Daily Archives: November 17, 2008

Atheism: A Conscious Choice?

According to the Peninsula Clarion, hating on atheists might not be so bad. At least, not as bad as hating on Blacks or Jews because, according to the author of this piece, to be an atheist, you make a conscious choice.

Before I refute this frail little argument, I believe some history and a few acknowledgments are in order:

It came to me while reading Gawd’s Word, as I routinely do. Gawd said that some grrl had been talking smak about Him so, naturally, I had to see what that was all about. Well, GrrlScientist had posted to her blog about a letter sent to the editor of the Augusta Chronicle. The letter, sent by one Alice Shannon, called for atheists to leave the United States!

Needless to say, GrrlScientist was not at all pleased, and her response is an absolute must-read.

Apparently, there is a fair bit of controversy over the origin of the letter, but that’s not relevant to the point of this post. Somewhere along the way, the letter in question was sent to the aforementioned Peninsula Clarion.

As Snopes acknowledges, attempting to assign any kind of “true” or “false” status to letters to the editor is often tricky, because such letters are generally expressions of opinion rather than fact, and the senders of such letters are not even necessarily the original authors. Sadly, Snopes also had this to say:

Given the plenitude of e-mails we’ve received over the years expressing the very same sentiments as this letter, it (regardless of the intentions of its creator and/or sender) apparently does reflect the genuine opinions of a not insubstantial readership base.

But regardless of the letter’s origin or the intention of its author/sender(s), the following response by the Peninsula Clarion jumped out at me (emphasis mine):

In two days, we receive more than 30 letters. Some were angry with her. Some were angry with us. They said we should be ashamed of ourselves for printing it, and that we would never have done that if it were about blacks or Jews. They’re right, we wouldn’t have. However, to be an atheist, you make a conscious choice.

Oh, where to begin? I can’t possibly address all the holes in this argument but, as always, I welcome comments and look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

Assuming, to begin with, that atheism really is a conscious choice, which I am not prepared to concede, the author of this statement is basically saying that bigotry toward a group of people who choose their minority status is not as bad as bigotry toward people who don’t. Let’s examine this, shall we?

If atheism is a conscious choice, then theism must be as well. If people can choose their way out of theism, then by definition they can choose their way in.

So why is one kind of religious bigotry unacceptable in America while another is just fine and dandy?

Furthermore, Christianity is a conscious choice to deny all other gods and faiths. Would the Peninsula Clarion have published this letter if it had been directed at Christians, demanding that they leave the country? Not likely.

Protestants consciously choose to reject Catholicism. Catholics consciously choose to reject Mormonism. Mormons consciously choose to reject Hinduism. And so it goes.

There are many choices that people make which, if it were demanded that they leave the U.S. because of it, would no doubt be considered bigotry by mainstream society. What about interracial relationships and marriages, for example? People consciously choose to enter into those relationships. Oh sure, you can’t help who you’re attracted to, but you can certainly choose who to date and marry.

We’ve also made a lot of progress where gay couples are concerned. I’m not saying that homosexuality is a choice (although it doesn’t need that disclaimer as validation) but engaging in a same-sex relationship definitely is. And yet, it seems most people think it’s not OK to hate on gays.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

All that said, however, I’m not convinced that atheism necessarily is a conscious choice. While I made the conscious choice to begin examining my Christian faith and follow the evidence to where it lead, I don’t believe that atheism was a conscious choice for me so much as a logical conclusion. I know some would argue that I could have chosen to ignored the evidence, deny the facts and remain faithful. Of course, that only brings us right back to Christianity being a choice and the question of why it’s not OK to bash Christians, while bigotry toward atheists is alive and well in the United States.

We must also consider those atheists who never believed in any god(s). Theism is learned — we do not emerge from the womb believing in one deity or another. People are taught their religious beliefs. This is evidenced by the fact that religious practices vary greatly according to geographical locations. Many American Christians would, in fact, be Hindu had they been born in India to Indian parents, for example. Also, how many people born to Catholic parents end up Baptist, or vice versa? People generally adhere to the religion they are born into and raised to practice.

But what about those who were never taught any religion? Did they choose atheism? I submit that atheism is no more a choice to many of them than Hinduism was to me, being raised by staunch Baptists in the United States. Have they heard of Christianity or other religions? Probably. Could they choose to pursue a religious lifestyle as adults? Certainly. But, again, that brings us right back to religion being a choice and the question of why bashing religion is called bigotry while bashing atheists is not.

The argument that atheists choose their minority status and, therefore, discrimination and bigotry against them isn’t quite as bad as hatred toward other groups is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to legitimize said bigotry. It begins with a false premise, is logically inconsistent, reinforces misconceptions about atheism and attempts to excuse prejudice and hatred.

It’s ignorant, it’s shameful, and yet Americans continually and enthusiastically accept it and make excuses for it, and I am on a mission to bring awareness to this ongoing issue. I realize the article is old but the problem is definitely ongoing. I am sending a link to this post to Peninsula Clarion. You can voice your opinion here, if you’d like.

Posted by Lottie — Copyright © 2008 Rambling On