Atheism is not extremism

Aaron Rockhold

An opinion piece was published March 11 (“Neither evangelism nor atheism”) in the Stater, penned by a Mr. Christopher Hook, condemning what he terms “the atheist movement.” Perhaps the kindest thing that can be said about the article is that it is useful as a perfect example of the kind of damaging misconceptions that the nonreligious must contend with every day.

Mr. Hook falls at the first hurdle simply by using the term “atheist movement”. There are atheists, and they move. There is not, however, one atheist movement. This distinction is difficult for many to grasp.

There is no atheist dogma, no atheist church and no atheist pope. Atheism is not, by definition, a religion, any more than not collecting stamps is a hobby. Speaking about “the atheists” as though they were a group of people all sharing the same opinions is, ironically, exactly the same generalization that religionists often accuse atheists of making about them. The only thing that all atheists are guaranteed to have in common is lack of belief in deities. If you want to condemn actions you find distasteful, you’ll have to criticize individuals and specific groups, rather than tarring every atheist in the world with the same brush.

Mr. Hook presents an out-of-context quote by Freedom From Religion Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor to support his claim that the “atheist movement” deserves its bad reputation. He says groups are “holding conferences … to recruit new members away from religion.” Truthfully, conferences and national advertising campaigns are meant to reach out to people who are already atheists, in order to provide a sense of community to individuals who find themselves outcasts in their communities for their lack of belief. Yet even these measures are seen as too aggressive. The “battle lines” have been drawn, Cook says, by atheists like the FFRF who take such drastic actions as forming groups and producing literature.

Casually, Hook mentions that he hates atheists, an admission as disturbing as it is unsurprising. A 2006 study by the University of Minnesota found that atheists are America’s most distrusted minority, ranking below Muslims and homosexuals. Atheists also placed dead last among minorities respondents would approve his or her child becoming married to.

More than anything else, I credit these bigoted attitudes to inexperience; it’s easy to rattle off any number of good Christians you know, but any given person is unlikely to know many atheists, who are ostracized and largely invisible in a society where — despite Hook’s absurd claim that the religious are afraid to talk about their beliefs — it is Christians who hold the reins of power. Presidential candidates name-dropping Jesus Christ isn’t even newsworthy, but a politician’s admission of atheism would instantly torpedo his or her campaign. To illustrate my point more dramatically, ask yourself: Would Mr. Hook’s article ever would have been published if he had instead expressed hatred towards “organized Jews” or “organized black people”? Of course not. Yet the nonreligious remain one of the last few “acceptable targets” in society.

The only way that will change is through atheists becoming more visible so that the religious can see we are as human as they are.

Aaron Rockhold is a junior psychology major and vice president of Kent State Freethinkers.