Reports of Everyone’s Persecution Are Greatly Exaggerated

I just finished listening to Tom Ashbrook’s interview with several leaders of this weekend’s Reason Rally in Washington DC (what some organizers are calling the largest gathering of atheists…ever).  And what struck me about the interview were the repeated statements by the interviewees of the need for emotional support and encouragement.  They rallied in Washington in part to make the political statement – mainly aimed at the Christian right – that they will be laboring to ensure a strict separation of church and state and voting as such.  But at least as important as the political message was the desire to find community, particularly evident and the repeated exhortations for fellow atheists to come out of the closet, to wear their atheism boldly.  Many described our culture as hostile atheism and went on to detail the fears of the social and economic isolation they would face should their non-belief become known.

The only fact I can dispute is the suggestion that this was the largest gathering of atheists ever. As a Suns fan I can assure you that the entire city of Phoenix, and many in the diaspora – myself included – abandon all hope in the existence of the deity at the end of every NBA season!  (No deity could abide such Laker hubris.)  But that is another blog post…

What fascinates me about the conversation is that I hear the exact same language coming from more than a few evangelical Christians with regard to atheists.  There is a sense from many in the church that those of faith are a persecuted minority, constantly at risk of being overwhelmed by a militant secularism.  I know many business professionals, academics and the like who are genuinely concerned about letting their faith be known for fear of isolation, rejection or retaliation.  

And the truth, I’m sure, is that both sides have some degree of reason to worry.  I know that there are places in the professional ranks and the academy where sincere belief would cause a measure of suspicion and even rejection.  And I don’t doubt that in a culture so saturated with Christianity that atheists would have reason to be cautious with a stark rejection of all religious belief.

But it seems to me that 97% of the worry is caused by the 0.002% of zealots on either side of this (debate?).  For every Richard Dawkins there are thousands upon thousands of atheists who like religious people just fine.  A few I know even envy the believer’s ability to believe (it does provide a good bit of comfort).  And for every Pat Robertson, there are countless Christians who would never speak a harsh word against…anyone.  And indeed who would take it as an essential of their faith to ensure that their neighbor – regardless of religious position – is safeguarded against prejudice of any kind.

For my part I try to remember that as 21st century Americans we live in about as comfortable and secure a religious (or non-religioius) environment as history has ever known.  Yes there are times that being outspoken about one’s faith can cause some discomfort.  And I’m sure that being an atheist is equally disquieting.  But no one is burning anyone at stakes.  And for that I give tremendous thanks.  I choose to give much of that thanks to God.  But I also give some serious gratitude to the countless humans – some religious, some not – who labored and sacrificed across the centuries to make our nation what it is.  Might we honor both (in whatever proportion seems right) by doing our part to live peaceably with all? 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top