Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones. ~Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre~
If I were to tell you that I’m an atheist some of you may choose to stop reading right now. Some of you might cringe and have second thoughts about what kind of person I am. Some of you will pray for me. Some of you will get angry. Some will feel sad or sorry for me. Some will feel indifferent. And a select few will send me cyber high fives.
If I were to tell you that I’m a secular humanist your feelings toward me are not as likely to be so strongly opinionated as they were when I applied the atheist label. Many of you may have not even heard of people referring to themselves as secular humanists so there’s not a negative reaction. Secular humanist sounds friendly. Someone harmless. Someone with different values than yours but values nonetheless.
Atheist=negativity/danger/red flags Secular Humanist= friendly/safe/question mark
I am an atheist.
But before you write me off….
I am also a secular humanist.
What is it about the word atheist that frightens people so deeply? Why is it the standard perception that atheists are threatening enemies?
In a recent study (found here) a good percentage of Americans said they would not approve of their child marrying an atheist. They would not vote for an atheist. Atheists are more disliked than Muslims. Atheists do not have American values. Atheists are as untrustworthy as criminal rapists.
On and on and on the prejudiced opinions go.
I can’t blame people for feeling the way they do. Not because these popular opinions are based on knowledge or fact but because prior to becoming an atheist I was a life long christian with these same views. I held strong, fear based opinions about a group of people I had very little knowledge about. In my bubble of a world, atheists were not children of God therefore they were not to be trusted. In fact they were enemies of God sadly manipulated by Satan to influence our society with evil things like science, feminism, removal of prayer, and self sufficiency. I’m not mocking or belittling when I state these things. This is simply what I was taught. What I believed. What I practiced. So I understand the majority in these studies. Completely. But I have awareness now. Real life experience. The prejudiced opinions are just that, prejudiced. Atheists are a pretty rad group of people. Kind, giving, educated, motivated, involved, peaceful individuals. Of course there are some rotten apples in the bunch but they don’t define the group as a whole. Just like Westboro doesn’t define the entire lot of christians.
The media does a great job of giving atheists a bum rap too. How can any decent person form an unbiased opinion when the media is hell bent on presenting atheists with a negative slant? It’s difficult to filter through all the negative attention to find the positive. People in positions of public education (media, pastors, politicians, etc) are often selling negative smut to their viewers. A perfect example is a recent sermon (view pic on left) given by a minister in Oklahoma. That pastor made it his mission to paint atheists in a very negative light claiming that no atheists could be found in the relief efforts of the Oklahoma City tornado. He was willing to paint that picture even if that meant he had to lie. We call that “lying for Jesus”. His fact-lacking, falsified sermon was quickly and formally refuted but the seed of negativity had already been planted. The foundation for hate already laid.
So I don’t blame people for their negative perspective. It’s what they’re fed. It’s what they’re taught to believe.
But we can change that.
I think the best thing atheists can do is first and foremost come out of the closet. No more hiding. If you are an atheist playing the religious game solely for the benefit of your friends and family it’s time to own your truth. Those of us who come out in religious communities will likely suffer loss, heartache, judgement and persecution but the more of us that speak up, the more our society can see that their views and opinions are misguided. We love, we serve, we donate, we’re trustworthy, we make great parents and we are kind neighbors. Just like them.
Personal relationships are the quickest and most effective way to break down barriers. So I encourage you to help change the negative societal stigma by speaking your truth and finding pride in your atheism.
You see many of us atheists are secular humanists. We are serving our communities and bettering humanity just like the religious. We’re just doing it without the God mandate. So if calling me an atheist freaks you out and subjects me to negative space in your mind, you can always refer to me as a secular humanist. It’s all good.
Check in tomorrow for Part Two.
- My path to Secular Humanism. (jamesmsama.wordpress.com)
- Are You a Secular Humanist? (atheistrev.com)
- Atheists in Mississippi Want to Help Local Families ‘Beat the Heat’ (patheos.com)
- Lawmaker Comes Out as Atheist During House Prayer (newser.com)