The myth of atheists being “less” than religious people
The Linkmistress would like to interrupt her regular linkspams to bring you an actual blog. With words. As usual, civility is requested and will be enforced. Iron fist, velvet glove etc.
crossposted. The following critique is based on the media I have consumed and the experiences I have had. Feel free to rec media in which the things I am complaining about have been fixed. Except that Pullman fellow. I tried. I tried. But.
Pharyngula is linked to my old blog, and thus, when I go over there, I sometimes check his feed. I say sometimes, because the writer thereof is like many white middleclass atheists in that FAIL! on race issues, and the difference in scale between religions affected by the past how many hundreds of years of colonialism and Christianity is constant and unremitting (and the comment section is WORSE.) This post however Letting go of gods is a reason for joy…like being free of prison, sparked an annoyed rant that I had been turning over in my mind for a very long time.
I am an atheist. A black atheist at that. And I am HAPPY AND FULFILLED ABOUT THIS. I do NOT run around wistfully gazing after religious people, feeling sad that I am missing out on the experience of faith. Nor do I run around feeling nihilistic and angry at the world because there is no God and therefore LIFE ON EARTH HAS NO MEANING !!!!!!!!!!!!! And I sure as hell do not run about committing crimes and hurting people left, right and center because God isn’t in my life. I have ethics. And morals even. And NO that it NOT because God is in my life and I don’t know it, WHAT!!! Hell I formed my ideas of ethics and morals in direct opposition to some of the things in the Christian Bible (fer instance, the idea of a god sending his people to go kill people and take their possessions reminds me of European colonialism and is WRONG WRONG WRONG in my ethical universe. Women are intelligent and sensible and should therefore have been in on the equal human rights from the beginning of time, no excuses. In fact, in my ethical universe, strict instructions about the equality of EVERYONE from transpeople to disabled people to poc to people with alternate sexualities to people in different classes to anyone who has a mix of these identities, plus anyone else who might have been left out of this list would be MY FIRST FREAKING COMMANDMENT. And that’s just the beginning.)
I am SICK AND TIRED of encountering those tropes in most of the tv, movies and books which even deign to acknowledge the fact that people who don’t believe in gods exist in the first place. Almost every black movie and tv show or book mentions God somewhere. If a character does not believe in God, the person is taught a firm lesson, which is usually accompanied by humiliation of some sort, so as to bring them back into line (praise ye the Lord!!) For white characters in tv shows, more latitude is given in that there are atheist characters, but we end up with people like House, or atheists who are made to accept that the fact that someone has faith makes them a better person. (I think I have seen that dynamic in Bones but I may be wrong. Anyone watch the show and can clarify?) Which. It doesn’t. It makes you a different person. Good for you. But my lack of faith is just as good as your abundance of it and gives you no moral cookies over me, kthx.
So. I want proudly atheist characters who are happy about it in my media. Minorities of every kind, even. Because we exist. And our stories deserve to be respectfully told.
8 thoughts on “The myth of atheists being “less” than religious people”
As a religious person, I am deeply ashamed of my fellow religious people. They should know better. Their attitude is what is un-religious.
I watch Bones, and while her relationship with Booth changes Bones, it’s never about their differences in faith. Bones still staunchly rejects Booth’s God. I think that’s pretty awesome, and I say that as a person of faith. We do need to see a broader variety of people reflected in our pop culture media. You know, like in real life.
Being atheist does not make me a hateful person, morally bankrupt, or someone who is unhappy with life. I am the opposite of all those things.
The problem with atheism in a dramatic show, unless it’s specifically reacting against some flavor of oppression, is there just is not much drama in atheism. The religious have a reason/need/compulsion to declare, well, whatever the particular mythology compels. Consider the most basic theater, a joke. Take the old basic priest/rabbi/minister gag, now make all three atheists. Just try to make that funny… :-)
I disagree. Crime shows often always bring up religion in cases where there is a particular crime that is out of bounds. A bit of discussion on atheist beliefs there is not out of place. Religious bigotry towards atheists could be a plot point in some other show. The differences between atheists, say on the subject of race and religion something that intertwines could be discussed. And that’s off the top of my head. Simply pointing out that a character is atheist and not making them House or Dr. Brennan in Bones or white would be a start. Hell, make the atheist break with the church, not over some dramatic priestly or parent’s unforgivable sin, but because they read the Bible and objected to the misogyny therein. Or what God did to Job or something. Religion pops up in all sorts of places. So can atheism.
One way to make a difference in the portrayal of atheism on television would be for births/weddings/funerals not to automatically default to religious ceremonies. There are a *lot* of funerals on television, which are part of dramatic storylines because, well, they’re shorthand for uniting other characters after someone’s death. And aside from on the late Six Feet Under, there isn’t much thought given to the subject.
There is more than just the atheist vs. Gawd believing side of TV stereotypes. Spiritual people who don’t believe in the great Gawd in the sky are often used as comic relief. I often see people like me depicted as spaced out New Age kooks who tell the future and talk to trees and dead people.
Got linked here today and am super happy to see this post. Thank you for writing it! Well said.
I’m a folklorist, which occupies an interesting enough niche in the academic world (I like to think of myself as an anthropologist with a puppet over one hand), but the topic of my dissertation is about belief. Specifically, belief, fear, and the intersectional narratives governing belief. One of the ideas which comes up again and again is what you have brought up here that “only religious people have morals, and/or, morality comes from religion and can’t exist without it.”
I hate this idea. People who believe it terrify me. It means they can empathize with someone who would wontonly cause wholesale harm to others and get a kick out of it if only the fear of punishment were removed from their lives. What a terrible basis for any supposed “morality!” All that is needed to possess a moral compass is empathy. Because I empathize with other feeling beings, doing harm to other humans or animals is INHERENTLY unpleasant. What further motivation do I need to not hurt than knowing what hurt is and that others experience it?
Anyway, thanks for a great and timely post. Stokes that fire in my belly. Maybe my research will “give a contribution to knowledge” after all.
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