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Jimmy Li in the Harvard Crimson newspaper has an article in today’s paper about coming out as atheists. He uses the “Pissed Catholic Mother” video as a starting point:

“Pissed Catholic Mother” is shocking and disturbing to say the least, and it’s probably safe to assume that most parents would not respond with such hurtful and abusive language if their child were to tell them he or she is an atheist. Perhaps what is more unsettling, however, is that the mother’s reaction reflects, albeit in a distorted and grossly amplified way, the sentiments of many Americans.

While Li goes on to talk about the stigma associated with atheism, he states the following:

Intolerance of atheists is so ingrained in our society that public figures can even openly attack atheists without injuring their reputation. During a campaign stop in Chicago in the summer of 1987, then Vice President George H. W. Bush was asked by a reporter for the American Atheist news journal if he “recognized the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists.” In response, Bush said, “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” Imagine if Bush had made the same comment about Catholics or Muslims.

That’s a dubious statement. While it may be true, the only person who heard it was the reporter in question, Rob Sherman. There’s no audio or video recording. And no other reporter at that press conference has vouched for it. We need to stop using that example…

Later in the article, Li writes about the only way we’ll shed the stigma, a message I strongly agree with:

t’s time for the atheist in America to come out of hiding. Atheists should be able to openly declare their beliefs without fear of alienation in the workplace, school, and home. The idea that belief in God is a prerequisite to morality must be dispelled so that atheists may receive the tolerance they deserve.

If the stigma of atheism is to disappear, however, atheists must have the courage to defend what they believe. And, as Richard Dawkins puts it, they must work to raise the public consciousness to the enormous prejudice that many atheists face everyday.

After praising Harvard’s New Humanism conference, Li concludes with this reiteration of his main point:

It is up to each individual to explain, and if need be, defend his or her own secular philosophy. Only when more atheists stand and speak up for their beliefs will people begin to shed their erroneous assumptions about atheism and decry bigotry against atheists. One can only hope that the “Pissed Catholic Mother” is of a dying breed.

Right on. We need to stop being scared. It’s not an easy road for many of us, but coming out to someone we trust (not the Catholic Mom) is a tremendous first step.

[tags]atheist, atheism, Jimmy Li, Harvard Crimson, Pissed Catholic Mother, George H. W. Bush, American Atheist, Catholics, Muslims, Rob Sherman, Richard Dawkins, New Humanism[/tags]