How to Get on an Atheist's Good Side
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Every margalized group needs allies, atheists included. And atheists make good allies -- we're a growing movement that's lively, outspoken, and passionately committed to social justice. So what do atheists want from their allies? And how can progressive non-atheist people and groups be good allies with the atheist movement?
(A quick disclaimer first: While I suspect that a lot of atheists will more or less agree with much of this list, I really am speaking only for myself here. Atheists are notoriously independent, and they don't like having other people speak for them.)
1: Familiarize yourself with the common myths and misconceptions about atheists -- and don't perpetuate them.
There's a lot of misunderstanding and ignorance about who atheists are and what we do and don't believe. Needless to say, these myths and misconceptions are wrong. Don't believe them. Don't perpetuate them. Don't let them infect the way you speak and act, and please speak out against them when you hear them. Find out what we actually think and believe and do, instead of what anti- atheist propaganda says about what we think and believe and do.
Sam Harris has written a pretty good list of the most common myths about atheists, with short arguments against them. There's a touch of needless snark in the piece, IMO -- Harris can't quite resist the temptation to get in a few digs against religion when he should probably just be explaining atheism -- but overall, it gives a good, concise view of the most common misconceptions about atheism, and why, exactly, they're mistaken.
I'm just going to add one quick thing to Harris's list before I move on: The myth that atheists are 100% certain that there is no God, with a dogmatic attachment to that belief.
In reality, I've encountered almost no atheists who thought that God's existence had been definitely disproved. Atheism doesn't mean being 100% certain that God doesn't exist. It just means being certain enough. We're about as certain that Jehovah doesn't exist (or Yahweh, or Allah, or Ganesh, or the Goddess, or any of the gods that are commonly worshipped today) as we are that Zeus doesn't exist. If you don't think you're close-minded for not believing in Zeus, then please don't accuse atheists of being close-minded for not believing in your god.
Discrimination against atheists, in the United States, and around the world, is very real. It doesn't look exactly like other forms of discrimination -- no form of discrimination looks exactly like any other -- but it is real.
Here are just a few examples.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, asking Americans who they'd be willing to vote for for President, atheists came in at the very bottom of the list: below blacks, below women, below Jews, below gays. Below every other marginalized group on the list. With less than half of Americans saying they'd vote for an atheist. Unless you live in a incredibly progressive district, being an out atheist will effectively kill any chances you have at a political career.
Atheists in the military have been illegally proselytized at, berated, called a disgrace, denied promotion, had meetings broken up, and been threatened with charges... all by superior officers, and all because of their atheism.
In her recent Senate campaign, Elizabeth Dole issued a series of campaign flyers and videos, centering on the fact that her opponent, Kay Hagan, had attended a fundraiser hosted by two atheist lobbyists... a campaign that openly referred to atheists as "vile," that treated the very existence of atheists as an abomination, and that used language about atheists that would have raised a tidal wave of shock and denunciation around the country if it had been aimed at any other religious group.