OUT campaign for those who don’t believe in God

August 1, 2007 | By | 62 Replies More

When I was in my 20’s, I was called a “God damned atheist” by a man who was sorely disappointed that I didn’t march off to the Catholic Church with his family.   I was dating his daughter at the time, and I had been welcomed to visit her family home for that weekend. Everything was going well until Sunday morning.   After I declined his invitation to go to Mass, the livid father announced that I was no longer welcome in that house.  It was as if I had tried to set the house on fire.  Worse yet, my then-girlfriend’s father was a college philosophy teacher—I had assumed that professors would be more tolerant than that.  I was shocked at his intolerance and I abided by his request.

I could give many other stories documenting that I have experienced discrimination, including discrimination that took the form of wholesale emotional rejection by adults when I was young and vulnerable.  My stories would not be unique. Here is an especially disturbing episode involving another young man. 

In many parts of America, those who don’t believe in God are stigmatized by members of their own communities.  That is the reason for the “Out” campaign.

As more and more people join the OUT Campaign, fewer and fewer people will feel intimidated by religion. We can help others understand that atheists come in all shapes, sizes, colours and personalities. We are labourers and professionals. We are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers and grandparents. We are human (we are primates) and we are good friends and good citizens. We are good people who have no need to cling to the supernatural.

It is time to let our voices be heard regarding the intrusion of religion in our schools and politics. Atheists along with millions of others are tired of being bullied by those who would force their own religious agenda down the throats of our children and our respective governments. We need to KEEP OUT the supernatural from our moral principles and public policies.

If you want to make your rejection of bureaucratic religion visible, you can buy t-shirts or bumper stickers. 

I must admit, though, that I am ambivalent about this campaign.  On the one hand, it is shameful that so many people ostracize those of us who don’t claim allegiance to a religion, as though we are per se immoral.  Statistics don’t bear out that non-believers are any less willing to help those in need than believers.  As I’ve argued before, non-religious altruism is a higher form of morality.   It is a purer form of morality to help others because it is the right thing to do, rather than because “God” ordered one to do it under threat of burning in hell.  Yet, somehow, the alleged immorality of non-believers is taken as a given by many Americans. 

For this reason that non-believers are unfairly criticized and politically ostracized, the “Out” campaign is critically important and I do hope it succeeds in its goals.   As Richard Dawkins writes, there are huge numbers of non-believers out there–if more of them would stand up and be counted, it would be harder to discriminate against all of us.

On the other hand, I am not comfortable with the term “atheist” being at the vanguard of the movement.  “Atheist” comes loaded with connotations of immorality and stridency.  “Atheist” is also a term that suggests, to many people, that one does not have a poetically spiritual side, that one does not appreciate walks in the forest, meditation, or the mutually-healing power of doing good works for others.  The problem is that the forces of intolerance have successfully commandeered the word “atheist.”

Personally, I find that it makes a huge difference whether I call myself an “atheist” or, rather, whether I characterize myself as someone who doesn’t “believe in God” or “follow a religion.”  When I’ve described myself in a way that doesn’t use the term “atheist,” I’ve found that the people with whom I am conversing are much less threatened and much more willing to engage in meaningful dialogue. 

An even better approach, in my experience, is to announce that I reject “bureaucratic religion.”  I find that this approach is quite well accepted by most of those who claim to belong to religions.  In my experience, most believers are troubled (some more than others) that religions try to get their members to assert factually vacuous claims in order to inspire or scare the members into conforming to programs that are essentially political.  It is amazing to me how many people, including church-goers, are at least somewhat suspicious of organized religions for this reason (and other reasons). 

What is the alternative to belonging to a religion?   How about making the search for ultimate truth a private decision for each person?  What if each of us undertook his or her search for “God” or “Meaning” in a manifestly unregimented way? Most people are quite open to this idea, at least in principle.  It’s an idea that meshes well with freedom of expression.  This approach would be a lot more work for the many who belong to the most regimented religions.   Many such people consider the search for meaning accomplished by engaging in rote oxymoronic chatter once per week.   I’m not trying to be cruel when I write this criticism–addressing one’s God with a rote prayer makes no more sense to me that if you regularly addressed your parents, children or friends with rote passages written hundreds of years ago instead of talking with them.  Reading things at each other strikes me as an odd way to try to communicate.

I’m aware that the negative connotations could change over time if this “Out” campaign is successful, but I’m afraid that shoving “atheist” in people’s faces might kick up the temperature without generating productive dialogue.

I’m for coming “out,” of course.  All of us should come “out” to our well-founded beliefs.   I just want to make sure that when non-believers do it, it is done in a way that achieves the stated goals of the campaign:  to put a halt to the discrimination and intimidation.

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Category: Good and Evil, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (62)

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  1. Pat says:

    Thanks for the article, Erich. I am a lifelong atheist, and came to that personal truth at a very young age (I was 7). Since I'm a feisty sort, the kind of crap aimed at me by religious enthusiasts didn't & doesn't really bother me, but I must say being constantly bombarded by the symbolism & the media's mawkish pandering IS annoying. Canada's public life is not nearly as affected as it is in the US — it is unlikely we would ever elect someone as far right religiously as George Bush, for instance, and never would such a person get even CLOSE to the opportunity to become leader of our country — but we, too, have churches on every corner sucking the air out of our neighbourhood real estate; a still-raging debate on whether or not to prosecute the perverts who "marry" little girls under the guise of "God's will" & Mormonism; priests who ripped the heart, the sex & the life out of a whole generation of First Nations & other kids while the Catholic/Anglican churches denied, lied & hid them for years; and, elected town Councils who pray before each meeting so as to persuade "God" to bless their latest sewer system repair budget. Sigh …. In truth, Erich, I thought your article was trying hard not to offend, but I could feel the anger bubbling beneath …

    I might just get one of those bumper stickers (even though I'm already pretty OUT about this stuff), but in my community (which has the most churches per capita in the country — how DID I end up here?) that's likely to get me bumper STRUCK by at least some of those gooood Christians out there. May the power be with you all …

  2. phrog says:

    We don't choose what we believe. We are presented with evidence, apply logic and reason and draw conclusions. I too, dislike the tag of "Atheist" but find it shorthand to sum up my basic beliefs, or lack thereof. I don't understand why believers get so defensive when I merely mention that I am Atheist. I really do not care what they believe as long as they don't legislate their beliefs into law, or spend my tax dollars in institutions that educate and proselytize any religious thought. And I certainly am not out to recruit or deconvert anyone. As far as the OUT program, I am all for it if it will help Americans realize that we are part of this country, and the body politic should realize we really represent a large enough portion of the population to sway the vote.

  3. Among christians there are a few who will tell you "don't preach if you can keep from it". The point being that if you can keep from it you have not been called to preach. I would tell "put preferred label here" not to believe if you can keep from it. If you act like you believe when you haven't been "called to it", in other words, you have been persuaded rather than convinced, you will cause more harm than good. We don't choose, God does the choosing when it is your time.

    Christians are taught to "come out from among them and be ye separate". I would tell all the unbelievers to get out of the churches. I would tell the believers to get out of the churches, if they are in ones like Mr. Vieth describes. Believers don't belong in institutions that teach "commandments and doctrines of men".

    The level of deniability has been rising for centuries in lockstep with religious innovation. Jesus said "If ye love me keep my commandments". That is what separates the wheat from the chaff. Far too many cannot seem to separate the innovations of men from Jesus' teachings, or even care to acknowledge the distinction.

  4. Larry Kluth says:

    Faith is an emotion that I don't think the psychologists really understand, How can so many wildly different theologies be so readily accepted by mankind. We are still killing one another over differences in religious Dogma. The Pope just proclaimed that only real Catholics will make it to heaven. Many of the Christian denominations claim the same thing. Mormons still believe only they have Gods way to heaven. Someone needs to apply a little reason and logic here. They can't all be right.

    Faith is what keeps otherwise honest people from looking for the truth.

    With all the great advances in science and technology; I think it is a perfect time for the religiously faithful to question their faith. This certainly applies to all religious faiths; Christian, Islam, Judaism, and all who believe in a supernatural controlling God.

    With all the DNA evidence that has been repeatedly duplicated within various scientific specialties; the arguments against evolution should be questioned by people honestly looking for the truth.

    There is now so much repeatable evidence that the universe, and all matter, were created in a big bang; that here again, the religious faithful must question their faith.

    What a shame that we are still killing one another over differences in religious Dogma.

    This is one big world and we are all related. Let's learn to live together.

    Church leaders also have a real problem with the truth. Look at the great cover up in the pedophilia in the Catholic church. Protestant ministers are in the news all the time for their dishonorable actions and cover up.

    Honesty is the best policy. It sure would be nice to find a way to give our leaders the moral backbone to be honest.

    Faith and prayer are not working. Please give more careful consideration, to reason, logic and science.

  5. Martin says:

    It has been suggested that to insist that there is no god is equally as arrogant as to insist that there is a god. This claim is false for a number of reasons; I will confine myself to just one.

    I will rely on an analogy with a court of law. In either the US of A – where I suspect most respondents reside – or in Britain – where I am – the law operates from a simple premise; a person is innocent until proven guilty. What that means is that the prosecutor will claim that I broke the law and the onus is on him to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his claim is true. There is no requirement for me to prove anything at all, for I am presumed innocent from the start. Obviously, it would help my case if I can show that I was elsewhere at the relevant time, but I do not have to prove anything, or even speak in my defence. It is entirely up to the prosecutor, the one making the claim, to prove that his claim is true.

    The correspondence with the religious debate is obvious. If you want to claim that a supernatural entity created the universe and everything in it, that this entity bore a direct descendent who died to save us all and that if we all believe this with you we will be similarly saved, then natural law, from which our formal law is descended, says that the onus is on you to demonstrate that your claim is true beyond a reasonable doubt. I, on the other hand, make no extraordinary claim whatsoever and therefore have to prove nothing.

    QED.

  6. Dan Klarmann says:

    Martin: I know several true believers. They have personal relationships with their ever present deity, and see his signature in every object and action around them.

    To them, the extraordinary claim is that this ubiquitous and very obvious entity does not exist. The observation that man-made unbiased instruments can find no evidence that he exists merely means that the instruments (made by man) are inferior to their own belief (planted by God). They embrace the agent fallacy (that everything has an intending cause), so cannot be convinced that some things "just happen". Every minuscule object and fleeting event is part of God's Plan.

    There is no amount of objective proof or reason that can convince them otherwise.

  7. Neeraj says:

    There has to be some rules to be followed.In schools and colleges we get them and after that we have to follow god.

  8. Dan Klarmann says:

    Social imprinting gives us most of our rules. "As God Intended" is a perfect synonym for "What I'm Used To". Rules that we absorb before we are able to think them through feel God-given. Rules that we impose on children without realizing it — because they were imprinted early in us — seem "natural".

    Godless cultures follow pretty much the same rules as God-fearing or God-loving cultures. This is social evolution in action: Rules that work prevail. Rules that damage a group get left behind.

    To follow God's rules is simply to act on the moral compass that was polarized into one before we realized it was being programmed. The Biblical rules that are hard to follow (or even those that are ignored even by the devout) are hard because they make no moral sense, even when you can intellectually justify them.

  9. Martin says:

    Dan Klarmann: I take your point. In which case I delete the word *extraordinary* from my post and it still says what I wanted to say. It is up to the person making the claim to prove that it is true.

    Your Reply: True believers are not making a claim, they are simply stating the blindingly obvious.

    My Response: Well, if it's so obvious that god exists, why did Thomas Aquinas, a true believer if ever there was one, have to invent no less than five false proofs of his existence?

    Your Reply: True believers say the fact that they can't prove his existence proves that god has decided that they don't have to prove his existence. Therefore god exists.

    When all I can do is quote Dawkins: That's an argument?

  10. Martin, if you go to court you do have to defend yourself, whether you are in Britain or elsewhere. It would look really bad for you if the prosecutor said, "He was seen entering the victim's house carrying a gun when the crime happened." and the only thing you did was respond with silence and your conviction that you are innocent anyway. There's a good reason people don't walk alone into court and instead are accompanied by a lawyer.

    "I, on the other hand, make no extraordinary claim whatsoever and therefore have to prove nothing."

    You're quite the exception then.

  11. Martin says:

    projektleiterin: I am not saying that keeping quiet is necessarily a good strategy. I am saying that the court does not require me to speak.

    The court does however require the prosecution to present a case. They cannot just file into court and say, "He did it your Honour. It's a done deal." They are required to present their evidence.

    Remember, the court room was only an analogy summoned up to explain why it is that the person making the claim is required to prove their claim, while those who do not believe their claim are not required to prove that it is not true. If I believe in Santa Claus I am required to prove that she exists. If you don't believe in Santa Claus there is nothing for you to prove, and there is therefore nothing you can be compelled to say on the subject.

    And that is why I am most decidedly not the exception when I keep silence about the existence of god. If believers want to have tax money flowing in to their coffers on account of their belief, and if believers want permission to operate outside of the laws the rest of us obey because of their belief, then they are IMO morally compelled to demonstrate that their belief is in something other than a piece of flim flam and hokum.

    Having a belief in a creation myth involving some form of invisible omnipotent being is not necessarily a bad thing for some people; most of whom are under seven years of age. But when their belief extends to them seeking a social and financial advantage because of their belief then they have social responsibility to justify those advantages to the rational, critical thinking, rest of us. After all, in my country it is still a crime to obtain money by deception.

  12. Martin, sorry, I misread your comment. Forget what I wrote. 😀

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