With a song in my heart and protein in my urine, I rise from my sickbed to write Combat! blog, sort of. I’m still very sick. But thanks to antibiotics, I am much less sick in the throat, albeit still pretty feverish and alarmingly sore in the kidney region. You don’t want to hear a minute dissection of my health problems, though. You want a minute dissection of Madison, Wisconsin’s decision to amend its anti-discrimination ordinance to include atheists. Or, as Fox and Friends describes it, Madison’s decision to make it illegal to discriminate against atheism. You see what they did there? Hang on—I have to throw up. Watch the video after the jump and I’ll meet you at the end.
That was bracing. I quote J. Christian Adams above:
“There’s a lot of reasons Christians and Jews might not want to hire an atheist. In fact, it’s in the New Testament. It says things such as [pause]1 avoid them, disassociate with them, in Romans, Thessalonians, Corinthians. You might have a job…where you want someone who believes in a higher power. For example, you might be running an airline and hiring pilots, who you prefer they maybe believe in hell.”
Even Tucker Carlson cannot keep a straight face at that one. But Adams is not really looking for practical problems with this city ordinance, such as its potential impact on airlines headquartered in Madison that have only one way to filter out suicide pilots. He is looking for ways that an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against atheists could be called discrimination against Christians—kind of like when he argued that the Department of Justice is racially biased against whites.
That’s an obviously disingenuous argument. But what about its counterpart—that atheists are discriminated against in the same way as religious and ethnic minorities?
At a party at my brother’s house several years ago, a young woman remarked to me that atheists were the most discriminated-against minority in America. “Have you heard of black people?” I said.2 It’s not cool to claim that you are the victim of societal prejudice from a position of power. So are atheists really victims?
There has never been an avowedly atheist president. There’s never been a woman president or a Jewish president, either, and until 2008 there had never been a Muslim. Prejudices are incommensurable, in theory, but in practice the bigotry levied against, say, a fat person, is not quite the same as what a black person is likely to experience. Let’s not discriminate against anybody. But let’s also not pretend that we know how hard it is to be gay and confined to a wheelchair just because our mother-in-law once said we should go to church.
I have been openly atheist for about 15 years now, and I don’t think I have ever experienced discrimination. Maybe that’s because many of my friends and acquaintances are also nonbelievers, or maybe that’s because you can’t tell by looking at me. But maybe it’s because, except for the J. Christian Andersons, very few people care what other people think about God.
It seems like the big lie of political Christianity in the 21st century is that Christians are under attack. But I wonder if the real big lie is that most people are Christian, or Jewish or Hindu or religious at all. A supermajority of Americas say they are Christians in polls, but that’s the fundamental tenet of any religion: when someone asks you if you went to church last Sunday, lie and say yes.
I was raised to attend church every Sunday by parents who weren’t crazy about it themselves. It’s good for kids to go to church, even if what they learn there is not strictly true, because there’s lots of social pressure to be religious. But what if the widespread and evident bias against the nonreligious in American society is Oz behind the curtain?
It’s an unfalsifiable theory, but I wonder whether the social pressure of church people on atheists is no more massive than the supposed pressure of atheists against Christians. Our man Adams demonstrates how easily you can convince yourself that you’re oppressed. Maybe Big Jesus has an interest in atheists believing that. Maybe Big Jesus is a lot smaller than it’s trying to appear.