Monday, July 23, 2007

Negative Perceptions of Atheists

In my previous posts I hit the aggressive atheists. In the name of being fair and balanced, I have something to say about the "appeasers.

Particularly, to claims like that recently expressed in Secular Planet in Perceptions About Atheists

I have come to the conclusion that the negative perception of atheists by theists seems to result primarily from interaction with two distinct groups. The first group is what I here term militant atheists. I fully realize that this term has been greatly abused by theists, but sometimes it's a completely appropriate description of certain individuals who are aggressively antagonistic toward believers without provocation.

First, as I have previously argued, 'militant' is not an appropriate term to use except to those who are taking up weapons. I have heard the claim that it means verbally aggressive. However, 'militant' is a marketing term. It is used because it has an emotional impact. People who hear the term do not instantly think 'verbally aggressive'. It brings an immediate reaction of fear - as if from violent attack. The word is used, in most cases, precisely because of its power to generate a fear response. Endorsing its use is to play to this marketing stunt, which I am disinclined to do.

Second, the idea that Dawkins, Harris, and the like are responsible for the negative attitudes towards atheists is simply absurd. Where did the negative attitude come from before this recent round of books hit the press? Why is it the case that people who file court cases and make verbal insults generates hatred of an entire group, yet similar actions on the part of some theists do not have the same effect?

It is because the bigotry and prejudice is already built into the culture.

I have to ask . . . were blacks enslaved as a result of Europeans running into 'uppity nigers' in their first trips to Africa? Was the 'selfish Jew' responsible for the Holocaust, or the 'savage native American' to be blamed for being nearly wiped out by European conquerors?

These types of arguments are true instances of blaming the victim. If a group is considered fairly and justly, then the blame for any perceived excesses will fall only on those who are guilty. The very fact that people are generalizing a few excesses to the whole group is proof of an underlying bigotry that cannot be blamed on those who have committed any perceived excesses.

There is a negative perception of atheists because we live in a culture where the vilification of atheists is second-nature to most people. It is such a pervasive part of our cultural atmosphere that it seeps into everything and is now barely noticed - and will continue to be unnoticed - until people start pointing it out in no uncertain terms, and expressing the fact that they will no longer quietly and passively ride at the back of society's political and cultural bus.

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