Friday, January 25, 2008

Anti-Atheist Bigotry and the Media

In a posting, Bigotry Should Disqualify a Presidential Candidate, vjack correctly noted that anti-atheist bigotry is not met with the same level of condemnation - that it, in fact, often meets with some level of praise - than other forms of discrimination.

However, he incorrectly assigns the blame to the press for its failure to report that statements against atheists are as bigoted as similar statements against others.

When I speak about anti-atheist bigotry, I am referring to over-generalizations that say that atheists are an inferior group of people - dishonest, untrustworthy, unworthy of holding public office - merely in virtue of the fact that they do not believe in God. Anti-atheist bigotry occurs in the form of falsehoods and sophist arguments meant to denigrate evidence where it is clear the speaker used a desired conclusion (atheists are bad) to filter his evidence.

Expecting the press to correctly recognize and report anti-atheist bigotry in this country today is like expecting the press to correctly recognize and report racism in the 1920s. Reports are not separate and distinct entities from the culture in which they live. They pick up their values from the culture and, more importantly, only those who appeal to the culture win customers, which translates into revenue, which is how they stay in business.

The successful boycott against "The Golden Compass" series delivers an important warning against any member of the media who dares to defend atheists against prejudice. In the free market, only anti-atheist bigotry will get funded.

Media outlets that correctly point out anti-atheist bigotry exist. They are not successful because there is no market for this message.

How do we create a market for that message?

It will take something like the Civil Rights movement for atheists - something where those who are opposed to this bigotry (not 'atheists', but 'those who are opposed to bigotry') are willing to go to the effort to visibly protest these denigrating statements and those who make them.

It means protesting in a way that the fact that the press cannot refuse to report that the speech was anti-atheist bigotry because the press must cover the protest.

As long as people sit back and simply mumble complaints into their blogs, we will continue to be a culture where only the press that refuses to correctly report (or even recognize) anti-atheist bigotry will be successful.

[Standard caveat: the only legitimate response to words are words and private actions, so the protests must take the form of words and private actions. However, private action does include the right to some very loud and protests.]

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