Friday, 8 August 2014

Beyond belief

I knew religious belief was common in the States, but I didn't realise it was so rife that atheists are routinely discrim-inated against. So much so that a lot of atheists don't even dare to reveal their non-belief and are forced to stay in the closet.

Atheists are often shunned by their parents and relatives, or showered with abuse, or ostracised by schoolmates. As they are only two per cent of US adults, the other 98 per cent know they can get away with such victimisation.

Now a lot of organisations are springing up to defend atheists and their right to opt out of religion. There's even a TV channel, Atheist TV. They encourage people to "come out" and say what they really think, so others can see just how many atheists there really are.

Religious belief is common in Northern Ireland too, but those who don't believe aren't continually persecuted and hounded and expected to share the same beliefs. In the 14 years I've lived in Northern Ireland, I can't recall a single person objecting to my atheism or expecting me to fall in with the majority.

Of course it might be they just assume I'm a believer; it simply never occurs to them that I'm not, as I never enlighten them. Unlike church-going folk, there's no visible sign of my non-belief, no atheist trappings or rituals.

So why isn't it the same in the States? Why can't they just live and let live? Why this frenzy to wipe out the non-believers, all two per cent of them? Why do they feel so threatened by difference?

As I've said before, I see religion as something private and personal, a sort of self-help programme people use to improve their lives. It has nothing to do with other people unless they freely show an interest in it.

Why is it such a sin to opt out of something?


  1. I opted out years ago and haven't felt persecuted. Mostly I avoid the subject of religion.

  2. Hello Nick,

    Victimisation of any kind is abhorrent and tends to stem from and be fuelled by prejudice. This is a dangerous cocktail as history has told us on many an occasion in the past.

    We agree that faith is a personal matter, open for discussion only if the parties involved are comfortable with it. But, it is true to say that most people do not see a need for discussion as they 'believe' that everyone thinks the same way as they do! How wrong can one be....

  3. Jean: It sounds like you live a fairly private life away from the madding crowd, so I imagine there are few people around to persecute you!

    Jane and Lance: Unfortunately that's often true, that they believe everyone thinks the same! Er no, there are as many opinions as there are human brains....

  4. I avoid discussion on religion and politics. At 67, I think I am old & wise enough to make up my own mind about the future.

  5. Grannymar: Well said! And do you also find that people here don't bother you about your beliefs or lack of them?

  6. When I was little (under ten) I used to go to Sunday School. My father didn't like it. Not that that stopped me. All those stories, Nick. I was spell bound. If I want to get frightened I read the bible. Works every time.

    I wouldn't even call myself an 'atheist' (a non-believer). I am a nothing. May lightning strike me. I am sure thunder will follow.

    However, didn't stop me from getting married in a church, having my son christened in the same one. In my defence I'd say it wasn't so much the pomp and ceremony as a place to pull together friends and family. Anyway, I do like churches. All those high ceilings and windows.

    Enter glorious day Apple of my Eye returned home totally disenchanted with God (he'd had an RE lesson earlier in the day),lamenting that if God was so 'almighty' why the world is such a shit place. Yes, Nick. I tell you: There are times in a parent's life you have to think fast on your feet. Didn't change his view. Instead of which he took mine [view that is]: The Bible is a book of (sometimes remarkable and often instructive) fairy tales. And some of its teachings valuable.

    As to persecution as being in neutral? No. Never. If anything I envy women who are "allowed" to wear a burqa.

    To summon up: Few wars were/are being fought not in the name of religion. Love thy neighbour.


  7. I have a family member who is an Atheist. He felt exactly as you described. Paranoid, I guess. Recently I saw him with a Red A pin. He's come out of the closet. He goes to an Atheist group. He is getting more outspoken.

    In this town, I know one Atheist.

    In college my major was "undecided" for a while. That's where I am with religion.

  8. Ursula: Interesting about your son's disenchantment. I think the paradox he mentioned is what makes many people question religion. I must say the Bible seems like an elaborate fairy tale to me too, despite all those who take it as pure fact.

    And how true about all the wars fought in the name of religion. What on earth is religious about bombing other people?

  9. Susie: That's great that he's found the confidence to be himself. Didn't know about the red A pin.

    I bet there are plenty of atheists in town who keep quiet about it.

  10. Today I look to Gaza and Israel. Nuff said about religious indoctrination.

    I was indoctrinated at 3 days. They got you early then. Still do I expect. My mother lay in pain and exhaustion in her hospital bed and priest whips me off to a church and even names me.

    I know far too many apatheists who practise a lot of weekly mumbo jumbo to keep family/spouses/employers off their tails. Another form of persecution. I do believe 2% is way understated in the US. It's like homosexuality people are afraid to come out. They tell me in secret: "I don't believe, don't tell anyone."

    Fear. I am surrounded.


  11. I live in the States and have never heard of this sort of discrimination. From what I read in the article, I'm guessing the 'discrimination' is occurring inside families, which has been happening for centuries. Amish 'shun' those who leave the faith, and a similar 'shunning' can happen with other faiths as well. Not that long ago, a Jew marrying a Gentile was very controversial.

  12. www: Yes, I imagine there's plenty of mumbo-jumbo being spouted to hide people's real opinions. And you're probably right about 2% being an under-estimate because there's so much secrecy.

    Bijoux: Some of it is inside families, but apparently schoolmates can be nasty too. I didn't know it was also common for religions to shun people who leave them.

  13. There is something very show offy about that atheist group. I heard them on the radio and they sounded insufferable. Some people just like that kind of over the top stuff, I think. I know loads of American atheists who don't appear to have any problem at all.

  14. Jenny: Insufferable and over the top? That's a shame. I haven't actually heard them. There's no need to make a song and dance about your atheism, any more than there is with religious belief.

  15. Pushy Americans come that self doubt does not enter into their make up...

  16. Here in the Bible-belt south, atheists are definitely discriminated against. Often the first question a new acquaintance asks is "Where do you go to church?" On dating sites, many people talk about their love of God and wish for a similarly faithful mate. It's discouraging. But I suspect that many folks who aren't atheists aren't even aware of the discrimination that exists.

  17. Helen: I know plenty of non-pushy Americans. But the ones totally devoid of self-doubt are scary. Especially when they decide dropping bombs on other people is a great idea.

    Agent: I guess it's pretty predictable in the Bible Belt. "Where do you go to church"? A loaded question or what? But I'd be surprised if religious folk are unaware of the discrimination that goes on, even if they don't contribute to it.

  18. Interesting story today about discriminatory religious discounts in the States. A diner was offering discounts to praying customers.

  19. "Why is it such a sin to opt out of something?"

    In my book it is not. In fact. opting out of religion must be encouraged. The problem with those who disagree with my belief is that they confuse between God and Religion. If they correct that misunderstanding, Atheism is perfectly logical when you see that what others call God is called by Atheists as natural selection etc.

    And this is perfectly legitimate in the Eastern philosophical systems.

  20. Ramana: I think what people are really confusing is religion and reality. Religious beliefs are seen as a fact of life rather than something you personally believe in. Thus the pressure for others to accept the supposedly obvious reality.

  21. You certainly picked on a controversial subject this time Nick. I'm not an atheist as such, more of a Pagan, I believe in Mother Nature; we come from her and we will eventually go back to her.

    My mother was branded as a heretic when the local church goers found out she didn't believe, but only went to church every Sunday "just in case" (sic) there was an element of truth in the bible.

  22. Keith: My personal theory is that this life is but a dream in yet another life, and that when I die I shall awake in another existence. However....

    I like the way your mother went to church "just in case". A sort of insurance policy.

  23. as a religious person who never assumes that other people share my beliefs i find that generalisation quite irritating.

    as to the state of affairs in the bible belt: it is routine for people to point the finger at others where they themselves feel a weakness. the most avowedly Christian parts of the US are the same parts which show the least in terms of Christian behaviour and ideals (in my opinion)
    Following this line of logic, we could say that maybe the bible belt get snarky with atheists or insufficiently religious people because they know that they, themselves are shadows of what they might be, spiritually speaking.

  24. Kylie: I wasn't exactly generalising, I was just trying to work out why nobody remarks on my non-belief.

    I suspect you've hit the nail on the head re Bible Belt types who get sniffy with atheists.

  25. i wasnt referring to you abojut the generalisation

  26. hey nick its the complete reverse here in the UK isn't it. if people go to church and speak about religion in work people will look at them and probably give them a wide berth.

  27. Sol: Very true. Especially in Northern Ireland where religion is such a major bone of contention.