The Persecution of Atheists

Religious Persecution

Photo by mind on fire (flickr.com)

I was recently asked a question on my formspring account that I thought deserved a longer reply:

Do you know any atheist who has not been persecuted for his/her (lack of) beliefs?

Ah, persecution. I think this word is used far too often by privileged people. For example, overly sensitive Christians claim persecution by those who don’t agree with them and who promote secularism and equal treatment. Of course this isn’t persecution at all, but who doesn’t like playing the victim when they’re so used to getting their way? I know a childish tantrum when I see one.

Anyway, there is real persecution in the world, and no matter who is being targeted, I think we should all fight for their rights and freedoms. People are imprisoned for their political and religious beliefs in many countries across the world. Many are tortured or killed simply because they will not follow the majority. To these people of all religions and non-religions, I say I’m so, so sorry. That is what persecution truly looks like. We belittle their lives when we claim to go through the same struggles.

So how about atheists being persecuted?

As you can see, I do not think many atheists are actually persecuted in the most serious sense in the developed nations, but I know some are personally harassed or discriminated against because of weighty false assumptions about the character and morality of non-theists. This is wrong, and it should definitely stop. We do have the right to speak up about inequality and gaining respect.

Have I been a victim of this treatment? Not really, no. I’ve had many people assume false things about my character since learning of my godlessness. I’ve had to keep my atheism a secret from my work environment for fear of layoffs and general stress. I know that I could not be voted into office if I ran as an atheist. These sorts of things are not terrible hardships, however. As I see it, I’m very fortunate.

So there you have it: I don’t think many atheists are persecuted in this culture, and I certainly have not been myself. Are things unequal? Yes, they are! We’re treated as an unimportant minority even though our numbers say differently. I hope things will change in my lifetime. We may not always be a so-called “Christian nation”.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

45 Comments


  1. *nod nod* I’ve definitely had people act like dicks towards me because of being an atheist. But that’s it. It’s a far cry from the days when people were regularly burned at the stake for deviations from religious dogma, let alone anything as radical as atheism. Humanity has actually come a long way, in that sense.

    Also, it strikes me that a lot of that bad stuff mostly stems from ignorance, not deliberate maliciousness. I’ve known many people, say, who have some boneheaded ideas about atheism, but they don’t mean to be jerks — they just don’t know, and haven’t questioned what they think they know. When you gently correct them, they usually respond well.
    .-= Gregory’s last blog ..Honesty Project, Day 1: Starting off by jumping in the deep end. =-.

    • Yeah, how simple can it be, really. Most people are just douchebags out of ignorance. And as we know, ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds hate and so on. Confront the ignorance and the rest of it cleans right up (well, mostly). I do think that is one of the main reasons for movements like the Out Campaign and other public atheist/freethinker/secular efforts. Why sit in the dark and complain that people don’t understand us? It just doesn’t make sense.

  2. Nice post. I notice for myself that when I get angry at the Boy Scouts, for example, it’s more about the fact that they exclude gays than that they exclude atheists. I don’t recall seeing news accounts of people in the US being beaten or killed for being an atheist, and even when I lived in Texas, about the worst that happened to me was becoming some Christian’s conversion project for a semester.

    • Oh I am definitely angry with the Boy Scouts for religious discrimination too. But hey, we all have one or two causes that get us riled up more than others.

    • You made me think more clearly. I have long been a champion of the underdog and downtrodden. These days my supervisor is gay. And I just read about kids from some school being suspended (yes “suspended”) for driving a gay kid to suicide. You know what? I would want to make those kids who drove that kid to suicide deeply regret what they did for at least 20 years. Let that act influence their lives. They should become losers. They should never amount to much. That is my wish. That is not cruelty at all on my part. I have been an overweight kid on the receiving side of bullying. That is how I developed a kinship with the people who are different and could not help being different. Of course, I’ve been an atheist most of my life!

  3. have to agree with you. atheists aren’t given the best treatment in this country, but having lived next door to south africa, i know what real persecution is, and atheists have it good compared to blacks in the apartheid days!

    like you said, they deserve better treatment, but, yeah, it ain’t that bad.

    and christians have it so rough. *tears whelming deep in my eyes* give me an effing break!

    funny enough, us agnostics never seem to get it as bad as atheists. i guess they still have hope for us. but most agnostics i know would rather be atheists than christians. i know i never hide the fact i don’t believe in the bible or the christian god!

    • Agnosticism sounds so… peacekeeping. It sounds like a non-committal middle-of-the-road position to take when you’re too soft to declare “I don’t believe in any god” or “I believe in a specific spiritual path”. I realize that to many, agnosticism is a philosophical position chosen by thinkers who have examined and searched for evidence. You’re one of my very favorite agnostics since you are comfortable in your position and I believe you don’t choose it just to avoid making a decision. But believers may just see you as “a nice person who doesn’t know any better yet.” Watch out! Most of those evangelistic tracts are for you ;)

      • In reality, there is no practical difference between an agnostic and an atheist (agnostic is more like a weasel word to me). Both will reorder their lives in exactly the same way to accommodate the possibility of a ‘god’ – not at all. If either ever saw evidence of a ‘god’ they would treat the evidence with the same level of skepticism and would require the same level of proof to believe.

        It’s a difference without a difference.

  4. Thank you for writing this post. I’m flattered that my question inspired it.

    Okay, so “persecuted” was too harsh a word. I agree with what you’ve written, but the main point about my question is that we, atheists (aka “heathens”) take a lot of crap from people who really should know better. Some of these folks are friends and otherwise intelligent individuals, but as soon as the A word comes up, they get so freaked out that they have to put us down, right to our faces.

    I’m not whining – I mean, I’m tough and I can take it – but it seems stupid to have to defend NOT believing in magical, mythical stories and beings. I’m just saying it’s a shame it’s not the majority viewpoint in this world.

    I’m careful not to stoop to that same, low level right back at them. I would like to think that I’m above it, but I’m human. I ebb. I flow. I cope. I share. Sometimes people like it and sometimes they don’t. I will not let them silence me in shame. I have rights. And not being in the majority may even be helping me better understand my (lack of) beliefs even better. Adversity is an effective teacher.

    For the record, I am not about persecuting people in the true sense of the word, as you defined above. It’s wrong to fuck with other people’s lives over disagreements. I’m a humanist, after all. I believe that if we all can’t live a good life on Earth, that’s it. There’s no second chance. Atheists, at least for that one reason, seem to be more humane as a group than the religious groups have been. I would like people to open their minds to all those differences and celebrate them, rather than homogenize the world into a bunch of clones.
    .-= Benia Zouras’s last blog ..I Will Have Better Days =-.

    • I’m not whining – I mean, I’m tough and I can take it – but it seems stupid to have to defend NOT believing in magical, mythical stories and beings. I’m just saying it’s a shame it’s not the majority viewpoint in this world.

      Oh I’m with you on this. Imagine having to defend your lack of belief in leprechauns! Preposterous.

      Great thoughts all around! I’m so glad you asked this question in the first place. So thought-inspiring!

      • ‘Oh I’m with you on this. Imagine having to defend your lack of belief in leprechauns! Preposterous.’

        –The reasons you are treate so badly is because of your rudeness.

        Of course you disagree that you’re rude and condescending. But I am sure that Stalin (who was an atheist by the way)thought that he was a swell guy too. Since you think that atheism is so wonderful and religion is awful, why don’t you move to the atheistic state of North Korea?

        • Huh? How come we atheists must move to North Korea? I’m a capitalist, not a communist. And I’m also an atheist. I would die the first day in NK. The USA is not a Christian nation, but the way. The first amendment guarantees freedom from having an established religion. Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin were deists. Ron Paul is a Christian but he is a strict constitution man who would not impose religion on us. So no, atheist can be Americans too. You want a theocratic nation? Look to the Taliban-ruled Afganistan as your model. Some model huh?

        • Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Kim Il-sung weren’t murderous dictators because they were atheists. They were murderous dictators because they were evil, power hungry bastards.

          They were atheists because they didn’t want any organization (like a church) which could challenge them. If it had suited their plans they’d have been whirling dervishes. Each created a cult of personality – in which they became gods, just as many kings have claimed they were anointed by ‘god’. That’s also what happened to an extent with Hitler – although he died a Christian.

          They all embraced the same philosophy — “Unless you are the lead dog on the dog sled team the view never changes”.

    • Ahh.. good the my assumption was correct. You were speaking “persecuted” pejoratively, and the author took it to mean literal persecution.

      Semantics isn’t easy. Aren’t? Shoot grammar is hard enough.

    • Sometimes people can be so “open-minded” that their brain falls out.

  5. godbots don’t think that they are persecuting us atheists when they say were are immoral perverts, they think they are being honest.

    just like they think that saying the same about gays and lesbians is helping

    • There is a thread on Fox News.com a few months ago. Maybe it was Fox News’ Facebook. It was about atheism. The bloggers mostly were in favor of executing atheists! I saw so for myself. Funny that their own leaders, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh praise the ATHEIST Ayn Rand and her “Atlas Shrugged,” but they are too shallow to make the connection that atheism is not necessarily collectivist.

  6. @OlderMusicGeek

    the reason agnostics don’t get a bad rap is because that is not a position on whether a diety is real or not

    agnostic is a position that we can’t really know either way – it’s a statement about knowledge.

    so it doesn’t challenge believers and they interpret that position as being positive.

    whereas the atheist position is no evidence, no reason to accept the claims for a deity.

    what’s funny to me is that the only difference between a believer and an atheist is ONE.

    all believers are atheists to all other faiths but their own.

  7. Only in America… I’m usually willing to argue any adherent to any superstition to a standstill. However, I reserve a particular passion for the brainwashed God Squad who turn up on your doorstop with their twisted agendae.

    Bring on the anti-religious ethnic cleansers, I say!

  8. “Have I been a victim of this treatment? Not really, no. I’ve had many people assume false things about my character since learning of my godlessness. I’ve had to keep my atheism a secret from my work environment for fear of layoffs and general stress.”

    It seems to me that the only reason you haven’t been a victim of this treatment is because you’ve kept your lack of religious beliefs a secret at work. If you fear religious discrimination potentially resulting in layoffs and religious persecution resulting in general stress, then I’d say you’re not as fortunate as you think you are.

    Atheists aren’t being stoned to death, but we still have to deal with discrimination.

    • You wanted me to disagree, but I can’t be two-faced! I’ll just quote what I said in the post ;)

      I know some are personally harassed or discriminated against because of weighty false assumptions about the character and morality of non-theists. This is wrong, and it should definitely stop. We do have the right to speak up about inequality and gaining respect.

      So take your disagreement and suck it. :P haha thanks for the comment!

    • Finally, proof that athiesm is the new religion of the day.

  9. I have found that most “religious” people, especially Christians, are the biggest hypocrites on the planet. I realize that that statement is not that shocking, but what I do find shocking is their view of what Atheism is all about. They actually believe that Atheists have no moral compass or the ability to have compassion for others, simply because we don’t take our marching orders from the imaginary man in the sky. I have found the complete opposite to be true, and I’m sure most of you have too. It scares me to think that, if not for the bible, these people would have no clue that theft and murder might be wrong. I also have a problem with any religion (all of them really) that gives you the opportunity to repent and absolve yourself of all sins, simply by going to confession. This is why these people are hypocrites to the tenth power and Atheists are not. Because we believe that this is all there is, and we treat everyone the way we want to be treated. I know I’m generalizing a little, but Catholic school has beaten any love for the church right out of me.

    • I can empathize with the resentment you have for hypocrisy and ignorant thinking. I’ve been fortunate to know many, many great religious/spiritual people. In fact, the hypocrites, the “good ones,” and us atheists all have something in common: we act how we want to act. If we love others and have humility and goodwill, then no matter what our beliefs, we’ll make decisions based on love and humility. If we’re douchebags who like to get away with as much as possible and have bigotry, prejudice, and anger in our hearts, that’s how we’ll treat others. Perhaps religion does play a part in it like you say, but I don’t think it will keep anyone from being worse than they already want to be. We make decisions based on what we desire most, no matter what we’re being ordered or taught to do.

  10. Also, check this guy out.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/C0ct0pusPrime#p/c/36DD0548F6ED6CC5/25/OAnzdzzU_iU

    He’s dead on about Atheism, Fox news and civil rights.

  11. It’s not about persecution. It’s about being marginalized. We are swept aside because of our lack of belief….

    Those who are true believers, and the faithful that run the government, etc…. they can’t even wrap their heads around “lack of belief”. It’s so frustrating.

    Persecution is talking about Atheists during the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, or the Holocaust…. Atheists and non believers are the most commonly persecuted group in history because the lack of belief manifests itself in other ways… political action, etc. Anytime a religious war heats up, atheists get grouped in with the opposition. Gays and Atheists during the Holocaust, for example, were peripheral to the intent of targeting Jews… but they got obliterated just as the Jews did.

    Talking about “persecution” in a free society is a bit petulent, or pedantic, or whatever. There’s no persecution…

    So I think the original question was likely hyperbole or pejorative, but you took it as a literal “In the US, are atheists shackled in a dungeon and left to rot”.

    The answer is no.

    But are we completely swept aside as a group and wholly marginalized, demonized, and made to be irrelevant? Yes we are.

    You can say Atheist without it being a dirty word. What’s more, religiosos have so tainted the concept that people, literally and completely, think it means “the active denial of God”, when it really means “without belief”.

    But you can’t get a culture that believes in things on faith with no evidence to understand the need for evidence before you philosophically venture to think of something as true.

    It’s a problem. So are atheists treated like shit… yup. Are we beaten and flogged? Nope.

    But if it wasn’t such a naughty concept… I wonder how many of us would be proud, and how many would be open, and really out there.

    It’s the next civil rights movement after gays get their legal due and start getting treated like normal people, aka the pious, god fearing, unethical, cheating, villainous, hate filled spiteful humans, IMHO.

  12. I suppose it depends what is meant by persecution. Atheists are frequent victims of discrimination and bigotry, but I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call that persecution. Then again, I’m also not sure what else would have to happen before I’d take that leap.

  13. Excellent story, bookmarked your site with hopes to read more!

  14. I agree persecution is a harsh word. We do know stories from the news about particular atheists that have been genuinely persecuted (Damon Fowler, for instance). But I also agree that for most atheists, while it doesn’t really rise to that level, hiding who you are to avoid it isn’t healthy. I don’t advertize my godlessness, but I refused to pretend not to notice when others comdemn atheists and so I’ve “come out” at work. It’so engendered coworkers to tell me that I’m going to burn in hell, to the point I’ve considered talking to HR about it. That wouldn’t be acceptable if I was Jewish. The community atheists live in matters a lot. 20 years ago, I got a death threat for admitting my atheism in an op-ed in our local paper, and I wasn’t in the deep South. I will say this much about the way I am treated as an atheist… it is more overt than the discrimination I face as a woman.

  15. Oppressive harassment is the definition of persecution. So, “Persecute” can actually apply in many of these cases of anti-atheist bigotry. Not every case. But, being laid off would seem like a situation where persecute would fit the description.

  16. The best way for an atheist to fight back against persecution is to simply ask these questions towards “Christians who will/do persecute them”.

    Question Set 1
    How much % of your money do you donate to charity.
    -If they say they donate X amount to church.
    Ask them how much money their church spends to aid orphans and widows-

    Which BTW if you study the OT is the main reason the tithe 10% was collected from the people.- To care for the orphans and widows.

    Question Set 2
    Ask them if they take care of their family.
    (and how)
    Then ask them- are not other people also your family even though they are not blood relatives?
    (ask them how they justify the resources they spend towards their blood relatives compared to their spiritual relatives who are in need)

  17. My wife was forced to leaver her job as an 8th grade science teacher because she inadvertently mentioned not believing in god. A student asked her where do you go to church? Without thinking, my wife answered that she didn’t go to church. The follow up was “Why not?” My wife answered “I don’t believe in god”.
    It wasn’t the parents that made her quit. The students began to harass her, vandalize her property, threaten her with violence including rape. The school administrators did nothing. That was last year.
    Having gotten away with that, this year, the students confronted my daughter, a 9th grader. We had to withdraw her from her public school for her safety.
    We want to move away from Texas, but we will lose our house and all of our savings. I feel like a German Jew in 1938.
    This is what you can expect if Rick Perry becomes president. Yes, the ratcheting up of intolerance toward religious minorities began under then governor Bush. But actual violence against atheists began when Rick Perry came into office and really go going when the Tea Party started up.
    We have started going out armed. (Of course, that’s not unusual for Texas residents) I do feel that we are in some physical jeopardy. Ten years ago, I would not have believed that a school girl in United States would bullied out of public schools for being an atheist. No, the TEA doesn’t care; the school administration would rather our daughter just go away than deal with it, even though she is GT and has always received commended scores on the standardized tests. The CHRISTIAN students who are the perpetrators are predominantly Free Lunch/Special Ed/”At Risk”/low income types.
    So, while the discrimination may not be “official”; it is certainly tolerated. In many ways, this makes it far more effective and efficient.

  18. To downplay our treatment because it can be so much worse in other parts of the world is a terrible mistake and it borders on cowardice. I have three kids. They have all come home from school at some point, in tears, because of the harassment they receive in school. It was worse for my son who brought up his mistreatment to his teachers. Do you think it stopped? No way. Recently at my work I was forced to take an online harassment and discrimination training. I work at a state university. When it came to the section on religious harassment the guidance the university gave was “One should use caution and sensitivity when trying to influence others religious believes”. In other words people can preach to me but should stop when I become really upset by it. Do I not have the right to work without being preached to? When it comes to sexual harassment do we say “one should use caution when directing sexual comments at others”? no way. So while it is true that we are lucky we don’t live somewhere that is much worse, it is not justification for accepting things as they are.

  19. persecute – to pursue with harassing or oppressive treatment, especially because of religion, race, or beliefs; harass persistently.
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/persecute

    • I am sorry you and your family have had these experiences. The religionists are cro magnons. That’s the most I can say about them. I have no respect for their ignorance. They have no excuse for their own ignorance.

  20. i’m an agnostic-atheist. thats when you don’t believe in any god/religon but you don’t deny the existence of one. it’s easier than being an atheist.

  21. I know a girl in my school who is an atheist and isn’t persecuted. Everyone treats her like everyone else, even me a hard core Christian.

  22. So the 40 countries that have purposely descriminated Christians and have broken human right violations is fake?

  23. So try to make an atheist law in America, try to make it a “holiday tree” see how far you go with that. An comparing our God to leoercons wont help it will hurt you dum a$$, try being nice.

Leave a Reply