Gov. Chet Culver weighed in on the controversial Des Moines bus ad that has been yanked after multiple complaints.OK, that doesn't sound hateful, right? Well, Brayton has an image of the ad in question. "Disturbing" is perhaps the least appropriate word for the ad, which simply informs atheistic Iowans that other Iowans share their views. No challenge to anyone's faith, no confrontation, nothing. Just a sign saying there are other atheists out there.
“I was disturbed, personally, by the advertisement and I can understand why other Iowans were also disturbed by the message that it sent,” Culver said.
See what Culver did there? He's "disturbed" that atheists exist, and that they're proud enough to proclaim this fact. Worse, he thinks it's okay that other Iowans were "disturbed" by this fact as well. That's bigotry, pure and simple, and any attempt to call it anything else is putting lipstick on a pig.
I've often said that hatred for atheists is America's last socially acceptable bigotry. In my mind, it's also the most incomprehensible. Hatreds for African-Americans, Jews, and immigrants are fairly easy to explain in terms of power and culture - white Americans, especially poor ones, can feel threatened by the upward mobility of people from groups supposedly lower in social status. Furthermore, most of these groups have significantly different cultural practices that makes them easy to "otherize," fear, and hate.
But there's no power struggle with atheists. It challenges no one's social status for someone else to proclaim that God doesn't exist. There isn't a huge cultural difference between your average Christian and their atheist neighbor, except for what goes on for a few hours on Sunday morning. And yet, while it's okay for Christians to put up billboards encouraging others to adopt their religious beliefs, people are "disturbed" by atheists advertising their mere existence. I don't get it. I really don't.
The common thread, I guess, is that all these various hatreds are exploited by people at the top of the power structure who wish to remain there, which makes Culver sort of the heir of Orval Faubus and George Wallace (the bigoted segregationist incarnation) in that sense. Not good company, Chet.
Also: This interesting AlterNet article discusses how, in the Bible Belt, being an atheist involves a "coming-out" process reminiscent of what gay and lesbian Americans have to go through. (Imagine what it would be like to be a Southern gay atheist.) I didn't mention homophobia, which I guess is still socially accepted, but it's becoming less and less so. Recall the University of Hawaii football coach who was suspended for making an anti-gay joke that I'm guessing is fairly common in the sports world. He probably would have been suspended for dropping the N-bomb, but it's a punishable offense now, and that's a baby step towards acceptance at least. Anyway, homophobia is just as incomprehensible to me as anti-atheism, for much the same reasons that I've listed above. Is it progress that our bigotries are getting less based on economic/social factors and more on raw irrational fear? I don't know...