double standards when dealing with a deity

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Austin Cline noted that "One of the most persistent and annoying double standards which atheists have to face is the broad acceptability of religious expression in society vs. the stigma attached to any sort of atheist expression:"

Religious believers enjoy the expectation that they can talk about religion and inject religion into conversations any time, anywhere, for any reason. Atheists, in contrast, are rude and intolerant for even mentioning their atheism, never mind disagreeing with or objecting to what they hear from believers.

Cline discussed a recent letter to Judith (Miss Manners) Martin, annoyingly titled "Only the God's Honest Truth Will Do," that began this way:

I am an atheist, and this is occasionally the source of mild social awkwardness. Normally, of course, I do not broadcast my beliefs without solicitation, but occasionally I am asked where I go to church or invited to attend a service at another's church. [...] Somehow, the simple and direct, "I choose not to worship a deity," seems as inappropriate for casual conversation as questions about one's religious beliefs. I would greatly appreciate a simple and direct way to decline such an invitation and nip such questioning in the bud.

Her advice called his simple and innocuous statement of disbelief "pompous, and also challenging. You need only say casually, 'I'm not a churchgoer.'" Cline observed that this advice "leave[s] the impression that one may be a theist and perhaps even a Christian in a way that allows religious believers to talk about their religion as always." This is unacceptable, because such a course of (in)action may avoid the "angry atheist" accusation, but at the expense of keeping atheists in the closet, as Cline noted.

It's long past time for theists to recognize that their monopoly on civic discourse has come to an end, and they can no longer expect us to smile and nod at their expressions of religion while remaining silent ourselves. If religious belief is an acceptable topic of discussion, then be prepared to let non-believers join in on an equal basis; you may not like what we say, but that's not our problem--it's yours.

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2 Comments

The way Miss Manners phrased it wasn't the best, but I've been reading a lot about manners lately and she was technically correct. It goes both ways though. Religious people are not supposed to bring it up, nor are the non religious. And if something is mentioned, it's best to ignore others bad manners, not retaliate with more.

All that being said, I don't think atheists need to hide their atheism either. Proper etiquette says to spend your time and money with organizations that support your values. So while mentioning atheism at a lunch date might not be a good idea, attending a rally is.

I have found myself very lucky in that my friends and family have been very accepting of me and I can be open with them, but it doesn't come up that often. With strangers, I prefer to ignore them knowing that it's not supposed to be a topic for conversation. I've never been confronted though, so I can't say for sure what I'd do. I sort of see it the same way I see raising kids. You have to model the behavior. It's not always a rewarding feeling, taking the higher road, but it's the "mannerly" one.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on August 18, 2009 9:16 AM.

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