Rieux (dr_rieux) wrote,

An Exhortation to Atheist Pride

Evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins has launched an initiative he's titled "The Out Campaign," an effort (consciously patterned after GLBT folks' marvelously successful practice) to encourage those of us who do not believe in gods to "come out" of the atheist closet for the purpose of countering anti-atheist bigotry.

It surely won't surprise anyone who's been reading chalice_circle lately that I'm enthused about the Out Campaign, but it seems to me that UUs generally ought to support the effort as well, just as we are proud to support GLBT coming-out campaigns. When members of a marginalized minority decide to stand up for themselves--voicing pride in who they are and where their "free and reasonable searches for truth and meaning" have brought them, and banding together to oppose their mistreatment at the hands of a hostile majority, it seems to me that UU tradition, ideals and history all call out for us to lend our support.

Dawkins describes his reasons for launching the Out Campaign in an essay that I find pretty inspiring. An excerpt:

In the dark days of 1940, the pre-Vichy French government was warned by its generals "In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken." After the Battle of Britain, Winston Churchill growled his response: "Some chicken; some neck!" Today, the bestselling books of 'The New Atheism' are disparaged, by those who desperately wish to downplay their impact, as "Only preaching to the choir."

Some choir! Only?!

As far as subjective impressions allow and in the admitted absence of rigorous data, I am persuaded that the religiosity of America is greatly exaggerated. Our choir is a lot larger than many people realise. Religious people still outnumber atheists, but not by the margin they hoped and we feared. I base this not only on conversations during my book tour and the book tours of my colleagues Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, but on widespread informal surveys of the World Wide Web. Not our own site, whose contributors are obviously biased, but, for example, Amazon, and YouTube whose denizens are reassuringly young. Moreover, even if the religious have the numbers, we have the arguments, we have history on our side, and we are walking with a new spring in our step – you can hear the gentle patter of our feet on every side.

Our choir is large, but much of it remains in the closet. Our repertoire may include the best tunes, but too many of us are mouthing the words sotto voce with head bowed and eyes lowered. It follows that a major part of our consciousness-raising effort should be aimed, not at converting the religious but at encouraging the non-religious to admit it – to themselves, to their families, and to the world. This is the purpose of the OUT campaign.

Before I go any further, I must forestall one major risk of misunderstanding. The obvious comparison with the gay community is vulnerable to going too far: to 'outing' as a transitive verb whose object might be an unfortunate individual not yet – or not ever – ready to confide in the world. Our OUT campaign will have nothing, repeat nothing to do with outing in that active sense. If a closet atheist wants to come out, that is her decision to make, and nobody else's. What we can do is provide support and encouragement to those who willingly decide to out themselves. This may seem trivial to people in parts of Europe, or in regions of the United States dominated by urban intellectuals where support and encouragement is unnecessary. It is anything but trivial to people in other areas of the United States, and even more so in parts of the Islamic world where apostasy is, by Koranic authority, punishable by death.

The OUT campaign has potentially as many sides to it as you can think of words to precede "out". "Come OUT" has pride of place and is the one I have so far dealt with. Related to it is "Reach OUT" in friendship and solidarity towards those who have come out, or who are contemplating that step which, depending on their family or home town prejudices, may require courage. Join, or found local support groups and on-line forums. Speak OUT, to show waverers they are not alone. Organize conferences or campus events. Attend rallies and marches. Write letters to the local newspaper. Lobby politicians, at local and national level. The more people come out and are known to have done so, the easier will it be for others to follow.

I like this a lot. (The rest of the essay is good, too.) Anyone else?

[Crossposted to chalice_circle]


A postscript I'm sorry I have to write:

Before you go attacking Dawkins on the basis of his use of the words "religion," "religious" and/or "religiosity," please, PLEASE do the hard work of understanding what it is that he means by those words. His conception of "religion" is different than many/most UUs, but that doesn't make him intolerant, stupid, or self-evidently mistaken. He has a basis for defining "religion" the way he does, and I submit than anyone who would like to call him names because he sees it that way is obligated to respond to his actual explanation of what has brought him to that conclusion, rather than dashing off a knee-jerk "what a dope/how dare he attack a UU like me just because I'm religious" attack. Such a response, I think, makes about as much sense as flaming Dawkins because of the way he spells "realise."

The hostile dogmatism with which UUs too often treat people for merely holding beliefs that differ from ours on issues like this--i.e., what the word "religion" means--is, I think, a grievous wrong.

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