For the last two weeks of July, Faitheist is being guest hosted by Sarah Jones, Communications Associate for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The piece below is written by Jones; the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of her employer.

An interfaith meal packing and dialogue event at the Humanist Community at Harvard.

An interfaith meal packing and dialogue event at the Humanist Community at Harvard. Photo courtesy of HCH.

Last week, the Pew Research Center released its latest look at religion in the United States. The poll, which measured positive and negative feelings toward a variety of religious and nonreligious groups, reveals that atheists and Muslims are tied as the least favorably viewed belief traditions in the United States.

According to a “feelings thermometer,” the two groups are rated the “coldest” by respondents. Jews, Evangelicals and Catholics, however, are rated “warmest,” with minority groups like Hindus and Buddhists hovering somewhere in the middle.

The results aren’t an aberration. A 2012 Gallup poll showed that overall, Americans are least likely to vote for either an atheist or Muslim as president; the two groups were tied for the dubious honor. Two years later, it seems that things haven’t changed much. But Pew’s poll provides some additional data that indicates these social attitudes are beginning to shift.

Younger Americans tended to rate atheists (and Muslims) much more highly than their elders did. Among Americans aged 18-29, the two groups were tied for 49% favorability. Their grandparents weren’t quite as positive; 34 percent of Americans aged 65 and up approved of atheists, and 32 percent approved of Muslims. Pew posits that this is likely because there are fewer Christians in the younger generation, and based on what we already know about the Nones, that seems like a reasonable argument.

But although respondents ranked their own groups most highly, they were also more likely to report having positive feelings toward other religious traditions as long as a friend or relative belonged to them. A Mormon may certainly prefer Mormonism, but he’s also more likely to think warmly of atheism if he actually knows an atheist.

Break the data down a bit further, and it’s obvious: Prejudice is often fed and sustained by ideological insularity. And atheists aren’t immune from it themselves. As a group, atheists gave their lowest ratings to Evangelical Christians, Mormons and Muslims. With the exception of Evangelical Christians, low ratings for Mormons and Muslims also correlated to a lack of familiarity with those groups. (Interestingly, agnostics reported warmer feelings toward the same groups, as did those who identified themselves as “nothing in particular.”)

Two conclusions can be gleaned from this data: One, atheists should be encouraged that younger adults are more tolerant of religious diversity. And two, familiarity destroys contempt.

The latter is a claim that interfaith activists have been making for decades. But despite this, atheists are still divided over the use of engaging in interfaith dialogue. Many consider it an irrelevant exercise: If religious beliefs are objectively false, there’s nothing to be gained from interacting with people of faith. Others take issue with the term itself, on the basis that “interfaith” erases nonreligious people. But whatever you choose to call it, the practice of building relationships with members of different belief traditions has clear benefits for everyone involved.

And while it’s true the plural of anecdote is not data, my own experiences with interfaith dialogue seem to support that conclusion. As a de-convert recovering from religious abuse, interfaith work didn’t seem like a natural fit and giving it a chance felt like a risk. But it’s a decision I’ve never regretted. I’ve found that I’m often the first atheist a person of faith has encountered. (Off the Internet, at least). More often, I’m the first de-convert they’ve encountered. It’s a chance to humanize the process of de-conversion—and explain nonreligious perspectives—to individuals who’ve only ever heard second-hand accounts of both.

Dialogue is reciprocal by nature. Atheists who engage in interfaith work also learn about the lived practices of religious belief, which isn’t something you necessarily glean from a textbook or an online forum. It’s much easier to dismiss all Muslim women as oppressed victims, or all queer Christians as misguided fools, if you don’t know anyone from either category. Once you do, it becomes unmistakably obvious that religious experiences are as complex as your own and that you don’t need to agree about God in order to have conversations about more important issues. That’s particularly important, given that atheists repeatedly tie with a religious group—Muslims—in measures of social favor.

Atheists are quite rightfully concerned about facing stigma for their beliefs. Pew’s poll is evidence that we’ve got some ground to cover before we’re socially accepted. But as we contemplate ways to eliminate that stigma, we should consider interfaith dialogue as a means of doing so. It might not be the only solution to the problem, but evidence is growing that it’s a viable path to acceptance.

Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones. Photo courtesy Jones.

Sarah Jones is the Communications Associate for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Prior to joining AU, she volunteered for Femin Ijtihad, where she researched Islamic law and women’s rights. She holds a Master of Arts in Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy from Goldsmiths, University of London, and tweets at @onesarahjones.

82 Comments

  1. Atheism is not “religious diversity”. Its a lack of a religion in the first place.

    And there are less young christians each generation because america is a sad place ro raise a child. They are taught to hate the idea of a god in public school, and every media idol they are given is a godless millionaire.

    Somehow each young person gets the idea that a godless life is all glamor from what they see. Then they grow up.

      • I have the assumption that everyone regardless of where they come from wants to be right. Being right or correct means social acceptance follows. It also implies you are a smart educated person and relevant to your time and the people around you. Being right is a path to finding a place in a broader group.

        Combine that inherent social dynamic with the mandate to only teach evolutionary theory in public schools. So every american child grows up learning this is all that is right…all that is correct. So its not hard to imagine they follow what they were told was right and correct in order to gain acceptance with their peers who were similarly taught thr same and seek the same level of social reinforcement and acceptance.

        What I’ve basically described is the mechanics of groupthink. Its just a dynamic. Its constant in any group…only its motivators and disincentives change.

        So a creationist or someone otherwise different largely misses out on social acceptance because he is not right. Not correct. The lack of social acceptance is many times called hate. As in the lgbt people of the world fighting for their rights. They call a lack of social acceptance “hate” all the time.

        So when we only teach one theory, we reinforce non acceptance of anyone who thinks otherwise.

        • Lles Nats,

          As I thought. You can’t point to anyplace in public school that teaches “to hate the idea of god.” Instead you wrote five obtuse paragraphs saying that teaching evolution is somehow hatred. It isn’t.

          • I bet you believe those people who voted against gay marriage are full of hate.

            Same principle. You can’t have it both ways if you want to have an honest conversation.

        • Even before I hit “send” on this, I’ll tell you this thread will go nowhere. Creationists aren’t listening, but here it is anyway.

          Lles writes: “Combine that inherent social dynamic with the mandate to only teach evolutionary theory in public schools.”

          I know that you’ve seen this before, but you’re obviously ignoring it. You already know that “theory” in science means something pretty airtight backed by reams of tested evidence. You also know that there is no 100% certainty in science, but “theory” is as close as it gets to fact. Evolution is as close to fact as it gets in science.

          There’s no refusal to teach other sides. There just isn’t any other side. Creationism is religious doctrine and doesn’t belong in science class. Similar to your concerns about young people, there’s no conspiracy by scientists to push creationism out of the science classroom. It’s just not relevant, so most scientists just don’t pay it any attention.

    • Lles, I think it’s a lot more benign than that, although from your standpoint it comes to the same thing. You have the definition of most atheists right, lack of religion. But you exaggerate the “taught to hate the idea of a god in public school.” Just like most atheists (except the vocal minority), many young people just don’t care. Religion has become irrelevant in daily life, so they don’t pay much attention one way or the other. It’s hardly a glorification of the godless lifestyle. God just doesn’t come up.

  2. Henry Chambers

    You might be overestimating the familiarity of the general public with evangelicals.
    Many people’s familiarity might come overwhelmingly and maybe even exclusively from the media, and the media are mostly negative about evangelicals. Remember that not long ago (when Bush won the first time) many in the media, even at the New York Times, said they didn’t know one evangelical? I wonder if that has changed much. No wonder that the media often portray evangelicals as ignorant, uneducated, if not bigots and hatemongers. When you are opposed to abortion (killing babies in the womb) you are portrayed as being at war with women (even the many woman who are opposed?). When one believes that no person has the right to redefine marriage because it is instituted by God, one is portrayed as homophobe and hatemonger, and it is assumed that you only think that way because you have no loved ones who are gay.

    • When you are opposed to abortion (killing babies in the womb) you are portrayed as being at war with women (even the many woman who are opposed?). When one believes that no person has the right to redefine marriage because it is instituted by God, one is portrayed as homophobe and hatemonger, and it is assumed that you only think that way because you have no loved ones who are gay.

      Henry, I just couldn’t give a flying fig about your religious justifications for those views. When I encounter people like you, you actually encourage a deeping of my dislike for evangelicals. Why? Because you use your religion as an excuse to control and abuse women and sexual minorities via your political power.

      Drop the abuse and maybe my attitude toward people like you will warm a bit. In this case, familiarity doesn’t breed warm feelings. Rather, it breeds contempt.

      And I don’t even identify as an atheist but I am a woman and I’m queer. So, yeah, I kind of hate your guts for the abuse that you and others inflict upon us, all the while proclaiming that your fucked up actions are guided by your god’s will.

      • Henry Chambers

        Timberwraith: you write: “you use your religion as an excuse to control and abuse women and sexual minorities via your political power…”
        No, I don’t. I express my honest opinion that abortion is killing a baby in the womb. I agree in this with many women. Is disagreeing with you on this issue abuse?
        To me, religion is not a tool that I use. It is, rather, a relationship with God, who I have come to honor and love. He has taught me much about loving him by expressing his love for me — which he did long before I loved him, I am just responding — and he is also taught me much about loving people by his example and the way he treats me. My life is immeasurably enriched by him. The Bible does not say, “abortion is wrong.” But I figure, everybody sees killing a baby after birth as wrong. How about an hour before birth? A day? A month? Going back further, where is the line? I cannot possibly find one after conception.
        I don’t look down upon people who have had an abortion or done abortions, because I don’t believe that Christ does that. There was much dark and selfish and destructive in my life, and without scolding me and making me feel guilty and bad, he accepted me and ever since has showed me the way to a life of love and truth. (There was and still ia much to unlearn, and much to learn!) I have every reason to believe that he loves everyone just as he loves me. I want to be just like him! And I wish God’s very best to everyone. Including you, most certainly.

        • Would you outlaw or severely limit abortion, thus resulting in the deaths of countless women to botched, illegal or self-induced abortions? Just as happened before the early 70s when abortion was legalized in the US? Just as happens now in those countries without reproductive freedom?

          Would you exclude queer people from marriage rights?

          Do you support the ability for religious people to discriminate against queer people in their places of employment and businesses? Against women when it comes to access to contraception?

          Would you vote for a political candidate who supports any such measures?

          Because if your answer to any of those things is yes, then you deserve every bit of my criticism I’ve hit you with.

          • It appears to me, in a land where are the monkeys are free to run and do as they please…that voting itself is the chief problem.

      • Because if you shit on me and my loved ones in the ballot box and in your political activism, that’s no better than having just spat on us in person. I don’t care about your claims of love. I don’t care about your claims to passionate godliness. I DO care about how your behaviors impact the well being of myself and those whom I care about.

        If you are willing to legally support our full autonomy as women, as queer people, as non-Christians, then you have my blessings. However, if are willing to use the law as a tool in forcing your religious beliefs upon us and control our bodies and our lives in ways you think your conservative social agenda sees as just, then we exist as adversaries… and in that case, quite honestly, we’ve not room for compromise or fraternity.

        • Quit your screeching.

          If there is only one correct answer that enables the most freedom for the normal people and the freaks, then why vote? The voting will always fall along the lines of the person’s worldview, be it religious or hellish. So neither side will ever get what they want from the other at the voting booth. So why do it? For the sake of tradition, or illusions of self governance?

    • Every group of people has its subset who lust for control and embrace social hierarchy of one form or another.

      I see much of what passes for evangelical Christianity, in this historical era, as a thinly disguised hate group. The main thing that separates them from groups such as the KKK is that they can pretend that they their abuse comes from a place of divinely inspired love. That way, folks can sleep better at night after they’ve shat upon those in a lesser position of power.

    • RE: Abortion.
      I am an atheist, I don’t agree with abortion either, however, I have no desire to enforce my views on anyone else. If A women chooses to abort her pregnancy that is her decision to live with, not mine.

      RE: Gay marriage. I do not think all christians who oppose gay marriage are bigots. However it cannot be denied they are there. It’s rather clear in the blatant focus on homosexuality over any other sin. I in fact am indifferent if anyone wants to hold that belief. Where I differ is allowing legislation based on a religious text. This is a secular nation and Christianity has no authority over it’s citizens, preventing gays from marrying on a religious pre-text is rather counter to the Idea of American freedom.

      • I tend to agree with you in the spirit of maximizing freedom.

        But then why do we vote on these issues? I mean, we all know people will vote according to their worldview. So if you put gay marriage on the ballot in utah, the outcome should not be surprising. Nor does it make the people “haters” who by voting against are also voting their worldview?

        But why even vote if there is only one correct answer to start with?

        • Oh you can vote however you want to. However, if your vote supports actions and candidates that would turn religion into an instrument of institutional and governmental abuse, then you can expect those who are on the receiving end to respond in kind.

          Look, if you place your foot upon my neck in person or when casting a ballot, you can be damned certain there’s going to be a fight afterward.

          • You would probably be fun. I think you just look for a fight no matter what is said.

    • My ex was an evangelical. I’m an atheist (and always have been). I have sat in the pews of Evangelical churches (from Pentecostal to Non-Denominational Charismatic). In fact, Catholic and Protestant churches also. I know what they say behind closed doors in Evangelical churches, and it is ugly, hateful, and teaches members to be intolerant of anyone who doesn’t think like them. I come by my utter distaste for Evangelicals honestly. And when they start accosting me in WalMart to come to their church and worship, I consider it harassment.

  3. As an Evangelical Christian, I used to view athiests as just poor lost souls who hadn’t found God yet. They would come around, I figured, if enough people shared the Good News with them. I figured they were basically OK but confused.

    Ironically, it was when I discovered “faithiest” Chris Stedman and then his friends such as Sarah Jones here and especially Vlad Chituc that my view of athiests changed. These athiests spent all their time writing about how athiests are mean, nasty, angry and filled with spite. I figured, hey, if ATHIESTS don’t even like other athiests, why should I? My view on athiests changed.

    Thanks to interfaith dialogue, I am now a confirmed ATHEOPHOBE! Keep up the good work, Ms. JOnes! Spread the truth about athiests!

    • I’ve spent a lot of time reading the more radical fringe of the atheist community. I’ve followed the bigoted politics of evangelical Christianity for years. You both tend to make massive generalizations about all atheists and all religious people, respectively.

      You guys mirror each other in more than a few ways.

      • Evangelical Christianity is NOT bigoted. Even the athiests Chris Stedman and Sarah Jones will tell you that! That is my whole point!

        Chris has said that athiests are bigoted toward him for being gay, while Evangelicals welcome him no matter what. You cannot argue agains that without contradicing his lived experience. The whole point is that even athiests recognize that athiests are MEAN and NASTY and Christians are NICE!

        • Evengelicals are the ones using their religion to deny him equal rights under the law. If he knows some atheists that don’t like gays that’s their bag, their viewpoint has nothing to do with being an atheist.

        • Well, Chris and I are two different people. You know, we actually have differing opinions. And while I have a lot of respect for Chris, we certainly don’t see eye to eye on everything. (I’m not as familiar with Sarah but she seems reasonable as well.)

          The whole point is that even athiests recognize that athiests are MEAN and NASTY and Christians are NICE!

          HA, HA, HA, HA, HA! That’s a nice generalization you’ve got there.

          Look, I’m not an atheist, but I am a woman, transgender, and gay. I’ve gotten a fair degree of shit from conservative Christians, inside my family and out. I’ve served as a volunteer escort at abortion clinics and I’ve personally witnessed right-wing Christians yell nasty, abusive things at women entering medical clinics. They’re frightened to enter these clinics because of this treatment. I’ve done all of this in fear of the local Christian terrorist who has been known to bomb clinics. I’ve stood there wondering when my morning might end with a lead slug lodged in my brain. Christians of a conservative/evangelical stripe can be pretty fracking nasty.

          Nice. Yes, very, very nice. Especially the folks who lean hard to the right.

          I’ll consider how nice you all are when I contemplate that most of you are willing to use the law to treat LGBT people as second class citizens. I’ll consider how nice you all are when I contemplate how far too few of you give a shit about the number of women who died in the US before birth control and abortion were legalized. I’ll contemplate how nice you all are when the next evangelical leader travels to yet another violently homophobic country to espouse the godliness of queer oppression and that country continues to incarcerate and kill LGBT+ people.

          No. You aren’t NICE. Far from it. I honestly don’t know how Chris can manage to stomach being around people like you, but more power to him.

          • Thank you for this post. This has been my experience as well. (Not completely–I’m only gender fluid, not trans.) I once lived in Birmingham, AL… where one of the most notorious clinic bombings occurred. As I said in my post above, I come across my distaste for Evangelicals honestly. I’ve sat in their churches and listened to the actual hate they espouse. I have heard the pastors talking about how AIDS is a punishment from “god” on the “abominations” of homosexuals and that it is RIGHT AND JUST that they die of sickness for their sin. This is what I have heard with MY own two ears. I have seen the hatred with my own eyes. Whatever the blogger has to say about Evangelicals being so accepting of gays? I call it bunk. Behind closed doors, I know what they say in those churches and in their social circles. It is ugly, hateful, and sick.

        • And while I’m not terribly enamored with the anti-theist crowd, I’d prefer to be around almost any atheist, anti-theist or not, rather than spend my time around most evangelical/conservative Christians. At least the average atheist won’t look at me like a space alien when they find out I’m queer. That’s not nearly so true for much of right-wing Christendom.

          And even for those evangelicals who wear a nice-nice face around me, they’re probably still going to shit on me during the next election cycle. Not so with most atheists.

          I’d rather have friends I can trust not to shit on me when my back is turned. You guys usually don’t fit that criteria.

    • this reads really strongly to me like an atheist trying really hard to seem like a christian trying really hard to react to chris’s work like only atheists imagine christians do (for example, I’ve never see anyone outside of atheists use the silly neologism “atheophobe”).

      but assuming that’s not the case, I’m curious why single me out, when I’ve written one thing on atheism in the last 8 months or so (about why people shouldn’t just psychoanalyze those they disagree with; the atheist hate is palpable). feel free to quote me where on any occasion I write that atheists, full stop, are “mean, nasty, angry and filled with spite.” You probably can’t, because I’ve never said it. So I don’t know how I, Sarah, or Chris, can spend all of our time doing something we’ve never done.

      • As it says in the Bible: “Paranoia will destroy ya!” Don’t be so suspicous of people.

        You and I both know how awful the athiests are. You even recently twitted on your twitter that their awful toxic personalities might be CONTAGIOUS!!!!

        https://twitter.com/VladChituc/status/489494611774423040

        I know you have to keep up appearances, though. It’s OK. I understand and will take the hit.

        • No I didnt? Maybe you just dont get how quotes work.

          I dont know who “the” atheists are. If youre confusing the atheist community for all atheists, thats your own problem.

  4. For what they’re worth, for what any polls about anything are worth, other than those when people have to go to actual polling places or mail in a ballot, it has long been evident that polls are not at all reliable.

    At the bottom of a list of such unreliable polls are those like the Pew polls regarding religion. The samplings are not reliable. Responses usually reflect what is expected to be mainstream popular. In short, most people are not really informed or serious about the religious affiliations they are presumed to have because of their families. You can add to that the reality that numerous people take religion so lightly that they plainly lie about their affiliation and their beliefs. They tell poll takers what they think poll takers want to hear.

    It might be considered sad or unfortunate, but that’s the real position of religion at this time in our society. The vast majority of people are extremely shallow when it comes to religion. When you add to those numbers the lack of serious background, the lack of study, the lack of learning, the lack of thinking about religion, the inability to seriously explain religious beliefs or practices, it should not be at all shocking that polls about religion are next to meaningless.

    Responses do not reflect reality, they do not reflect facts. They are loaded with ignorance and bias. So what good are the polls? It would be more meaningful to observe cultural groups on your own and determine the seriousness and the honesty with which people–if they do, when they do–participate at all, in any way, in religion.

    Perhaps our society is guilty of “suppressing” the wrong kinds of polls!

  5. samuel Johnston

    “But despite this, atheists are still divided over the use of engaging in interfaith dialogue.”

    How can one who does not have “faith” – indeed rejects faith in the sense that the religionists use the term- (my case) engage with those who see reality only through that distorted lens? My experience is that the Faith-ers have never taken those glasses off and that generally they are so perplexed by non Faith-ers, that they resort to denying that any of us have ever “really” worn the glasses and seen the “light’. This is no accident, because they are coached to react that way by their preachers.
    I have long sense abandoned trying to get them to “understand”, because if they possessed that quality, they too would be doubters, not Faith-ers. I think our only real hope is that the religious organizations themselves implode. The Catholics seem to hurtling in that direction.
    Rationality will always be around for those who are interested.

    • samuel Johnston

      Let me quickly ad:
      1) a rational answer is not the same as a correct answer
      2) there may or may not be a correct answer, and there may be multiple answers with equal rationality (scientific experiments are designed to test these)
      3) humans are 99% (O.K. I am estimating) driven by the irrational (mainly their genes. Free will is vastly overrated).

      “Rationality is not truth, it is merely the last touchstone of the truth.” Kant

    • “I only hope the religious organizations implode”.

      Wow. That’s some grade A hating for ya

      Or is it impossible for you to hate, since you are a lib?

      • samuel Johnston

        @Lles Nats
        Hate is reserved for ideas and institutions, never humans (well almost never).
        Contempt, on the other hand,is appropriate for, bad will, bad faith (legal term, I am a lawyer after all) and stubborn, proud, ignorance.
        A reasonable opposing side in an argument is a pleasure and an opportunity to learn (it’s just a matter of getting past one’s ego).

          • I know. It is shameful! But we can take solace in the knowledge that they will be condemned to the fires of Hell for all eternity after their little bit of fun is over.

  6. OK, I’m well aware that I’ve thrown a hell of a damper on the “inter-faith dialogue” in this comment thread, but the comments of the evangelical folks on this thread remind me of a harsh cold, reality. There’s been a drastic curtailing of women’s reproductive rights during the last 15 years. It has been horrible, actually. I’m also well aware that trans people are the next viable target in conservative Christianity’s political gun-sights. There’s a limit to how far they can push their agenda with respect to LGB people and they know it, but it is still widely socially permissible to treat trans people like inferior defectives. Political and religious bullies know this. They will utilize this reality to their benefit. The smell of power and social influence are too strong to not draw in their interest. Mark my words.

    So, I’m not very sanguine about interfaith dialog with a group of people who will have little problem with sticking a closet full of knives in my back.

    To those evangelical Christians and non-specified conservative Christians reading this comment thread, I don’t care about your words of professed love for us queer folk and those of us who identify as women. Words are cheap. They’re worth less that the paper your bibles are printed upon. I do care about your actions. A professed love accompanied by abusive behaviors is an impoverished, pale simulacrum of real love. In many respects the love of an abuser cuts more deeply that a person who is consistently violent in word and deed. The latter doesn’t employ mind-fuckery. It’s honest and doesn’t play games of emotional manipulation. Not so for the words and deeds of many professed evangelical Christians.

    Do you want me to believe in your supposedly god-inspired love of humanity? THEN PROVE IT. Don’t vote for abusive laws. Don’t pull the lever for the candidate who uses religious dog-whistles to gather up the vote of hateful people. Join an LGBT organization and fight for our rights. Join a reproductive rights organization and support women’s rights to our own bodily autonomy.

    Because if you aren’t willing to do those things, if you see your religion and conservative philosophies as a mandate to behave in ways that manipulate and harm those on the bottom of society’s power structures, then your words are empty lies, designed to make you feel righteous and proud while shitting upon those with less power than you.

    Prove me wrong. Support my ability to live in this world as a fully autonomous being without being the target of political machinations that would serve to amass power for a hateful elite. Support the right of others in my situation to walk through this world without wondering if the next person wearing a cross is going to sharpen the ends of it and shove it between our collective ribs.

    Your Jesus supposedly subverted the dominant social order of his day. He so challenged the power elite that they had him executed in retribution. So far, I’ve seen behaviors from the Christian right that are deliberately designed to continue the dominant power structures which serve to harm the very same people your religious founder once broke bread with: society’s outcasts and those living on the bottom rungs. You embody social conformity and abuse of power at it worst.

    Do you think I’m being unfair? Do you think I’m being hateful and prejudiced?

    Prove me wrong. Put you actions where your words are. Stop using your cross as a political dagger.

    • samuel Johnston

      You have cause to be angry – but lots of folks do. Just try not to demand that others be behind your cause or be damned. What I value are the freedoms and values which came to the fore of Western Culture during the age of Reason. The American Constitution (imperfect as it is) was a tangible result of that movement. A really important value of that package is tolerance. Tolerance assumes that one either does not approve, or that one does not care about another’s behavior (lifestyle), however, one defends the right of another to be different and even quite eccentric, as long as other equal citizens are not intruded upon. Religious citizens have the right to opine that your lifestyle is unacceptable to their God(s). Give up on that point.
      The GLT movement is very close to winning legal and social acceptance. My concern is that it will go to far (like most revolutions), spurn tolerance, and let the radical elements that demand wholehearted support of all their agendas will alienate the civic majority which is sympathetic – at the moment. Please step back from your anger and accept civil tolerance.
      The religious crowd must do the same, or no end of the “culture wars” are in sight. The abortion issue will succumb soon to technical solutions. Then, perhaps, the “war” will be over- for a while.

      • I’m sorry, but did you actually read the words in my essay?

        I’ll step back from my anger and disdain toward right wing Christians when I see good evidence to do so. Chiding me for angry words directed toward abusive behavior isn’t going to engender much faith that folks in your position actually understand the amount of damage caused by the privilege and power cis/straight/Christian people wield.

        This is like hearing an abusive husband whine about what a terrible b*ch he’s married to because she had the nerve to bean him with a lamp after he kicked the stuffings out of her.

        I’m in the cross hairs, here man. Aim somewhere else and I might stop yelling.

        Try again.

        • samuel Johnston

          Hello Timberwraith,
          You are correct. Sexual identity was a minor problem for me, excepting that I was small, skinny, forbidden by my mother to fight back (a lost cause anyway) and clumsy, so in any team sport I was chosen last. I spent my youth sitting on the sidelines with the the fat, the handicapped, and the guys with heart trouble. We sort of became a sub-society, read a lot, and became interested in science, art, and theater.
          That was just the tip of the iceberg of my alienation, but no point in boing you.
          I simply mean to say that I know what it is like to be an outsider, and to suffer betrayal by “friends” through circumstances that I could not help.
          I am almost double your age, so my temper has cooled – a bit. I have discovered that there are much worse things than physical differences, poverty, bad parenting, etc.
          In my advanced age I have seen the consequences of “sleepwalking through life”.
          I have seen the mental problems that deprive the victims of part, or even everything of value in the human experience. I comment on your post only to plead with you to not waste anymore of your life in wasteful and unproductive anger. I will try to follow my own advice, but sometimes it is difficult. Especially when dealing with the Fundies.

        • samuel Johnston

          “And besides, it’s better to vent that anger than let it stay bottled inside, no?”
          So you vent your anger- the Fundie vents his anger. The result is war?
          Good and rational plan.
          This is a slap across the face which I hope will wake you!
          GROW UP AND QUIT WHINING!
          You got dealt some bad cards. Boo hoo. Welcome to the human race.

          • Do you know what bottled up anger does after a while? It kills your passion. It saps your strength. It destroys your will. It leads to depression.

            Anger sets boundaries. It pushes back when you’ve been stepped on. It protects. It puts the fire in your belly that you need to march forward and struggle for your life.

            And the funny thing is, my responses are usually more measured than today. It actually felt good to offer just a small moment of unfiltered honesty. A spare moment of relief, of unencumbered anger at those who well deserve it.

            So, I need to grow up? I’ll tell you what, I hope never to sink into a passionless, emotionally dead state of being, Samuel. That’s my hope. And at 45, that’s an easy trap to fall into. Do you remember it? So no, you can deal with my anger. This is just a few moments of your life. Flip to another website if it’s too bothersome.

            I refuse to apologize for this.

            But I have to say, your response to a person who shares that anger has been a means to avert suicide is to say, “Quit your whining”? “Grow up”? That’s pretty messed up. Perhaps you need to find a bit more empathy? I think that’s a part of growing up, isn’t it?

            If you care, read the link and the book recommendation I provided below. Consider it, if you please.

            Beyond that, I really don’t know what else to say to you.

      • And again, people can think I’m an oddball in their churches and their family circles. People can think abortion is a terrible matter. Whatever.

        When they carry those sentiments into political action and those actions hurt the lives of real people, I care. It makes me angry and it’s easy for people who don’t have to face that reality in a very personal, everyday day sort of way to go, “Uh! Those radical elements in queer political circles! They’re just so unsavory. So pushy. So intolerant.”

        And, us trans folks? We aren’t out of the woods yet. Not even close. And there are many, many states that still treat the L, G, and B like living refuse. Those states happen to be very, very religious in a hellfire and brimstone sort of way.

        So, pardon me for being a bit pissy about all of this.

      • Here, read this:

        www. thetaskforce. org / reports_and_research / ntds

        (Remove the spaces. The spam queue doesn’t allow posts with hyperlinks on this blog.)

        Then, come back and tell me how I’ve gone too far.

      • And, if you want to read an interesting bit of history and don’t mind plunking down twenty some dollars, read The Story of Jane by Laura Kaplan. The book does a thorough job of describing how horrid it was for women before abortion was legalized in the US. Angering, horrible stuff.

  7. I also wish to include trans men who have retained their ability to bear children. They are hit just as hard by the religious right’s agenda to restrict the reproductive and gender freedoms of others.

    Again, if y’all want us to believe in your Christian love, stop shitting on us.

    Really.

    • Christians are not going to stop shitting on you
      until they abandon the belief itself
      that tells them that to shit on you
      is an act of love:

      “Cursed be he who does the Lords work remissly,
      cursed he who holds back his sword from blood.”
      (Jeremiah 48:10)

      “The law of the LORD is perfect…”
      (Psalm 19:7)

      “His winnowing fork is in his hand,
      and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat
      into the granary, but the chaff he will burn
      with unquenchable fire.”
      (Matt. 3:12)

      • Did I ever mention my atheist friends from my conservative hometown who dropped my friendship after coming out to them as trans? We were really close.. then everything went to hell.

        That was twenty years ago, but a true story, and it still fucking hurts.

        Then, there’s the fringe radical feminists who hate trans people. A very large segment of that demographic is atheist. That’s been a real hoot given that I’m a feminist too, and identified as an atheist for a good two decades. They’re still going strong—although, most other brands of feminists hate them like the dickens. They love outing trans people to their employers by the way. A real fun crowd.

        Secular belief does not guarantee a loving and open heart.

        Religious belief does not guarantee a hardened and closed heart.

        Max, we’ve had this conversation before. Over-generalizations about the whole of religious people don’t work well, especially in a culture that overwhelmingly identifies with one religion or another. It’s old. It’s tiring. And it makes for really screwed political organizing in the face of a well funded, well oiled conservative political machine.

        For shit, sake. Stop it, man. I think you’re actually smarter than this. That’s about all I’m going to say on the matter. The rest is in your capable hands.

        But I promise that I’ll get back to you on the other thread with some of my favorite books in a day or so. That’s a fun conversation. I’m feeling a little spent right now, though.

        • @Timber,

          “Over-generalizations about the whole of religious people don’t work well”

          Right – which is why I refuse to disparage religious people. I sympathize with them. I was one of them. I focus on the cult indoctrination, not them.
          If it is not bigoted to preach for Jesus it cannot be bigoted to preach anti-Jesus.

          And I’m just as tired of repeating this fact as you are in ignoring it.

          I get that you hate Anti-theists.

          But this is not about religion at all – it remains absolutely fascinating to me that to you there is no difference between an opinion and the human being who holds it.
          How did you arrive at that conclusion? I’m genuinely curious.

          • Right – which is why I refuse to disparage religious people.

            *stunned silence*

            Wow, you are so full of it, Max. I almost laughed until I realized that you might actually believe your own words.

            Welp, I can certainly empathize with Vlad’s twitter comment upthread.

            Jesus Mary and Joseph…

          • Oh, and that comment I just made to you? That was a disparaging comment. Much of what I’ve said on this thread to evangelicals has consisted of a long series of disparaging comments.

            And I’m well aware that when I’m disparaging beliefs that someone holds to their core, I’m pretty much insulting the person because those beliefs are so integral to who they are. That’s their lived experience of my words and I at least have enough respect for them to accept and acknowledge that I’m openly attacking their inner core of being.

            I’m honest enough to admit that.

            And that love the sinner and hate the sin BS? I’m familiar with the atheist version of it (love the believer, hate the belief) and I believe in the sincerity behind it about as much as I believe in the sincerity of the Christian version. Nice in theory. Rare in practice. Pretty much contrary to human nature.

            So, tell me another one, Max.

          • If it is not bigoted to preach for Jesus it cannot be bigoted to preach anti-Jesus.

            This is a diversion from your actual behavior, which you consistently engage in across this blog. You dismiss the whole of religious people as having worthless, dangerous beliefs. You make no distinction between between vastly differing systems of belief and values. In refusing to see the diversity that exists within religion, you flatten everything into a farcical lie for the sake of making ill thought out critiques that people easily ignore as empty rhetoric. You dismiss the life paths of literally billions of people as worthless—and yes, a person’s religion is quite often deeply intertwined with their life paths. So don’t hand me that crap about only attacking beliefs. That’s a convenient self-deception.

            Taking issue with specific religious subgroups and specific damaging social patterns within religious communities is fine. Dismissing the whole of them, as you do, is a pure, unadulterated act of bigotry… and you do it with great abandon. Preach atheism. Preach Jesus. If that makes you happy, then fine, but the moment you reduce a huge segment of humanity into a ridiculous, venomous caricature, you’ve crossed the line into mindless prejudice.

            And since I’m being more honest than usual in this comment thread, let me make it perfectly clear: I have little patience with bigots. And you sir, are as bigoted (or worse) than the evangelical commenters on this thread. You sicken me.

            If you’d like me burn a few more bridges, I’d be happy to oblige. because that’s the kind of mood I’m in right now.

            Have a nice day.

          • @Timber,

            You said, “I at least have enough respect for them to accept and acknowledge that I’m openly attacking their inner core of being.”

            It is your right to believe whatever you want.
            But if Christianity was my “inner core of being” for 44 years why did I leave it?
            Why do I thank the atheists who freed me and opened my eyes?

            It cannot be bigoted to argue about beliefs.
            It cannot be bigoted to challenge a claim.

            How is it bigoted to question someone who claims Elvis is alive?
            How is it bigoted to challenge a claim that 9/11 was committed by the CIA?

            I just don’t understand how you got to that point.

            ‘love the sinner but hate the sin’ IS bigotry
            because homosexuality is not optional. Homosexuality is like eye color – it cannot be changed – if a person is GAY or Bisexual or TRANS that is what they ARE.

            It is UNFAIR to discriminate against someone for what they ARE.
            But beliefs are optional.
            If one believes in preaching ‘Hell’ to children you need to be educated against doing so.

            It cannot be discrimination to be against someone for what they BELIEVE! If one believes in Nazism I am going to be inclined to discriminate against them unless you can explain how they can keep it from hurting people.

            Religion is not what someone is.
            Religion is what someone claims.

            Do you vote? How do you decide who to vote for if every position of every candidate is valid ‘for them’?

          • @Timber,

            “You dismiss the whole of religious people as having worthless, dangerous beliefs.”

            No I do not dismiss the people.

            A priest wondering about whether his faith is true or false
            is NOT the enemy.
            A mother wondering whether it is good or bad to baptize her children is NOT the enemy.
            A father wondering whether it is good or bad to preach Hell is NOT the enemy.
            A Muslim wondering whether it is good or bad to commit a terrorist act is NOT the enemy.

            I would encourage them all to consider that religion
            should be questioned because that is where the dangerous choices are. The safer route is to dismiss the religious option.

            You simply seem to be having difficulty seeing that people
            and ideas are two different things.

            To you, nobody is allowed to change their mind and
            still be the same person. That is a fascinating and bizarre formulation.

          • @Timber,

            “the moment you reduce a huge segment of humanity into a ridiculous, venomous caricature, you’ve crossed the line into mindless prejudice.”

            I never once said “Muslims are…” or “Christians are…” or “Jews are…”

            If so, where did I do it? I reject it!
            I would never write such nonsense.

            Show me evidence for your claim that I am prejudiced
            as I reject that assertion.

            You need to get glasses or something.

          • @Timber,

            “that comment I just made to you? That was a disparaging comment. Much of what I’ve said on this thread to evangelicals has consisted of a long series of disparaging comments.”

            *wow*
            That would be just abusive.

            Why spoil for a piss match
            instead of intellectual discourse?

            You are really interesting.

          • Max, I don’t know what you experienced as a religious person, but as a person who has actively embraced one form a spirituality or another for well over twenty years, into the present hour—all of it well past the Christian years of my childhood and most of it during my years of atheism—I know of what I speak.

            Even though I’m not a member of an Abrahamic faith or any other religion, and even though I don’t believe in something commonly recognizable as a deity, I still see vast areas of common experience with the average religious person.

            I know how deeply this sinks into your personal being from current, living experience. You can attack it from all the intellectual angles you want: what is bone deep, runs beyond the intellectual. You cut through that body of being and you cut to the bone. If you don’t understand something that crucial, neither I nor anyone else is likely to bring you to that place. There’s certainly no way I can instill that kind of empathetic understanding across a pathway made of words, silicon, plastic, and copper wiring. If you never learned these things during those 44 years of your life, I doubt you’re going to learn now, and if you can’t see the ridiculously blatant ways in which you overgeneralize regarding religion, I don’t think you are capable of realizing much… not until you or life lifts the veil of prejudice from your eyes.

            Unless that 44 years was very recent and there is currently a heap of swirling, fresh anger over the experience, accompanied by a pervading feeling of being duped for most of your life (and perhaps, more than a little guilt over one’s impact upon others during this time). I imagine that is capable of overriding any other facet of the experience. I experienced some of that in my teens and twenties but likely not the level of emotion someone might feel after four and a half decades of being locked into a deeply repressive form of religion. If that’s the case? You’re going to have to ride out the storm. I don’t know if you’ll live to see the rain and thrashing winds stop but anything is possible with adequate healing and the passage of time. However, as with anything in life, nothing is guaranteed.

            Words on a computer screen aren’t likely to bring you there, though.

          • I never once said “Muslims are…” or “Christians are…” or “Jews are…”

            No, what you usually do is make comments in the spirit of generalizing about religious people as a whole. The dynamic in your words usually isn’t Jews, Christians, or Muslims vs. non-believers. It’s generally religious vs. non-believers.

            However, this statement does serve as demonstrating a prejudice limited to a particular faith group:

            Christians are not going to stop shitting on you
            until they abandon the belief itself that tells them that to shit on you is an act of love.

            That’s what triggered my reaction to you in the first place (although, I have a problem with your generalizations toward religious people as a whole, too). When I pointed out how patently false this statement is, give the amount of social change we’ve seen around LGBT issues in a predominantly Christian culture such as the US, you didn’t have the good graces to admit that your statement doesn’t reflect real life events. Christians perspectives have shifted in these matters and their religious institutions are shifting in response. (Even the Catholic church is softening some of its rhetoric in these matters… although it has a hell of a long way to go before it generates much confidence that the hierarchy is truly listening to the laity.)

            So then, you claim that you don’t make over-generalizations about specific religious groups and you somehow think that’s true in spite of comments you only made a few responses ago. And then you don’t seem to get how you generalize about religion as a whole phenomenon. I believe you actually think your statements are true but you can’t seem to step outside of yourself and see what actually lives within the words you’ve typed out on this very thread.

            I think what Jason said below is very important:

            In the first few years after I gave up my faith, I was quite angry and definitely “cold” toward the religious – and, not coincidentally, associated only with other atheists. The insularity did breed contempt.

            So, in that spirit, here are two blogs I recommended reading:

            1) Slactivist: This fellow is about a progressive as can be and identifies as evangelical. He calls out fellow evangelicals on their prejudicial awfulness on a regular basis. He is pro-LGBT, no holds barred, and is completely unapologetic about it. You can find him on the Paheos network of blogs.

            2) Rachel Held Evans: She’s very, very Christian and “god-luvin”. Nevertheless, she too is quite progressive around a whole slew of social issues, including LGBT stuff. She’s still evolving but is moving at a rapid pace. Her blog is a little harder to read because its filled with language designed to appeal to people who are deeply Christian. However, its a good representation of how people can combine deeply Christian faith with an open approach to people and the world.

            Rachel, by the way, has published two books exploring her ideas and her personal evolution around religious matters. I recommend them, if you don’t mind a heavier dose of religious content than more secular writers:
            Faith Unraveled
            A Year of Biblical Womanhood

            Finally, I recommend reading the autobiography of John Shelby Spong, called Here I Stand. He’s a retired Episcopal bishop who pushed quite hard for expanding LGBT and women’s rights and representation in the Episcopal church. He grew up during segregation in the South and understands prejudice in a very personal way. It’s a highly readable book that explores the man’s transitions and journeys through a life of Christian faith. He too, is extremely progressive and he’s a real fighter.

            Sadly, I can’t include links to these folks because the spam filters will delete my comment but they are easy enough to find.

          • Also, go back and read the conversation you and I had in the post Can atheists and theists intermarry? A Valentine’s Day question for Susan Katz Miller.

            That was a part of our initial butting of heads over the generalizations you make about people’s belief in gods and religion. You also dismissed me as “the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Roman Crusader” in that thread for coming to religious people’s defense. I had forgotten about that until skimming the thread again. Who knows. I might actually consider wearing a turban. Turbans are cool.

            I was pretty level with you when challenging your prejudices in that thread, but honestly, you can be such a b*st*d in your conversations with people. While it most likely accomplished little, I’ve derived a small bit of satisfaction from hitting you with both barrels during these past few days, all restraint tossed into the wind.

            Anyway, I’ve spent a lot of time challenging you on this stuff. I don’t think it makes much sense to continue this.

            Yours in protracted invective,
            timberwraith

      • You know, I did just think of one thing.

        It was once common for Christians to use the bible to justify slavery in the 1800s and racial segregation in the 1900s. How many Christians use the bible that way, today?

        How many people’s attitudes have shifted in my 45 years from hater to reasonable human being regarding LGBT stuff? A lot. The kinds of social change we see happening right now wouldn’t be possible without that kind of transition. It happened all in my lifetime. Most of those people, on a collective level, are Christian… guaranteed by the demographics of the good old U S of A.

        It would seem that religion adjusts with the times rather than remaining in a permanent homeostasis, impervious to the winds of social change.

        Those atheist friends who dumped my ass 20 years ago? I bet they’ve changed too.

  8. Chris Stedman, what exactly do you mean by the word “atheist”. I’ve heard the word used many ways. Some people use the word to mean the lack of belief in any kind of god defined any way. Some use the word atheist to label their lack of belief in a personal, theistic god, but still use the word “god” to label belief in some vague kind of higher power, energy, etc. It seems to me to be a colorless word that doesn’t say much without being defined. I’d appreciate reading your take on that. Thanks.

      • @mike,

        Deism is “belief in a god”
        Theism is “belief in a personal god or gods”
        Atheism is “non belief in gods”
        Agnosticism is “not knowing if there is a god”

        The difference is belief vs. knowing.

        All of the above might be found in church on any given Sunday.
        Church is a great social club. Just don’t ask what anyone really believes.
        They don’t want to get kicked out of the club. ;-)

  9. I don’t mind being in the minority. If you go to Europe or Scandinavia, they are way ahead of us in the transition to the post-Christian era. They think it’s silly there’s an argument here over evolution; it’s accepted as scientific fact there. America is mired in a struggle that may soon erupt big time into possibly even a civil war. Atheists don’t claim they’re right. We just have evidence and we’re willing to argue about it. Religious people are always right, especially the Fundamentalists, and they will brook no discussion. Why? Because there is no evidence of what they believe. A classic definition of delusion. Look it up. But if I argue with a Christian I don’t claim he or she is crazy, I’ll argue the facts. They won’t, and it is that refusal to engage in dialogue that makes us dismiss them as inconsequential twits not worth wasting our time on.

  10. Thank for this article, Sarah. I’d like to share my story, which is illustrative of your point.

    I’m a former minister in the UCC who’s now an atheist. In the first few years after I gave up my faith, I was quite angry and definitely “cold” toward the religious – and, not coincidentally, associated only with other atheists. The insularity did breed contempt. But leaving ministry and entering the secular workforce with a divinity degree also left me working minimum wage jobs and struggling to survive. I toiled in poverty until I was eventually evicted from my home and spent several months living out of my car. I wrestled with the ethical ramifications of going back to ministry and lying about my atheism. I wasn’t willing to compromise my ideals for my own benefit, but I’m also the father of a 3-year-old girl, and the greater moral imperative (to me) was to care for her.

    I needed help, but apart from the Department of Social Services, who have less and less aid to give out every year thanks to cuts in their budget, only churches and religious organizations had the assistance I needed. I appealed to the church I grew up in. Then, I went to Catholic Charities and an interfaith collaborative here in town. With their help, I now have a place to live. I’m working brutal hours at three low-paying jobs, but I can take care of my child.

    Reaching out to the church of my youth, however, took me out of the insular group I’d self-selected, and I’m now an atheist who attends church. I make no attempt to conceal my atheism. I admit to rolling my eyes a bit during some of the hymns and I never participate in prayers. But I enjoy the positive community that it provides. People ask me how I tolerate the theology of Christianity, but in my experience theology is almost never discussed. (I’m also fortunate that the UCC is a very liberal denomination that has no creeds I need to recite, ordains women and gay clergy and supports marriage equality, divested from Israel and lobbies for universal access to birth control and abortion. On social and political issues, the church aligns closely with my own commitments.)

    I’m glad to have shed the in-group thinking of my past. I’m still a proud member of the AHA and FFRF and remain active in the political atheist movement. But expanding my circle of contact has made me capable of seeing the dignity and potential in all human beings, and regarding humankind as a whole with greater compassion and love.

    • @Jason Bachand,

      Congratulations on your journey. My heart goes out to you – I was a Catholic for 44 years and the transition from strong belief to Atheism was incredibly difficult at first.

      Similarly, I have found life without God a wonderful thing but I realize it won’t be for everyone. For me, looking back at my religious years is a lost wasteland. I feel I was duped by people who refused to challenge these things and to teach me how to think for myself. I see others in the spell of religion and I wish I could throw them a life raft.
      But People need to find their own way.

      In the meantime, separation of church and state has never been more important to me and my membership in AHA and FFRF are my way of staying on top of these matters.

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