have looked that way previous to that, but it was not the definition of family until more recently.

The bottom line is the traditionally conservative definition of marriage, and therefore of family, is not actually traditional.  It is a conservative notion, for sure, but it seeks to conserve an idea which is younger than the airplane or the automobile.  In a world that moves and thinks faster, where innovation is the bedrock of many economies, it is absurd that we should expect cultural and personal ideas not to change.  Marriage has already changed from a hierarchical property relationship to one between consenting equals, and it will continue to change as we learn more about ourselves and what we are capable of.

But change into what? Into whatever consenting, mature, and responsible adults want it to change into.  We are, after all, the arbiters of our own culture.  We bow to no universal definitions or standards.  Or, at least, we shouldn’t.

Religious discrimination

Descrimination is not allowed under the law in Western “Democracies” (I’m not getting into that today…).  In the United States, Title VII protects people from “discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” and many other nations have similar types of laws.  Now, this may not seem like a way to argue about marriage (and perhaps it is not, ultimately) but allow me to present an argument. Similar or very different arguments might have to be levied in the legal whirlwind of other nations, but I’m an American, so I’ll pretend no other places exist for a little while, as is our way.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that a religious institution would start marrying homosexuals in the United States.  And, let’s say, this church wanted to do so throughout the united states, even in states that don’t recognize or allow gay marriage.  And, let’s say, the church proclaims that this act is part of their religious doctrine.  Now, despite the fact that Christian, Jewish, Mormon, and Islamic texts say otherwise, there are other religious institutions that could, hypothetically, do so without this contradiction.  Hindus, for example (As far as I can remember) don’t have the same problem with homosexuality. And what about the Shinto? Ah, how we always forget about them, don’t we?  But it does not matter what religious group steps forward to do this, because the first amendment protects all religious views.

Wouldn’t these acts and doctrines, by whatever religious group that decides to act in such a way,  be a challenge to the state not recognizing gay marriage?  In the face of such an act, the state and/or federal government not allowing these marriages to be recognized equally with a Catholic, Jewish, or Hindu marriage seems to be religious discrimination issue.  Would a religious institution who had, as part of their beliefs, the idea that anyone should be free to marry anyone, be discriminated against if they tried to do so?

Now, I know how I would respond to this.  I would say that there is a distinction between what a church does within it’s doors and what the state is compelled to recognize.  That is, the Temple of Holy Perversity can marry Adam and Steve, Lilith and Eve, or (perhaps) Adam, Steve and Eve, but that does not compel the state to recognize this union legally, with all the rights and privileges that come with it.  That is, the marriage could be a religious one, but not a civil one.  A person who took this road might argue, as some do, that marriage is a religious institution and whatever legal rights “married” people get now is really a civil union we call ‘marriage’ for the sake of simplicity and tradition.  They might argue that the state should only recognize civil unions, and not any marriage that a religion can conceive of.  Many people seem to be moving in this direction, although it contains seeds of further problems associated with discrimination.

Why, for example, should the government recognize the civil union of Billy and Barbara while rejecting Bobby and Mike?  On what basis does it accept one type of civil union and not another? Tradition? Is this traditional distinction not based upon a biased practiced which has been perpetuated by religious bigotry and centuries of  discrimination against homosexuality?  Would accepting this traditional idea, carried to us by religion, not a way to respect one set of religious traditions over ones that might not accept those traditions? In short, isn’t the civil union compromise merely a way to shovel off the question of discrimination and religious preferential treatment one step further down the line?

It also seems to me (and my legal understanding of the issue gets fuzzy here) that the term “marriage” not only is not a mere religious term (because religion has usurped the idea, much like it has done to morality), but that to allow one type of union between people to have automatic civil rights and benefits while denying it to others seems to be an inequality that is not only unfair, but possibly illegal.  For the states or the federal government to recognize one type of union while not another, especially if where that line lays just [sarcasm]happens [/sarcasm] to overwhelmingly coincide with the lines between religious opinions in our culture, seems a little like discrimination based upon religion to me.

I’m going to start my own religion

Now, since it is unlikely that any established church or religious institution is going to take this step, even though many specific congregations are in favor of gay marriage, we might have to start our own.  And of course, since I’m an atheist, it might not be me.  Or maybe not.  Humanism, for example, is recognized as a religion, legally, according to some precedent.  And while many atheists, including myself, are not particularly comfortable with having atheism recognized as a religion (because it’s not a religion), I will admit that in the legal sense there is meaning to talking about it as if it were.  This is not a double-standard, because the point of the law against discrimination, as I understand it, is to protect people from discrimination based on whatever religious position they take, not what religion they adhere to.  So while atheism is not a religion, it is protected in the same way as any religion would be.

So, could Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism, or any sect thereof be the group that takes this step? Sure.  And if this group starts performing ceremonies which marry two men, two women, or groups of people and these people who have all decided, as adults of their own free will, to enter into this arrangement, then does the state have to recognize it?  Perhaps not, but what happens when these people start losing their jobs as a result of it.  Can’t they point to their religious group, who not only blessed the union but performed it as part of their religious beliefs, and say that there are being discriminated based upon their religion?

And couldn’t they also point to the traditional religious groups, point to the fact that those who attend and marry in those mainstream places of worship don’t face this discrimination, and say that’s not fair! That’s discrimination! and be right?

Not only morally, but legally?

That’s my question.

It is a question that has implications for not only gay marriage, but polyamorous marriage.  And while much of the LGBTQ community does not want to address the larger polyamory issue when it comes to marriage (a political decision, of course), I believe that it is a question that my generation will see come to more public exposure in my lifetime.  Will we solve it? Well, these things change slowly, but if the polyamory community can get itself into the public sphere the way atheists did over the last 10 years, we might be able to make some headway.

There is a lot of work to be done.

Local Christian admits to excluding atheists in society July 20, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Doug Billings

Doug Billings

I ran into this article from a local Philadelphia writer today.  I must say that I was a bit flabbergasted by it.  What a disgusting piece of writing this was.  So full of hate, misinformation, and lack of compassion and love that I thought it was written by his straw-man atheist.

Let’s see where he starts:

Here we go again – another new political building and another new lawsuit brought about by atheists without anything better to do. Is being an atheist really so boring that for fun they spend thousands of dollars on frivolous lawsuits just to get their name(s) in the paper? How dreadfully pitiful. One almost feels sorry for them.

If you don’t know what he’s talking about, it is the issue of the lawsuit concerning the carving of the phrases “In God we trust” and “One nation under God” on the visitor center at the capital.  And right, we are just doing it because we are bored.  We are so lonesome and desperate for attention that we have to mess with him and his ilk.  We are so pathetic.

Oh, right.  They are the ones that are spending thousands of dollars to engrave their phrases on the building which we object to for legitimate reasons.  I’ll get to that.  But first, let’s see what our loving and compassionate Christian friend has to say further along in his article:

Did you know that “In God We Trust” is the official motto of the United States? It is.

This is correct.  However, it has not always been so.  The phrase did not appear on our money until 1864, and the motto was changed to this in 1956 in an act of Congress.  It was not right to do then, and it is still not right.  This is an issue of concern for atheists for two reasons; one is that it keeps on being used as an example of why atheists can be treated like second-class citizens.  The other is that it excludes us in the first place.  It is divisive of our citizens to have something official that does not represent all of us.

Oh wait, our loving Christian friend does not care about that:

First of all you’re correct that the engravings will exclude you. This is the intent. We want you excluded. Keeping idiocy out of the mainstream is a healthy goal.

Um…hmm.  I don’t know what to say to that.  He admits to wanting to exclude us.  Man, that really sounds like dislike, at very least.  Idiocy? Why are atheists idiots?  Isn’t that the cultural debate we are having now?  Has the government sided with you officially? When did this happen? And even if we were idiots, doesn’t the constitution protect our rights anyway?  I mean, even if there were clearly a god (there isn’t clearly a god), our rights as citizens are protected nonetheless.

Let me quote the holy Gospel according to the United Constitution:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

And then the Gospel according to Matthew (22:21):

Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s

Ah, yes, this is indeed a Christian nation.  All that debate during the writing of the Constitution in this very city of Philadelphia, where many times a proposition to include Jesus in the document were rejected.  Jefferson’s idea of the wall between church and state, as he described in his letter to the Danbury Baptist church, indicate this:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

What does our esteemed Christian Life examiner have to say about such things?

Because of the glorious and unique foundation of Christian principles, precepts and beliefs this country rests upon and due to the indelible imprint the founding fathers gave us by using them in our constitution and declaration of independence, these kinds of engravings and inscriptions will never be eliminated from our government.

Well, first of all the only use of anything god-like was either in the use of the dating system, references tosome vague ‘Creator’ and ‘providence’ in the Declaration of Independence (which has no legal implications for us anyway), and the things I just mentioned above which seek to create a secular nation.  Secular meaning without respect to any religious view, not without religion.

And that is precisely the point.  The reason that these phrases don’t belong on a government building is that they are not only divisive, but they are not in line with the founders of our nation as they agreed in the Constitution.  Those founders discussed these things and the only time religion and god are mentioned in the Constitution are in keeping a separation from the religious beliefs of individuals from the government which is supposed to represent them.

Doug adds the following:

In another gleaming example of her intellectual shortcomings, Gaylor said, “They want this engraving up there because they think God is the foundation of our government. Boy, are they misinformed.”

I could print hundreds of pages with quotes from our founding fathers to modern politicians proving her wrong, but why when she’s so obviously a lunatic? (Please cue up Lunatic Fringe by Red Rider)

Here’s the thing.  Many of the founders were Christian.  Many legislators and lawyers are today.  That does not matter.  The fact is that when it came to forging a document to create a basis for law in our society, what they came up with makes it very clear that not only no religious test will be permitted, but that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, which Jefferson was kind enough to elaborate on for us above.

And granted, Jefferson’s comments outside the constitution can be held with the same skepticism as the Christian fellow-founders that he disagreed with, but the fact is that nowhere in the Constitution is it made clear that the laws of our nation are derived from a god, but instead it says this:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Nothing about God, but “we the people” instead.  What I think is going on is the people that argue God is behind this argue that EVERYTHING is from God.  But this question is precisely what different citizens disagree about.  And since the Constitution does not address this issue, government has to be neutral about the question, even if the people who are supposed to be the representatives are not neutral themselves.

Sure, culturally this nation is steeped in Christian ideas.  But this must be kept separate from the government.  I will never try to prevent a person from practicing whatever his conscience wills in his or her private life, but a government building is not that private life.  A government building is public, and I’m part of that public.  Excluding me because I disagree with the majority violates the essence of the Constitution.

And it does not matter how many of us are atheists, agnostics, etc.  It does not matter if it is 15%, 5%, or .5%.  The point is that by excluding us from our Constitutional rights, people like Doug Billings are invoking the same kind of thinking that allowed rights to be kept from minority races, women, and gays throughout our history.

But Doug isn’t done yet:

No American with any sense will stand for this attempt to whitewash our American religious heritage and Little Miss Annie and her FFRF will remain on the fringe of society because of their own choices, not because the mainstream puts them there. This is the thing about fringe groups – they choose to be on the fringe. No one forces them to be there.

Right, just like nobody forced you to be part of the mainstream (if you are in fact there).  What does that have to do with anything? So those on the fringe don’t matter? People with unpopular opinions are just SOL? That reminds me of groups like the Taliban.  I imagine if the phrase was “In Allah we trust” you may feel differently about this.  Then, perhaps, we would agree that this phrase doesn’t belong there.  But you fail to see, Dougy boy, that “In God is trust” is sectarian and divisive.

It’s time for the fringe groups to stop wasting money and time. They have a right to believe whatever they want and they can choose to remain on the fringe. They just don’t have the right to tie up our courts with frivolity and stupidity.

No, there is where you are wrong.  We all, including you Dougy, have the right to believe whatever stupidity we want to.  The fact is that the government has to be neutral on whether any of them are actually stupid.  We have every right to sue where we see a violation of rights, just as you would do if the phrase “In no gods we trust” were carved on a government building.

And if you did sue because of that, I’d sign on with you.  Because I believe in fighting for the rights of everyone, not only those with whom I agree.  And if you would not sue, then that’s also your right.  My view is that these legal issues are of minor concern…except that people like Doug will perpetually use the presence of such phrases on government buildings as support for their discrimination.