The Washington Post “On Faith” blog has published my more formal response to Joe Klein’s suggestion that “you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists” engaged in relief efforts after a disaster. An excerpt:
In the wake of the April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, Dinesh D’Souza wrote an opinion piece asking why atheists are “nowhere to be found” in the response to a tragedy. “Where is Atheism When Bad Things Happen?” was the usual D’Souza fare.
But something beautiful came out of it. A Virginia Tech professor and atheist writing as “Mapantsula” offered an elegant and moving reply at Daily Kos, describing in detail his own involvement in the collective healing that followed that day. He also noted that there were certainly atheists and secular humanists among the first responders, the counselors, the surgeons, and the generous givers who rose to the challenge of that tragedy, helping to put that violated community back together as best they could.
But these atheists and secular humanists didn’t wear their worldview visibly, so both casual observers and willful opportunists like D’Souza often failed to see them.
It is possible to see how someone, especially a person with D’Souza’s agenda, could take the absence of an atheist flag as the absence of atheists. Though never absent, atheists and secular humanists are often invisible. Their bodies and skills are easy to see, but their convictions—that this is our one and only life, that its loss is something to fight hard against, that we have no one but each other to rely on when bad things happen—often go unnoticed. Prayers and songs and religious group names announce themselves. Quiet conviction often goes unseen—especially to someone who’s not trying very hard to see it.
Fast-forward to 2013 and Joe Klein, writing a TIME magazine cover story titled “Can Service Save Us?” In the course of an otherwise interesting piece, Klein made this claim: “There was an occupying army of relief workers led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals…”
I’d say it’s funny how you don’t see what you don’t look for.
Joe Klein is not Dinesh D’Souza. He’s a professional journalist, so it seems reasonable to expect him — or barring that, his editors — to check his facts before he tosses off a claim like this. It’s not that he didn’t specifically name these efforts. It’s worse — he went out of his way to say that our organizations were not there.