Do Atheists Have a Place in America?

In the fall of 2011, I sought out a printer to print a collection of short stories I had written. The collection was entitled “Iambic Pentagram,” and contained a dozen short stories and essays, mostly satirical and humorous social insights and observations. One of the essays was called “Why I am an Atheist.”

There were two mentions of a Christian God in the essay. They were:

1. If I knew Jesus was truth, I would accept that truth. If I knew the Christian God was the God I ought to believe in, I would believe, just in the same way that if I knew any other possible God was the God I should believe in, I would worship that God.

2. I’m not mad at the world and I’m not mad at God. No matter when the world ends, hopefully God will know that with the rational mind he intended us to have led me to deny his existence.

That was my best and most genuinely honest approach at remaining open-minded and asserting to an audience that I knew would be partly Christian that I have no problem with Christianity or a belief in God. I simply do not believe in God. I understand that when some people hear the word atheist, they automatically attach a number of meanings to the word. For example, he must be a jerk and dislike religion.

I understand that. I have seen it happen and I have met the people who fit that exact description. But that is not me. And that does not describe many of the atheists and agnostics that I know. Have we not all met someone from a particular group that misrepresented the group as a whole?

Regardless of my “best and most genuinely honest approach at remaining open-minded,” the printer refused to print “Iambic Pentagram” because as the CEO of this North Carolina-based company told me over the phone, “You’re trashing my God and I need to put my foot down as a Christian.”

It would be difficult to argue the legal issue of his refusal to print my booklet. My limited understanding of legalities tells me that he had every right to do so. However, the fact that he blatantly misunderstood my statements as “trashing God” led me to believe that despite the safety measures I took, he still felt that as an atheist, I was anti-God and had a deep-rooted hatred for those with a religious affiliation. He was wrong.

Let us reverse the scenario. Suppose I were the CEO of a printing company which publicly also has no religious affiliation. One day, a Christian wants to print a booklet and one essay states, “I don’t have a problem with atheists, but my rationality has led me to conclude there is a God.”

That is not a controversial statement by any stretch of the imagination, but I were to refuse to print this person’s booklet, would it not make me seem like I am being a bit sensitive and perhaps anti-religious? Arguably, many more people would consider this latter scenario to be more unjustifiable as compared to the scenario that I actually experienced.

To get a better understanding of this issue, a 2007 Gallup poll showed that 53% of Americans would not vote for an atheistic presidential candidate. This statistic points us in the direction that there is a distrust of atheists in America. Unfortunately, the Gallup poll does not answer why.

There is perhaps a polarization in the American religious spectrum because oftentimes, the question boils down to, “Are they Christian or non-Christian?” In a sense, and of course not always, Jewish people, Muslims, atheists, and agnostics – and pretty much anyone who is not Christian, get lumped into the same category. In a Christian dominated country, this sense of polarization should not seem brand new.

Robert Sims, 22, a philosophy/religion and history major with a youth ministry minor at Flagler College identifies himself as a strict Roman Catholic. He said, “Ignorant and thoughtless people may certainly marginalize or negatively view the atheist or agnostic and vice versa. Unfortunately this type of person or this attitude tends to prevail as the majority among our contemporaries.”

Offering greater insight as to why the Gallup poll shows numbers that look unfavorably upon atheists, Sims stated, “I think that almost any person prefers people who agree with their opinions – be them religious, political, or otherwise – over people that do not agree with them.” This makes sense in a country where one practically must be a “strong Christian” in order to win a presidential election.

Jared Smith, 23, a Flagler College graduate with a degree in philosophy/religion and political science, has no particular religious affiliation. His response to this matter was, “In certain areas of the U.S. atheism is seen as a stigma, and I think that is a hold-over from the time when religion and morality were viewed as synonymous. But in more and more areas of the country, Christianity is becoming less of a presumption, and people are generally more open to their friends or colleagues being atheists.”

In the Gallup poll, just 7% of Americans would not vote for a Jewish presidential candidate and Mormons got a harder blow with 24% of Americans refusing to vote for them. The question of course then is, what often separates atheists and agnostics from those with a religious background? Why do the numbers jump to a startlingly 53% when atheists are brought into question? A person refusing to vote for an atheist or agnostic may easily claim that those who are not a member of a traditional organized religion (i.e. Christianity, Judaism, Islam) lack a moral fabric.

Many people not only find a moral compass in a religious environment, they believe it necessary to have a religion in order to have a moral foundation – and to not be associated with a religion means to be without morals. Is the statement “No God, no morals” a true one? Of course not.

I’m not saying that refusing to print my booklet is “religious intolerance.” But you have to ask yourself why people without a religious affiliation continue to be looked down upon by people with one?

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