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Givens: Atheists misunderstood in US, but don’t need to remain silent

POSTED: October 3, 2011 1:00 a.m.

Humans crave friendship and belonging. We fear exile from the group. So we often remain silent when we disagree with a majority. That silence makes it harder on those who do speak up.

A small, growing minority in our country are atheists. Atheists are easily maligned since they rarely identify themselves. Myths about atheists cause us to be probably the most misunderstood segment of the American population. 

This is unfortunate as politicians love to take advantage of fear by blaming problems on misunderstood minorities. Blaming minorities displaces blame and is easier than fixing a problem.

Fear also motivates voters. As secularism grows, so will the fear reaction to it and our civil discourse will more often be tainted with hysterics such as chain emails comparing Obama to the anti-Christ.

I hope to clarify some myths about atheists and secularism. Atheism is not a set of beliefs only the lack of a belief in God. Atheism does not predict political views. Karl Marx was an atheist; he originated communism. Yet Ayn Rand, also an atheist, advocated libertarian, free market capitalism. 

An atheist is often thought of as a person who rejected God after some horrible experience. People who reject God for emotional reasons rarely remain atheists. Eventually time heals their anger and they return to faith.

The existence of God is completely independent of whether or not horrible things happen. Most atheists reject a belief in God due to their reasoning, not due to some experience.

Many believe atheists refuse to humble themselves. Most atheists believed in God for many years before deciding they had been wrong. The process of realizing that something you believed in so truly is not true after all and trying to discern how to cope with this new realization requires immense amounts of humility.

When people think of atheists they often think of a godless communist horde come to take away all civil liberties and replace God with “the State.” Well, it is true that many communists were atheists, but communism quickly became its own religion, complete with prophets, martyrs, a promise of a better tomorrow and inquisitions against those who didn’t share the purest version of the faith.

Most atheists, however, advocate reason, evidence based skeptical inquiry and a respect for human rights. They insist that all inquiry be free and open to discussion. They do not worship science but believe the scientific method provides the best tool for revealing knowledge.

These atheists are called Freethinkers. Freethinkers have never been welcome in authoritarian nations. 

Contrary to popular belief and Glenn Beck, Adolf Hitler wrote nothing in Mein Kampf about destroying Christianity. He did, however, seek to destroy the Freethinker movement. In 1933, Hitler banned most Freethinker organizations, imprisoning many. Though Christianity and Nazism aren’t synonymous, Hitler confiscated Berlin’s Freethinkers Hall, converting it to Christian organizational purposes. 

Many wonder how atheists can have morals. There are many moral systems an atheist could adopt; however, Humanism is the most popular. Humanism is a moral system founded on the observation that human beings have the potential to solve moral question guided by reasoning and evidence. 

Some fear secular humanism is bad for society. Sweden has a high number of atheists. Only 23 percent of their nation believes in God. Sweden has lower murder, teen pregnancy and incarceration rates than the U.S. Though this may not be due to their secular humanist attitudes, it does not appear that secularism has harmed them.

Though accused of it, Humanists are not moral relativists. Humanists do not think that evolution or the concept of survival of the fittest is a moral or ethical code. Humanists know that morals, like not killing each other and not stealing, are innate. Humanists note that religion is not needed to teach us such things. Reason shows that society would cease to exist if we did not follow such moral codes.

Many Humanists underwent great personal change after having experiences best described as spiritual. Humanists don’t reject emotional, spiritual or transcendental experiences. We just don’t classify them as supernatural. 

I understand why people keep their atheism private. People who come out as atheists may lose their job or endanger their family relations. Remaining silent though allows atheists to be stereotyped as hateful, immoral people.

While 15 percent of those in the country will say they have no faith, less than 2 percent of the population will openly say they are atheists.

Oct. 11 is Coming Out Day. If you’re part of the 15 percent, I kindly ask you to speak out. 

Brandon Givens is a Hall County resident and frequent columnist.



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