If I am being honest, I have always had mixed feelings about the discussion of discrimination against atheists. For example, a lot of the church/state separation battles really do seem to be over trivial things, but I am sympathetic to the argument that allowing small breaches of church/state separation provides justification for larger breaches.
Likewise, I understand that atheists, in the US, are viewed negatively and with distrust. I briefly touched on experiencing this first hand in my atheist challenge post. At the same time, atheists are predominantly male, white, higher-income, and educated. As such, many atheists are in otherwise socially privileged groups.
Myself, being male, white, educated, and from a middle-class background, it would be completely disingenuous to claim that I have suffered or struggled in my life. Certainly, I have had obstacles and challenges to overcome, but suffering and struggling would grossly over-exaggerate the challenges I’ve faced in comparison to the challenges others have overcome.
Though it would take little effort to find specific counterexamples, considering the demographic makeup of many atheists, I think it fair to suggest that there are many atheists that do not experience much personal suffering despite the discrimination that exists against atheists.
Then, every once in a while, something happens that slaps me across the face and reminds me of why it is important to fight against discrimination against atheists no matter how severe it is relative to other forms of discrimination. That something was congressman Mike Conaway’s (R-Tex) comments on an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that would forbid Secular Humanist, Ethical Culturalist, and atheist chaplains.
Though there are chaplains of many religious faiths in the military, they must be trained to handle the actual diversity of religious belief that exists among those serving in the military and their families. One of the most difficult things a military chaplain has to do is provide grief counseling. This important role makes it clear why it is important and relevant for the military to have chaplains that share the views of non-believers.
Rep. Mike Conaway, however, thinks such an occurrence is opportunity to inject a little bile:
They don’t believe anything…. I can’t imagine an atheist accompanying a notification team as they go into some family’s home to let them have the worst news of their life and this guy says, ‘You know, that’s it — your son’s just worms, I mean, worm food.’
You see, here’s the funny thing, people like Rep. Mike Conaway like to think that atheists “don’t believe anything” so that they can claim atheists act in some vile, inhuman way. They use this as an excuse to actually be vile and dehumanizing toward atheists, proving they are the slander they fling.
If my spouse died while serving in the military, I would not want a Christian chaplain to try and console me in the manner that he would try and console a fellow Christian. I could appreciate the sentiment, but I’ve just lost my spouse. I don’t want to have to smile and nod and worry about being disrespectful to the chaplain’s beliefs.
I would much rather have someone come to my door that would already understand how I relate to death, will not appeal to heavens and gods, but can articulate the value of my spouse’s service, the pride I should rightly feel, help me celebrate my spouse’s life, and help me grieve my spouse’s death.
Or, as Rep. Mike Conaway describes such an interaction: recognize that my spouse is just worm food.
Well, Rep. Mike Conaway– Fuck you.
If you were standing in front of me, I would spit in your face.
Because you would deserve it.
Oh, also, Rep. Mike Conaway. Saying a dead, atheist soldier is “just worm food” expresses beliefs about the behavior and diet of worms. I guess atheists do believe something. Just thought I’d note that pedantic point. Fucker.
Check out Chris Stedman’s post for a less cuss-filled discussion of atheist chaplains.