Sunday, November 3, 2013

The God Graveyard: Atheists vs. Minority Faiths

A couple groups of campus atheists created "God Graveyards," containing the headstones of deities "Once worshiped by entire civilizations, now only myths."  Notice anything about them?

...literally all of these are still being worshiped.  Not by as many people, but they're still worshiped.  I mean, second from the left there is my Patron God.  I would be limited to rolling my eyes about it (because I'm well aware most people believe my Gods and several others are no longer believed in), but Krishna?  Really?  There are like a million and a half Hindus in the US alone, where it is decidedly a minority faith.  In India Hinduism is a majority faith.  Calling Krishna "dead" as if nobody worships him is at the height of cultural ignorance.

But oh, here's a comment from Saara Wintersgill from the North Georgia Skeptic's Society that I guess makes everything OK:
I organized the Skeptics event. We used Krishna while knowing he is still worshipped, but when there were inquiries about it we showed students how the current number of followers is much less than it used to be.
(The AHA group at UW-Madison, according to a different comment, explains that in their graveyard they took care to only include Gods that aren't worshiped today... despite including some rather popular Gods among Neopagans.  You tried, I guess.  I am focusing on the NGSS for this essay.)

These are people who know damn well that some of these Gods are worshiped by thousands of people, and they still declared them "dead."  This is extremely disconcerting because it's a rather transparent view of some of the bullshit mainstream Western atheist activism has going for it:  Atheists absolutely do experience religious bias and discrimination, but it's mostly in the context of being a member of a minority faith experience.  Things like having to deal with constantly seeing Christian symbolism in places it shouldn't be (like courthouses, legislation, pledges) are not unique to atheism.  In fact, there are even troubles like this that atheists don't regularly experience, like being told to hide required religious symbols to avoid offending people (Muslim women being told to take off hijab, baptized Sikhs have some paraphernalia their faith requires them to wear that they're often told to remove too), getting denied a day off work to celebrate a religious holiday, and so forth.

Rather than accept that religious hegemony is a huge issue that affects a lot of people, there is instead a tendency for atheists to shit on and mock minority faiths without considering that members of such faiths also experience oppression. The assumption by these atheists is that there is such a thing as "religious privilege" or "theistic privilege," in which all people who have a religion are privileged over people who do not.

This graveyard stunt is one among many based on this assumption.  These groups are using minority (mostly polytheistic) faiths--and perceived "dead" faiths--as ammo against monotheistic faiths without an ounce of consideration for the amount of ridicule and persecution members of those faiths experience.

Islam is now a pretty popular target, especially among famous shitmongers like Richard Dawkins.  Today he tweeted this piece of hilarity:
The hilarious thing about this is that Dawkins is a vocal supporter of racial profiling and singling out Muslims at airports, and yet having a little jar of honey taken away means "Bin Laden has won."  Dawkins is in fact a well-known Muslim-basher--one of his favorite targets being hijab-wearing Muslim women--and being a high-profile atheist activist this means a lot of atheist n00bs also become Muslim-bashers because if Dawkins says something it must be cool.

Similarly we have members of the parody faith "Pastafarianism."  What started as a reasonable movement against teaching mythology in science class now involves fighting for the right to wear colanders on their heads in legal forms of identification, a clear attempt at mocking the rights of Muslims and Sikhs to wear their necessary head coverings in the same identification.  These stunts make light of a serious problem affecting a lot of people, in the process implying a false supremacy of minority faiths in comparison to atheism (again, usually Islam).

Finally, I should mention--because I've certainly heard some non-asshat atheists bring this up--that it's easy to see cases of religious hegemony (again, usually Christian hegemony in the West) and view it as something generically religious when you do not personally have a religion.  This is certainly not how it's perceived as a member of a theistic minority faith, knowing that things often labeled "ceremonial deism" are absolutely not either ceremonial or deistic to the people who fight to keep those symbols in place.  References to God are not generically religious when you have several Gods, or you only have one but know from context that that God isn't being referred to.

Honestly, these atheist stunts get more and more grating as time goes by, simply because of the lack of inter-religious knowledge required to think they're appropriate.  The problem isn't atheism, though, it's self-absorbed single-issue activism, something that unfortunately permeates activist culture as a whole.  That's what I really want people to take away from this... atheist activism (and all other activism) needs to have greater world perspective to avoid insensitive displays like this one.