Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Yep, Hate Still Exists, Vol. II

And this time, it goes way higher than some idgit with a can of spray paint. Take a bow, Iowa Governor Chet Culver...
Gov. Chet Culver weighed in on the controversial Des Moines bus ad that has been yanked after multiple complaints.

“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.
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.

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...


FEMily! said...

I think Christians see Christianity as a truth, a truth that's abundantly clear to everyone and that everyone believes. The Atheists and all the other non-Christians are choosing to defy their natural inclination towards Christianity. Christians see all other religions as choices, while Christianity is a part of everyone. That's why it's so much easier to discriminate against them. Women can't help that they're women, and brown people can't help that they're brown. There's no changing that, so there's no point in hating on them. But they think there's still hope in changing the non-Christians and the LGBTs. And if they can't convert them, they just make the environment unsafe for them.

Mike said...

Hmm, let's see, you're the governor of Iowa, which is probably best known for the line, "Is this Heaven? No, it's Iowa", and is an extremely predominantly Christian state. Do you, a) score points with 95% of the population by telling them that 0.1% espouse "disturbing" viewpoints?

Playing politics may, unfortunately, be sanctioning hate in this case, but it's really still just playing politics.

lsmsrbls said...

I don't really think it's useful to compare different oppressions. They all manifest themselves differently, but they're all still damaging. For example, while it's probably happened, I'm not aware of anyone being killed for being an atheist in recent history.

That said, I haven't "come out" to my family as an atheist (though my immediate family could easily guess). It's more than I want to deal with. It makes me feel a bit ashamed that I haven't...why shouldn't I stand for my beliefs? I could show people that "good" atheists exist, etc.

But...*shrug* I'm not up to it at this point. Makes me glad I don't have kids to announce to rest of the family what our beliefs are.