Ragged Clown

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Acceptable Prejudice

Usual disclaimer: discrimination against atheists is pretty tame compared to the discrimination that blacks and jews and gays have historically faced. It’s not like atheists were ever persecuted or excluded from public office [er, you sure? -ed].


This bloggingheads.tv vialog makes the claim that discrimination against atheists is different from other kinds of discrimination in that prejudice against atheists is still seen as acceptable or even desirable whereas, while there is still an awful lot of discrimination against jews, blacks, gays, moslems, fat people and the disabled, the balance of public opinion has passed a tipping point and polite society will condemn it rather than nodding in agreement.

This, from today’s Guardian, illustrates the point nicely.

Conservative anti-gay prejudice was under scrutiny again on Friday after the Welsh secretary, David Jones, was forced to backtrack on an assertion that gay couples “clearly” cannot provide a “warm and safe environment” in which to raise children.

The important part of the story is not that Jones is a homophobe. It’s that he recognizes that it is unacceptable in 2013 to be a homophobe and that he is obliged to circumscribe his prejudices to try to make them acceptable and to walk back any comments that betray what he really thinks.

He even summons his invisible gay friends to vouch for his good faith.

“I regard marriage as an institution that has developed over many centuries, essentially for the provision of a warm and safe environment for the upbringing of children, which is clearly something that two same-sex partners can’t do.

“Which is not to say that I’m in any sense opposed to stable and committed same-sex partnerships.”

He did not believe he was homophobic, insisting he had “people in my life who are important to me who are gay”.

This is big news. Jones’s real crime is to be about 10 years behind public opinion. Back in 2003 it was obvious to most right-thinking people that the gays couldn’t be trusted to bring up children. Now that everyone knows a gay couple who are doing a fine job as parents, those ancient attitudes seem silly.  By contrast, it’s still acceptable to think that atheists are morally inferior or that we need to protect children from them.

Here’s the vialog.

Unfortunately, as long as atheists remain a disparate group with few interests in common (ie. forever. Ricky Gervais says atheists are like a group of people whose hobby is not-skiing) this state of affairs is likely to continue.

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5 responses to Acceptable Prejudice

Matt February 18, 2013

Any prejudice is wrong, but the reason it is acceptable to hold prejudice beliefs against atheists is because atheism is still considered a matter of opinion or a lifestyle choice, whereas being black or gay is not optional.( Shame that. I wouldnt mind trying a week of being a gay black man).
I would, however, argue that with the lack of cold, hard evidence it is difficult to understand anyone who would not agree with atheists or at the very least agnostics.

Hi Kev.

Kevin February 18, 2013

Hi Matt! Who knew that you read my blog?

Email on its way.

Captain Groggy Swagger February 28, 2013

I am still in a toss-up about if I should be more vocal about being atheist to hasten social awareness of the prejudice, or to go on as we have because it is easier to privately scoff at the type of people who have that attitude… which I guess in itself is prejudice. 😉

Matt March 4, 2013

I wonder if the percentage of atheists in the western world is under estimated. If asked on “say” a census or, infact, any other of the numerous forms which I seem obliged to fill in for her Maj’s government, what my religion is, I always enter Church of England.
Typical form filling exercise episode-
“Mum/Sir etc- what should I put for that?”

Mum/teacher etc-
” Er. Just put church of England”.

And that’s why.

Is it because I just do what i’ve always done or that the cause is not that important to me?
I beleive all 7 Billion of us will eventually see the light, and I beleive the transition will be a passive thing.
Then we can all get on with hating Arsenal supporters.

Kevin March 4, 2013

I don’t remember more than a tiny handful of kids who believed in God when we were growing up but every single one of us wrote ‘Church of England’ on the forms. I made the switch when I went to BRNC Dartmouth and I had to choose what religion to put on my dog-tags. I had been CofE for 6 year as a non-officer but when I joined Dartmouth, I put ‘atheist’.
Everyone said I was just nuts. Why rock the boat? My boss almost had steam coming out of his ears when he asked me why I did it.

I agree that it will be a passive thing. Europe is already post-christian and has been for 50 years. It’s just taking a while for the census forms to catch up.

It’s different in America though. In much of the country, it’s social death to admit it but I bet America isn’t more than 25 years behind Europe in shedding religious belief. That’s who Richard Dawkins’s book was aimed at – all those millions of people who think they are the only one who has doubts about what the Sky Pilots are saying. One day soon, they’ll realize that they are actually in a majority.

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