March 31, 2006

Gaining Acceptance for Atheism


The early part of the article rehashes the "America Hates Atheists" study we all know about. And, a truly outrageous finding by Andrew Sullivan - courts routinely discriminate against atheists parents in custody hearings.

"That time and place, it turns out, is 2005 Michigan, where a modern Shelley might be denied custody based partly on his 'not regularly attend[ing] church and present[ing] no evidence demonstrating any willingness or capacity to attend to religion with [his children],' or having a 'lack of religious observation.' It's 1992 South Dakota, where Shelley might have been given custody but only on condition that he 'will agree to present a plan to the Court of how [he] is going to commence providing some sort of spiritual opportunity for the [children] to learn about God while in [his] custody.' It's 2005 Arkansas, 2002 Georgia, 2005 Louisiana, 2004 Minnesota, 2005 Mississippi, 1992 New York, 2005 North Carolina, 1996 Pennsylvania, 2004 South Carolina, 1997 Tennessee, 2000 Texas, and, going back to the 1970s and 1980s, Alabama, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Montana, and Nebraska. In 2000, the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a mother to take her child to church each week, reasoning that 'it is certainly to the best interests of [the child] to receive regular and systematic spiritual training'; in 1996, the Arkansas Supreme Court did the same, partly on the grounds that weekly church attendance, rather than just the once-every-two-weeks attendance that the child would have had if he went only with the other parent, provides superior 'moral instruction.'"

Of course, this is an outrageous attack on religious liberty. Imagine if Christian parents were denied custody because of their faith. O'Reilly would have weeks of programming. But atheists? Naah. When Christianists declare that they are fighting for religious freedom, bring this issue up. It will determine whether they are in good faith, so to speak, or not.

But, even despite this outrages, there is still hope:

Personally, I have a great deal of hope that this is going to start to change in the near future. Indeed, this is one area where the blogosphere could actually prove quite powerful. Ten years ago, I'm not sure there was anywhere that your average Christian American was exposed to openly atheistic viewpoints. These days, I'm constantly amazed how many prominent bloggers profess their atheism on a daily basis. On the list, with the help of The Raving Atheist: Daily Kos, Washington Monthly, The Volokh Conspiracy (Jim Lindgren), Pharyngula, Daily Pundit, onegoodmove, Matthew Yglesias, Vodkapundit, and of course many others, including me. Notably, many of these have substantial conservative readership.

Of course, the average American still may not tune in to these atheist blogs, but a lot of people do. A lot more than used to face proud, open, secularism a few years ago. And since most of the hostility toward atheists, in my view, is based in the fact that so few people feel they know any, this could well start to have a dramatic effect. The informal nature of blogs, revealing much of a blogger's character and personality, has the potential to be quite powerful in this regard.

It took a long time in America for the tide to turn such that public acceptance of homosexuals could begin to grow. Yet, over the last 10 years, the change has been phenomenal. Ellen DeGeneres, leading to Will and Grace, leading to Lawrence v. Texas, leading to Goodridge -- it could really be described as a revolution. And, of course, that line of progress continues.
Johan Norberg links today to this Pew Poll showing that the U.S. is becoming more socially liberal in a number of areas.

Five years ago, I know I never thought a case would reach the Supreme Court challenging "under god" in our Pledge of Allegiance. Never mind the idea that it would actually win on appeal, and then be dismissed on a technicality. Certainly, that case didn't lead to an upsurge in popular support for atheists. Nevertheless, Newdow's coup before the Supreme Court could well be seen someday as an early turning point.

And it may well be the blogosphere that is responsible for the next step.