7 Amazing Atheists Who Aren't Old White Guys
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Richard Dawkins. Christopher Hitchens. Sam Harris. Charles Darwin. Mark Twain. These are the names and faces many people associate with atheism. And apart from their atheism, they all have something in common: They're all white guys.
Atheism is often seen as a white men's club -- by believers, and by all too many atheists as well. But for as long as there have been atheists, there have been atheist women and atheists of color. Some have been vocal and ardent about their atheism; for some, their atheism has been much more incidental to their life's work. And some of that life's work has been incredible. Some of it has changed the world... not just for atheists, but for everybody. When you're imagining the face of atheism, I hope some of these faces -- faces from history, or alive and yelling today -- will come to mind.
1. Frida Kahlo. One of the most magnificent and beloved painters of the modern era. Of any era, really. Her work is accessible and challenging, iconic and iconoclastic, introspective and expansive, deeply unsettling and richly beautiful. Largely self-taught, indeed largely self-invented, she is an inspiration and a hero to millions. And she was an atheist. As John Timpane of the Philadelphia Inquirer put it: "She is, however, an uneasy fit for Mexican culture. In this country dominated by tradition and Catholicism, she was an atheist communist (in and out of the party)."
2. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. You might have heard of her. Palled around with Susan B. Anthony. Largely responsible for the women's suffrage and women's rights movements in the United States. Sometimes credited as the primary instigator of these movements in fact. If you're a woman in the United States, and you vote, you have this woman to thank. Big old non-believer. A freethinker, technically (the more common term in her day than "atheist"). And not just a non-theist -- an ardent anti-religionist. The co-author of the Women's Bible, which re-examines the Bible as a literary fiction and critiques its degrading teachings on women, she proposed a resolution at the 1885 National Woman Suffrage Association that would have condemned all religions "teaching that woman was an afterthought in creation, her sex a misfortune, marriage a condition of subordination, and maternity a curse," and stating this:
"You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded woman. What power is it that makes the Hindoo woman burn herself upon the funeral pyre of her husband? Her religion. What holds the Turkish woman in the harem? Her religion. By what power do the Mormons perpetuate their system of polygamy? By their religion. Man, of himself, could not do this; but when he declares, 'Thus saith the Lord,' of course he can do it. So long as ministers stand up and tell us Christ is the head of the Church, so is man the head of women, how are we to break the chains which have held women down through the ages?"
3. A. Philip Randolph. Founder of the March on Washington Movement -- you've heard of that, right? Founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters -- the enormously influential labor and civil rights organization, and the first labor organization led by blacks to receive a charter in the American Federation of Labor. One of the great early leaders of the civil rights movement. Once known as the most dangerous black person in America; later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Lyndon B. Johnson. (I can't decide which of those is more awesome. Maybe the two put together.) Atheist. He once wrote, "We consider prayer as nothing more than a fervent wish; consequently the merit and worth of a prayer depend upon what the fervent wish is." He was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association in 1970, and was a signatory of the 1973 Humanist Manifesto II.