Thursday, October 25, 2007

Things that look weird when seen through a UU lens

It's funny how, as a UU, I tend to forget how despised atheists are. Among UUs, and indeed among my friends, being an atheist is perfectly acceptable, being a pagan is an adorable eccentricity, and being a Conservative Christian is the really unusual thing.

I don't realize that outside my social bubble, it doesn't work that way. For example, I nod along with my theistic friends' complaints that people think they are weird for believing in God so often that I tend to forget that it is illegal for atheists to hold public office in at least one place where I've lived. (Is this law unconstitutional? Sure. But it's not like an atheist is getting elected there anytime soon anyway so nobody's bothered with a test case.)

I first thought of this when I saw "Steven Pinker and Rebecca Goldstein, America's brainiest couple, confess that belonging to one of America's most reviled subcultures doesn't mean they believe scientists can explain everything" as the header on a story for Salon. Reviled subculture? Atheism.

That story sparked my interest, but I got busy and forgot about it. Today, again on Salon, a college student has written to the advice columnist asking for advice about how to "Come out" as an atheist to a family that won't accept it.

When I was a reporter, I was told not to let anyone know that I wasn't a Christian or a lot of them wouldn't talk to me. When you're a reporter, lots of people in town not talking to you will eventually cost you your job. I've known pagans who weren't even in the public eye who still had to keep their faith a secret for fear of employment consequences.

Anyway, I'm thinking about that today, and thinking about how theists in UUism frequently complain, essentially, "If I talk about how I'm a theist, people won't like me. If I preach about what I want to preach, people will complain because people like different things."

One would think being allowed to run for office would be some small consolation.



Boy in the Bands (Scott Wells) said...

Perhaps the Unitarian Universalist theist you evoke is making a test case . . . .

Chalicechick said...



Anonymous said...

I'm still not totally "out" as an atheist. I'm kind of getting used to the idea myself, and the prevailing belief among my friends (including my non religious and non UU friends) is that atheists are arrogant and ungrateful because they don't believe in a higher power.

Not believing in a higher power doesn't necessarily mean believing that nothing is more important than oneself, but somehow that tends to be the mindset.

Bill Baar said...

I called myself an atheist for a long time and found no one cared much about what I believed.

Freewheel said...

You could make a long list of things that look weird when seen through a UU lens. Here's a few:

Why do people limit themselves to one sacred text?

What's the big deal with gay marriage?

Why can't Jews and Muslims in the Middle East just respect each others' beliefs and live together in harmony?

PG said...

Why can't Jews and Muslims in the Middle East just respect each others' beliefs and live together in harmony?

When the belief in question is Zionism and it's that a particular plot of land belongs to Group A, and Group B doesn't agree, that tends to lead to bloodshed. I'm not sufficiently up on Middle East history to know whether Israel proper (i.e. not including the post-1967 acquisitions of territory) was legitimate from a legal point of view, by which I mean:
Was property simply bought up by Jews and the Muslims got pissy about the Jews' owning everything (in the best of anti-Jewish tradition)? or was the ownership of land taken by force with the help of the British? I know that it was partly at the urging of European Jews that the British conquered the area around WWI, and that the League of Nations basically blessed this by giving Britain a mandate to administer the area while establishing a national home for Jews. This upset the Muslims and so at the point where a national home for Jews would have been really useful, as the Holocaust began, Britain capped immigration.

But anyway, it's not really about religion. It usually isn't. It's about land and power.

PG said...

And with regard to atheism, I never feel sufficiently confident that there definitely aren't some forces at work apart from what could be explained by science, that I'd be able to call myself an atheist. But I'd also give science another few hundred years where it isn't hindered by religion before I'd say that what we can't figure out -- particularly with regard to the human psyche itself, and not just the more observable natural world -- may be unknowable and perhaps attributable to the supernatural.