Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Out Campaign

Those of you who read science and liberal political blogs have probably encountered a new symbol in authors' sidebars of late. Scarlet A's have been popping up all over the web. What do these red letters mean? Simply, the A is a symbol of solidarity for atheists and represents a call for atheists to make a more vocal contribution to the public conversation.

You might expect that I would - as a Christian - object to this campaign, or otherwise be put on the defensive by it. If you made that assumption, you'd be wrong. I think the Out Campaign is an admirable effort to unite a community of Americans that have been too quiet and too persecuted for too long.

My conversations with atheists about science, politics or religion are as interesting and meaningful to me as discussions on the same topic with Christians. In many instances, my agnostic and atheist friends are more likely to be open to thinking about new and different ideas. In the kinds of discussions I like to have about science, society and social justice, it doesn't matter what people believe in. It matters that they are respectful, honest and open to conversation.

As Richard Dawkins writes in his introduction to The Out Campaign,
Atheists are not devils with horns and a tail, they are ordinary nice people. Demonstrate this by example. The nice woman next door may be an atheist. So may the doctor, librarian, computer operator, taxi driver, hairdresser, talk show host, singer, conductor, comedian. Atheists are just people with a different interpretation of cosmic origins, nothing to be alarmed about.
With this, I strongly agree. Too many conversations among Christians (and other people of faith) involve categorization of atheists as militant haters. Even if names aren't used, there are underlying stereotypes of inferiority, immorality and other unfounded categories that atheists are crammed into. I resent it when as a Christian, I am labeled as homophobic, misogynistic and irrational just because other vocal Christians are these things and base their reasons for being so on a book I find illuminating.

Clearly, I will not be putting the "A" on my sidebar. But you won't find me shrinking from or picking fights with the website owners that that display that red badge of courage. If you want to display the A, head over to PZ Meyers' Pharyngula blog. He has provided code to help intrepid atheists come out.


Anonymous said...

Hi there,
Swedish atheist here who are just passing through to say that I liked your post.
Intolerant people get way to much attention these days, no doubt turning more people intolerant in the process. This however, was a post of reason.

Andrew said...

Thank you very much for your post. Depending on news, we often get the worst information about everybody. As an atheist and freethinker, I deeply appreciate your openness, your support, and your honesty. And as a human being, I deeply appreciate it.

Don said...

A very thoughtful and open-minded approach to a frequently abrasive issue.

Of course, that won't save you from the tumbrils when we finally take over ...

thomas said...

tum·brel or tum·bril (tŭm'brəl) n.

1. A two-wheeled cart, especially a farmer's cart that can be tilted to dump a load.
2. A crude cart used to carry condemned prisoners to their place of execution, as during the French Revolution.

Locke said...

Hi Thomas,

Great, tolerant post. I agree with every word. Good luck in school.

plunge said...

I hope more and more atheists realize that while there are plenty of airy philosophical things on which non-believers and moderate Christians disagree, there are a heck of a lot more important here and now issues on which moderate believers are important, if not essential, allies. That doesn't mean we can't still have our debates or that we should hold off on criticism, but for goodness sakes, let's recognize that we are not functional enemies and not spread careless ill-will with lazy blanket condemnations of believers.

Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

Well, turnabout is fair play, and PZ has led more than a few readers here. Nice of you to provide a link for the entry that includes how to add the "A" to their sites.

As atheists, we want our place at the table of conversation; and if you get frustrated that some turn nasty about you for your beliefs you are welcome to either turn the other cheek or return nasty for nasty.

However, from the tone of this entry (and I will be adding your blog to my Google reader feeder) I find it unlikely that you would return much nastiness.

Thanks for a good piece, Thomas. And if you end up hanging your shingle at a clinic in the Twin Cities, I know that I won't have to shy away from your services.

(I like to see myself as a friendly, yet firm, atheist.)

Sean said...

I just wanted to say thank you for making this statement; I regret the fact that there is a rebellious quality to a statement that in the end is simply pro-courtesy. Such is life...

I suspect that this attitude is more typical of people of faith than I tend to assume. Unfortunately, those who feel a strong need to draw attention to their opinions and beliefs tend towards extreme positions.

As someone who resisted his atheist/agnostic tendencies because of a desire to avoid hurting and being hurt by those around him I greatly appreciate knowing that not everyone values people based on their faith rather than their behavior.

Again, thank you.

kay.cee. said...

Thank you for this. I wish more people thought like this. I know many christians (including my own family) who are incredibly moderate about most issues but are very disturbed by outspoken atheism. It is nice to see that some people are capable of being more reasonable.

thomas said...

Thanks everyone for the kind words.

It just reinforces my observation that one's cosmological orientation cannot reliably predict temperament!

Anonymous said...

Your far too rational ....are you sure you want to hang onto the vestiges of the irrational?

autumn said...


Florida (north-central, to those of you who forget that this is still the South [I get flogged if I'm caught not capitalizing "South"]) atheist here. I'm very glad to have found your section of the internet. Thank you for making a statement that, unfortunately, takes some stones to make.
I happen to be well-known and well-liked (fooled 'em all) in my community, and I cherish discussions with my theistic friends.
The dark side of this is the fact that there are plenty of public places or businesses in my town where I would literally be beaten if I mentioned that I am an atheist, without having been here so long that everyone knows me. It is difficult to express this to someone who grew up in San Francisco, say, or much of urban New England, but it is still very real in some corners of America.

Thanks for listening, and thanks for being willing to judge people "by the content of their character".

sinned34 said...

Pfft! Obviously you're no Real Christian, what with your display of respect for your neighbor, just like your Messiah demanded. Why must you harden hearts to the gospel in such a manner?

Joshua said...

Oh, I get it. Making sure we all brand ourselves so you know who to grab when your start the purges, eh? ;)

But more seriously, it is nice to hear from somebody (I was going to say "a Christian", but actually there are lots of atheists who spout the same accusation) who doesn't think that "vocal" is the same thing as "militant". If there were more Christians that sensible, there would ironically probably be fewer atheists.

Jennifer said...

Thank you. You have my support as well.

Ken Watts said...

Wonderful post.

As a post-Christian with many enlightened Christian friends, I often find it difficult to define my own attitude toward religion.

You just made it harder.

Thanks for that.