John Locke, the Father of Liberalism, a great Enlightenment thinker, a model for many renowned philosophers, and a major influence on the United States Declaration of Independence to name a few of his accomplishments, set the precedent of treatment towards the non-religious when he wrote in A Letter Concerning Toleration, “Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God.”
As a child, whenever asked about my religion, I would mindlessly repeat the strange words I had heard my parents use: Presbyterian, Anglican, Episcopalian. I never knew the difference between these sects, they simply existed as empty answers to trivial questions.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union wrote the report Freedom of Thought 2012 on global discrimination against humanists, atheists, and the non-religious. According to the study, “there are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents.” Below are four United States cases of over one hundred worldwide cases or laws cited in the report that target or discriminate against the non-religious.
The IHEU’s Humanists at Risk: Action Report 2020 shows that discrimination directed towards non-religious people has not improved over the years. On one of the first pages of the report, a person from Pakistan states, “Blasphemy laws are in place which would legalize murdering me.” In this study, the ostracization, intolerance, and violence aimed at atheists are highlighted.
I cannot pin an exact moment, but at some point in my early adolescence, I finally cared to reflect on this part of my identity. It was not much of a debate for myself to realize and acknowledge that God, Jesus, prayers, absolution, Adam and Eve, and all biblical teachings had absolutely no meaning or validity in my life.
“The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.” – Albert Einstein (he was agnostic)
For a couple of years after this, I continued to categorize myself as Christian because I felt a pressing obligation and expectation to do so. Despite not being an actively religious family, there is an unspoken agreement that we are Christians, we have been raised with Christian morals, we celebrate Christian holidays, and so on. Choosing to be non-religious was not an option I realized I had.
The University of British Columbia conducted a study on religious peoples’ views towards atheists. Consisting of over 750 Americans and Canadians, multiple questions and scenarios were posed. The results found that “a description of an untrustworthy person to be more representative of atheists than of Christians, Muslims, gay men, feminists or Jewish people. Only rapists were distrusted to a comparable degree.”
This article was initially a project from the class Dangers of a Single Story completed after reading the book Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.