Troubled Thoughts Of A Godless American

I’m still very troubled over the Godless Americans ad put out by Elizabeth Dole. I’m experiencing a mixture of emotions that I’m having trouble explaining. If I don’t at least try, though, it will continue to eat at me.

I’ve always known that atheists aren’t exactly embraced in the United States. I’ve experienced the prejudice and felt the contempt before. But this time it wasn’t just some jerk down the street who won’t let her kid play at our house because my kid used the A word to describe himself. It wasn’t some stranger on the internet who thinks I don’t have the capacity to love, and doesn’t understand what stops me from stealing or killing. While all that can be very irritating, this felt much more personal, for some reason.

A politician running for elected office used an aspect of who I am as a smear against her opponent. Despite the fact that it’s been all over the news, and all sources have been very quick to point out that Kay Hagan is a good Christian, no one in the media has addressed the bigotry of the ad. This seems only to reinforce the notion that there’s something inherently wrong with being an atheist and that associating with atheists is an act of poor judgment, at best.

As if the ad and the media responses weren’t bad enough, Kay Hagan’s response was to file suit, calling the ad an “egregious and shameful mistake”. But why? What makes it worse than the onslaught of negative political ads we’ve been seeing throughout this campaign? The A word? That’s what tipped it? Palling around with atheists is somehow worse than palling around with terrorists?

That’s how this is all reads to me.

Dole’s ad has been described in the following ways: the nastiest, most egregious ad of he entire campaign, despicable, deplorable, utter filth, vile, slimy and shameful. And that’s just off the top of my head. The only challenges to this that I have seen have been on the personal blogs of atheists. This tells me that most of my fellow citizens believe that atheists really are all those things; that we are the scum of the earth, the worst of the worst.

I am finding this quite painful and difficult to take in. I am raising a child in a country full of people who will hate him because he doesn’t share their religious beliefs. It’s painful to consider the very real possibility that he might never be able to reach his full potential because of prejudice, ignorance and bigotry; because we live in a country where hating him is so commonplace that most people don’t even think to question it.

I have cried many tears over this, and I’m sure there are more to come. I’ve written to Kay Hagan and to Elizabeth Dole. I’ve written to several news networks and will continue doing so. Every time I hear this story retold with no mention of the bigotry toward atheists, I search for contact information to the show on which it was aired, and send an email. I comment on every blog I see discussing it and failing to acknowledge the bigotry. I don’t know what else to do except to keep writing about it and continue promoting others who write about it.

In Kay Hagan: The Slanderous Accusation of Atheism, Alonzo Fyfe explains why Hagan’s response to Dole’s ad is just as bigoted as the ad itself:

Hagan isn’t making the claim that atheists are Americans too and have a right to present their views to perspective political candidates. She is not saying that the fault of Dole’s advertisement is that Dole is lying and promoting bigotry and hatred. She, in effect, endorsed the hate and answered, “How dare you accuse me of not being just as bigoted against atheists as you are! You take that back!”

I encourage you to read the entire piece as well as Senator Dole’s New Anti-Atheist Advertisement in which Fyfe makes the following argument:

The fight against anti-atheist bigotry has to be our fight. The idea that we can hide behind politicians and judges forever while they do the dirty work (and pay the political price) for protecting us – while we do nothing in our own defense is as absurd as the belief that the Earth is only 6000 years old. It is a willful denial of political reality.

This doesn’t mean that we all need to march on Capitol Hill. We can all contribute in our own ways through blogging, sending emails, writing satire… Whatever it is you do, keep doing it because it really is our fight, and no one is going to fight it for us.

Edit to add: I’ve been rethinking the second post I’ve linked to here. Not that Fyfe doesn’t make some good points, but I don’t think I agree that it’s “hiding behind politicians” when we expect them to speak out against this kind of thing. I’ll post more on this later.

Posted by Lottie — Copyright © 2008 Rambling On

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13 responses to “Troubled Thoughts Of A Godless American

  • forknowledge

    One of the surest signs that a minority is disliked is seeing someone attempt to slander a rival for associating with members of that minority. Absolute confirmation that a minority is disliked comes when the person being slandered then defends themself from this claim as they would from any other ‘insult’. The latter, when it happens, is a lot more depressing.

  • Lottie

    It’s all so true! And you said it so well. Thank you FK.

  • Postman

    I, too, have been waiting for someone with a national voice to step forward and paraphrase Colin Powell.

    The correct answer to Dole’s ad is that Hagan isn’t an atheist. The really right answer is “So what if she is? Is there something wrong with being an atheist in this country?”

  • Lottie

    Postman:

    Yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about that second post I linked to. Not that Fyfe doesn’t make some good points, but I don’t know that expecting politicians to take a stand against this kind of thing is “hiding behind” them. They’re supposed to represent all constituents, after all, not just those that believe in their god. And I’m not willing to hand them a pass just because standing up to bigotry might damage them politically. If we don’t hold those in power to a higher standard than that, then maybe we deserve what we get.

    So, all that to say: I agree!

  • Postman

    Well, yes. The sad fact is that you and I can scream ’til we’re blue in the face, but it’s not going to fix the problem.
    Or a better analogy might be that tiny, little we can strain to push that boulder uphill until the sun goes nova, but unless someone much bigger and stronger steps up to help, it’s not going to budge.

  • Postman

    Oh – That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be urging that not-yet-seen giant every chance we get.

  • Lottie

    Good analogy!

    Well, I leave in ten minutes to meet Mike at the airport! I might be away for a day or so.

    Talk to you soon!

    P.S. If the time is going all goofy on your comments here, it’s because I set the time back in the middle of our chat tonight.

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  • B.T. Murtagh

    I wonder whether Hagan would have been as offended if Dole had “accused” her of being Jewish, or a Muslim, or Catholic, or even a Scientologist.

    Well, no, I don’t; even given the special problems of Muslims in today’s political climate, any offense taken would have to be admixed with expressed outrage (real or feigned) that Dole even thought there was anything wrong with that.

    Not so the atheists; the general prohibition against attacking religious beliefs doesn’t apply to those of us who don’t have any, and nobody cares about our feelings being hurt. In particular, no politician does, and so our concerns are ignored.

    As others have noted, our numbers are easily comparable with Jews, whose concerns are not exactly negligible in American politics. Why are ours so eminently ignorable?

    Part of the problem is that the nonreligious are not organized into any coherent voting bloc, but only part. Another part is that we are opposed by many religiously-based power blocs who are so organized.

    The crowning part is the awkward chicken-and-egg consequence of the first two, amply demonstrated by the Dole-Kagan kerfuffle; few American politicians are likely to get into a position of power in the current landscape without the support of the religious, and sadly standing up for atheists as deserving of the same respect as theists is likely to cost them a goodly portion of the God-botherer vote.

    Remember, though, we’re only the last in the line; at one time it would have been just as easy to hate on the Jew, the Muslim, or even the Catholic here in America. In some few places that’s still somewhat the case (Muslims in particular are tempting targets today, in certain venues) but it’s become unacceptable in American society at large.

    Keep your eyes on the prize. We’ll get there, if we simply keep insisting on our equality and humanity, as forcefully and insistently as did the other minorities. Given the groundwork already laid, it should be doable in decades rather than centuries.

    I hope.

  • Lottie

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, B.T. I especially appreciate the encouraging words toward the end. Maybe instead of worrying that my son will not be allowed to reach his full potential, I can start considering the possibility that he’ll become the first atheist President.

    We can all hope.

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