From the Left: In defense of Atheists

By Miles Brady
On October 16, 2012


Atheism is a highly non-partisan issue. The Democratic Party - the major party that most would associate with lack of religion - recently forced the re-inclusion of God into its party platform.  Obama himself was publicly incredulous as to why it was removed in the first place. This is hard to see as a major affront to the rights of atheists, but does show how little their voice matters in a supposedly secular country.

The voices of atheists don't really matter in part because of the low percentage of Americans who openly describe themselves as such. But gay Americans make up a similarly small percent of the country (about 5 percent) and clearly have a much higher media presence. It is hard to argue that gays are any less accepted by our society than atheists. A recent Gallup poll suggests that 68 percent of Americans would ever vote for a gay or lesbian candidate, while only 54 percent would vote for an atheist. Groups such as African-Americans and women would be voted for by more than 90 percent in this poll.

Last year a study found that atheists were trusted less than rapists by American adults and Canadian college students. In this climate, it is easy to see why many with doubts or lack of belief find it difficult to be open. I've heard people with doubts express fear that their parents would disown them if they knew. I've seen students on campus hint at their lack of religion with great caution. Personally, I have found it difficult to say in the past. This is all in New Hampshire, one of the least religious states in the country. It is also at a state university, a type of institution that is traditionally secular. Imagine being atheist in the Bible Belt.

The nonreligious now make up one-fifth of the country, but only 6 percent of those are openly atheist or agnostic. From experience, it would be safe to assume that atheists make up a larger percentage than this, but are often too afraid to admit it. As for agnostics, many of them are genuinely conflicted and open-minded, but others are probably trying to hide total disbelief in much the same way Elton John once claimed to be bisexual (by the way, it did not help his popularity much. Why do I know this? Wikipedia).

Atheism is not a choice, but I don't hear this argument made very often. A person cannot just decide to believe in God or to not believe in God. It is a trait determined by innate personality, social interactions and pressures, education and many other factors. The only danger with this argument is the extent to which it can be taken. Is murder a choice? Is racism a choice? Is there such a thing as free will and choice? Even with the dangerous continuation of that logic, I don't see how anyone can say atheists choose to be so. Why would anyone choose to be atheist when it will lead to their ostracization?

There is plenty of evidence that atheists can be trusted. The non-religious don't commit crimes at a higher rate than the religious, though common sense would make many of us think otherwise.  This year, the United Nations released its annual happiness rankings (they sure have a lot of time to kill) and the top four nations were Denmark, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands, all - by many measures - majority nonreligious. Atheists are clearly capable of happiness and civility.  These are not communist dictatorships, like so many religious folks assert an atheist nation must be.  

Wouldn't it be nice to have an atheist film or TV character more sympathetic than Gregory House (as awesome as he was)? And atheists' billboards should really offend less, and are actually less harmful, than the ones I drove by that claimed judgment day was upon us. Atheism does not have to be the end of religion. People could coexist just fine if this fear of differentness and change did not exist. The nonreligious are one of the fastest growing demographics in this country. Eventually they will have to be accepted and not just ignored or scorned.


Miles Brady is a junior English major. He is a running enthusiast, a sports fan and very liberal on most issues. He also likes to think that he is very rational. 


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