Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On Atheists and Closets

An article entitled Ditching God assigns significance to atheists 'coming out of the closet'.

I would like to temper this line of thinking, which I have encountered elsewhere, with a little bit of reality check.

Here goes:

Right. As if the one thing that blacks needed to do to end slavery and, later, racist discrimination was to come out of the closet. And if the Jews in Europe had only come out of the closet in the 1930s there would have been no holocaust. Or women could have ended gender-based discrimination centuries earlier if they were only willing to publicly identify themselves as women.

Something about these events tells me that "coming out of the closet" has only limited effectiveness. That unless somebody is willing to do more - unless somebody is willing to protest being sent to the back of the back of the bus - that the discrimination will not end. It will only be easier to identify who to hate.


Alan Lund said...

I do not think your analogy to other kinds of discrimination is entirely on target. Of course, coming out of the closet was not a significant factor in racial- or gender-based discrimination, because it is not possible to be in the closet in those cases. On the other hand, it is possible for atheists to be in the closet, probably to even a greater degree than is possible for gays and lesbians. And I think some would argue that the number of gays and lesbians who have come out of the closet so that they can be known by their friends and family as "real people" has been an important factor in the progress that has been made in reducing discrimination against them.

That does not imply that simply coming out of the closet will be sufficient, or even that it is necessary, only that there are reasons to believe it may be helpful. And, I do not think you really disagree, since you said you wanted to temper this line of thinking and later, that this approach will have "only limited effectiveness". But I think your central analogy is flawed.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

You are correct to note that I do not disagree with your conclusions.

However, my references were not meant to be an analogy. If somebody asserts, "P implies Q", then one way to refute this statement is to show instances of "P and not-Q". Examples of people who are not in the closet (in some cases, clearly, because they could not be in the closet) yet still suffering discrimination is sufficient to show that 'being out of the closet' does not imply 'not being discriminated against'.

I used the term 'tempered' and 'limited usefulness' intentionally because I know of studies regarding homosexuals that those who are least likely to discriminate against homosexuals are those who know a homosexual. However, temper this with the fact that homosexuals are more likely to come out to a person whom they suspect will not discriminate against them, and the implications become questionable.

I am in favor of atheists announcing their atheism. I use my real name in my profile and use the word 'atheist' in my blog title for a reason. Yet, I still argue that more is needed to have a real impact.

Alan Lund said...

But do you really think that people are claiming that P alone implies Q? That is, that atheists coming out of the closet is, by itself, sufficient to overcome discrimination?

Maybe some are. The article you referenced seems to have focused on that particular aspect, but many of the people quoted are clearly doing more than just encouraging atheists to come out. The FFRF, as just one example, is involved in bringing legal cases to end discriminatory practices.

The impression I got from the original post is that there are people that need to see a clear counter-example to the claim that coming out is a sufficient means to our desired end, but I am not aware of anyone actually advocating that position. So, your post struck me a bit like attacking a straw man.

But maybe I am just reading too much into what you wrote.

(I should not have called your examples "analogies". "Counter-examples" would perhaps have been more accurate.)

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Alan Lund

I think that there are people give P more credit in influencing Q than the evidence would warrant. I hold that the above examples imply that the effect of P on Q in this case is quite small.

There is no such thing as a pure observation. A person applies his world view to an observation in order to come up with an interpretation. They will cherry-pick the evidence - classifying any observation that conforms to their world view as proof of its validity, while dismissing any evidence against their world view as an abbaration, a fluke.

If people perceive women as being emotional and unreasonable, then they will interpret a woman's reactions as emotional, no matter how much reason rests behind it. They will assume an emotional basis for her decision.

Atheists coming out of the closet will also continue to have their actions interpreted in the light of assumptions that theists have been making for years. They will not see evidence that conflicts with their world view, because they will use their world view to interpret what they see.

Again, I am not saying 'no effect'. I am saying 'small effect' - smaller than many people suggest.