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The religious closet

He says gods like to have an atheist around.  Gives them something to aim at.
— Terry Pratchett, Small Gods —

When you hear the word “minority” with regards to American culture, you usually think along the lines of race and ethnicity.  On February 26, the White House took a huge step in recognizing a different minority voice in America’s culture.  Officials met with members of the Secular Coalition for America, an atheist society, to discuss problems that are fueled by religion.  This is the first time a presidential administration has met with a group of irreligious people.

Whether religion actually causes or exacerbates problems is beyond my scope.  I personally think that it has done many, many good things for individuals and civilization both.  Everything has its good and bad points, and religion is not immune from that.

My joy in having a White House that will meet with religious and irreligious leaders come from personally being an atheist.  We are a growing minority in America and deserve to have an ear with our politicians, the same as the other religious communities.

The discrimination that we face is nowhere near as bad or violent as that directed toward other minorities, such as African-Americans, gay people, or Jews.  Hatred of atheists is nowhere near as intense as hate directed toward those groups.  Atheists do, however, face false statements and misunderstandings — and sometimes outright loathing.  A larger number of people say they hate atheists than say they hate any other specific group of people.  We are called immoral, evil, disrespectful of the religious, God haters (which is pretty pointless, since we don’t think He/She/It/They exist), and smug.  Sure, some of us fit into some of those categories, but so do some people of other religious persuasions.

As the number of Americans who have no particular religious affiliation grows, whether it be consciously atheist/agnostic or simply a lack of strong feeling either way, we as a country will have to deal with the presence of yet another group that has previously been vilified.  The right to freedom of religion also includes the right to not choose one.  The quicker we can collectively come to that conclusion, the faster more vocal atheists lose a stage to antagonize the religious community, and the better we are for finding another way of tolerating one another.


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