Why Atheists Should Give A Damn About Eric Garner (And Other Social Justice Issues)
Note: Due to comments I've received on this (problem from people who thought it a tl;dr), I've noticed people think that I'm saying here that atheism is more than a lack of a belief in God or gods. Logically, that's all it is. I'm speaking here, however, of atheists as a demographic when I speak of "atheistic tendencies," and so on; I certainly don't mean that all atheists need to have such tendencies (in fact, I argue against these tendencies).
Also: Every "should" rests on an assumption -- it is "if you want to do x, you should do y" that is the implied statement, and early on -- with the example of the atheist campaigns for separation of church and state, demonstration against religious discrimination, and so on -- I specifically put the category of social justice with common atheist actions that are meant to improve standing of atheists in this country. My argument is that if this is the goal, social justice is necessary as part of the strategy.
I've also heard from people who say there is no evidence that social equality equates, oftentimes, to less religiosity. I can only assume that they have not read the studies referenced in the side links. If you want to offer substantive criticism, you'll have to provide evidence that these studies are misinterpreted or wrong instead of simply stating, without evidence, that they aren't.
As always, thanks for reading.
I’ve noticed that many atheists think that their concerns as atheists and their concerns on social justice are not really related. The argument is that atheism is about nothing more than a lack of belief in God or gods. For them, this means that trying to lobby against prayers in public places, or taking the ten commandments off walls, or ending religious discrimination against atheists in general, is clearly in the purview of atheist causes, while things like fighting against racial, gender, and class inequality are not.
While atheism is, indeed, about a lack of belief in God or gods, the practical impact of atheism largely depends on factors that lie outside of, say, mere arguments online (although these are important as well). Indeed, atheistic attitudes and activism that lacks a concern for social issues miss the entire point of why most people need God in the first place.
- Country Religiosity Declines as Material Security Increases
"Religiosity declined with economic and social development."
According to studies, the more poor and destitute you are, the more likely you'll believe in God or gods. Why? Because you need to believe that someone is on your side.
We can argue to believers that God doesn’t exist, and yes, we may convince people who have benefitted from our current system and can trust in the will of their fellow citizens to help them make life tolerable.
- Religiosity, Social Dysfunction Linked in Pew Study | New Republic
In a new survey of countries around the world and states of the U.S., religiosity correlates with social dysfunction. So if you're sick of public religiosity, fight poverty and oppression.
But as long as we live in a society that allows people to be shamed for the color of their skin, the gender they choose, who they are in love with, how much public assistance or income they have, and a host of other factors we use in this country to degrade a human’s worth, studies indicate that they may need a savior who may not exist. If they can’t find anyone else who will give them hope or let them know they matter here on earth, many will desperately cling to the phantom of God or gods.
And you, fellow atheist -- if you rant and rail against the only friend they have in the world without showing a genuine care for their suffering or pain, you may be fanning the flame.
- World Publics Welcome Global Trade — But Not Immigration | Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Pr
"The survey finds a strong relationship between a country’s religiosity and its economic status. In poorer nations, religion remains central to the lives of individuals, while secular perspectives are more common in richer nations."
If you’ve ever wondered why intelligent people can believe such outlandish things, society's indifference is, largely, why. The cold hard fact is that if we don’t make their lives better, intelligent disenfranchised people will have a tendency to believe in a God or gods who will.
Maybe you're one of those who don’t like this. Maybe it’s not “rational” enough for you. But the fact is clear: if you want the most marginalized individuals to stop believing in God you have to convince them to start believing in our society, in human beings, in the belief that their voices matter and their lives matter to us.
There are black people in our recent past who did not seem religious, but they did not rant and rail, for the most part, against religion. Because they did not want to take from their fellow black citizens the only hope they had in the face of the economic and political injustices of our society. Understand, please, that I am NOT saying it is wrong to rant and rail against religion, but this does show that doing so effectively, among marginalized people, often needs to be done with a sensitivity to their economic and social condition if it is to ultimately be successful.
And in cases like the recent death of Eric Garner, we saw that black lives often fail to be respected. We saw that it is possible to have videotape of a police killing an unarmed man, and not even get an indictment.
And I’m going to admit something here: When I saw Eric Garner’s death on YouTube and saw there was no indictment, and when I continued to read, as I’ve been doing for years, the history of black people in this country, for a few vulnerable moments I wished with tears that I could believe in God.
I mean, think about this last case. The jury system doesn’t work. The police training -- which strictly states policemen aren’t supposed to use chokeholds -- doesn’t work. The protests don’t work. The outrage doesn’t work. The statistics clearly showing how black men are singled out in law enforcement and justice department don’t work. The same stereotypes we’ve been dealing with for four hundred years, and the same insistence that the stereotypes aren’t “racist”, are still alive today.
- Poverty: Secularism's True Enemy - Atheist Nexus
"One can not effectively fight the prevalence and the saturation of public life with religiosity and superstition without also battling the poverty and the economic marginalization that feeds religiosity. There is no other way."
It’s slowly dawning on many of us that nothing is going to change.
And in the meanwhile we need a hope, we need a story better than the one we're living sometimes, we need someone dependable who we can lean on. And God is often a bad choice, but when you're oppressed with, seemingly, no recourse, appealing to Him may seem to be your best option. And that appeal can lead to a sense of allegiance to this God, or at least its idea.
This is the kind of thing that leads those of us like Obama to go to church. Obama was fairly skeptical growing up, but when he saw how much the community cared about social justice and making things better for the community, he became a Christian -- even if there is doubt about whether he literally believes the Bible, he saw the church as a force for change.
If you’re an atheist who says your atheism is about nothing more than God or gods, and you’re campaigning to keep social justice disassociated from atheism, here is what is gonna happen:
- Psychology Today on how atheism can replace religion -- and it's not simply having better arguments
"It seems that people turn to religion as a salve for the difficulties and uncertainties of their lives....People who are less vulnerable to the hostile forces of nature feel more in control of their lives and less in need of religion."
People are gonna hate your guts -- both religious people who believe in God because of the way they have been treated in this country, and nonreligious people who are trying to ease their pain -- because you’re saying that the one invisible friend who they think cares in the entire universe about their concerns doesn’t matter to you, and their concerns don’t matter at all to you. You’re the one whose message is that nobody cares about them, the one insistently saying that nobody cares about them. Trying to create a world in which they will be convinced that nobody cares about them.
And the studies show that people will need to believe SOMEBODY cares about them, so if atheists divorce social justice issues from their atheist stances and try to keep them as separate as possible, many people will remain religious (although the form of the religion may change) so they can believe in someone who cares about them, and atheists are going to continue being one of the most hated groups in the country, and the cold hard truth is that 100 years from now relations between the atheists and the religious are going to get worse instead of better. And privileged atheists will still be complaining about religious people needing God or gods, and will still proudly segregate those complaints from concerns over the social reasons why people need imaginary friends in the first place, and somebody may end up making this exact same remark.
But maybe if you say you care about marginalized people and tell them they are not problems that need to be solved or validated by an all-powerful deity (because they think that’s the only thing powerful enough to help) but that we are there in the trenches with them with shoulders to lean on and cry on, and tools and hands to compassionatly help them up -- maybe if you say that, you can make a god-damning difference.
I’m just the messenger. Look at the stats on their own merits, and make your choice insofar as you wish to make the world less religious. Unless, of course, many of you enjoy rubbing it in religious people’s faces that nobody gives a cares about them, instead of actually giving them a shoulder that will help them see they don't need God as a crutch and that your ears have more healing in them than all the imaginary gods in the universe and beyond.
I'm sure I'll have more to say about this in the future, but that's what I want to say now. I'm tired of making this clear to atheists who seem intent on segregating giving a damn about others from an interest or argument of atheism, but these points seem important enough for me to keep trying to hammer them home.