One the one hand we can make these observations:
- Atheists are not denied equal access to housing for lacking belief in god
- They are not kept from seeing their partners during life-threatening scenarios in hospitals
- Atheists don’t earn sixty-five cents for every dollar earned by believers
- Atheists are not prevented from voting.
- There is no such thing as “atheist bashing.”
However, we can indeed turn that coin over and also note:
- The Boy Scout association does not allow atheists as members
- George Bush is quoted as saying, “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God“
- Seven state constitutions officially include religious tests that would effectively prevent atheists from holding public office, and in some cases being a juror/witness, though these have not generally been enforced since the early nineteenth century.
So where lies the reality? When thinking about discrimination, it is not just the legal framework you need to consider, but rather the attitude of the general public that determines what really happens to individuals. Elected officials generally tend not to identify as non-believers because doing so would ensure an instant end for their career at the next election. Polls tend to identify why this is, and often reflect the view that the majority would not vote for an atheist, in fact, you tend to find that the disapproval rates for atheists exceeds disapproval for Muslims or gay people.
Some individuals often tell quite harrowing and tragic stories about how they are utterly rejected by their families when they come out as an atheist, so why do so many have such a problem with non-belief? What makes all this truly bizarre is that atheists do not blow up abortion clinics, nor do they fly airplanes into buildings, or deny reality and assert that the world is only 6,000 years old. They never lean upon an ancient bronze age text and use it to justify utterly immoral behavior, nor do they go about declaring those who hold different views to be wicked and evil.
The bottom line is that many do truly believe that their exists a supernatural entity that gave birth to itself so that it could kill itself, to appease its anger towards all of us because an ancestor of ours was tricked by a talking snake into eating an apple. To dare to suggest that this is not true, and that there is not one jot of evidence for it is indeed highly offensive to many. Being openly an atheist is a direct challenge, it underlines the fact that the believers have wasted their entire life for a delusion.
If what they asserted was true and the non-believers were mistaken, then we would expect the believers to express compassion and perhaps also an understanding that embracing such a belief is rather challenging for the logically minded. But no, instead we often face considerable antagonism. I suspect because in their heart-of-hearts they know that the atheists are right, but are not willing to face up to reality.
For further reading you might like to check out an article in the Washington Post (16th June) entitled, “Atheists fed up? Believe it!” by Gregory Paul. He talks about the millions of Americans who do not believe in the supernatural, and have had enough of being targeted by unremitting discrimination. Its worth a read, I recommend it.