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.