The Uninspired Manifesto
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Atheists In South Carolina
It wasn't so much the brutal attack that outraged, but more so the fashion in which it was reported in the daily newspaper:
Admitted atheist attacked outside gym
"A Myrtle Beach man and admitted atheist was attacked and robbed on Thursday night by a group of men who took offense to an anti-Christian phrase on his windshield."
Okay, the first part of the article talks about Eric Heyd. If you haven't heard this story, the guy got the shit kicked out of him for having 'Fuck The Skull Of Jesus' written on his car. I'm all for the bumper sticker, but he did take it a little far, especially for South Carolina. Still, you can't just bitch up like that if some people wannt to fuck with you. Anyway, back to the article.
Reported by The Sun News on May 4, the entire mention was merely a small blurb, one of the police beat nuggets that so many cub reporters cut their teeth on. However, the story gained a life of its own, soon appearing on more than 100 secular humanist/atheist blogs and websites around the world. And as much as people had a problem with the fact that a person was beaten up and robbed, they moreover had a problem with the language - and, some would say, subtle editorializing - in the article's headline and in the article itself.
A reader posting on Unscrewing the Inscrutable (www.brentrasmussen.com) put it thusly: "The expression 'admitted atheist' is unacceptable. He didn't confess to doing something wrong like an 'admitted pedophile.' No one uses the expression 'admitted Christian.' The article's use of 'admitted' is editorializing in the worst way."
Indeed, despite the fact that no fewer than five atheist/secular humanist-related books have appeared on bestseller lists in the past two years - Sam Harris's "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation," Daniel Dennett's "Breaking the Spell," Richard Dawkins's "The God Delusion" (currently # 29 on the NY Times Bestseller list) and now Christopher Hitchens' "God Is Not Great" (currently # 3) - and the fact that, if polls are any indication, many American citizens are worried the United States is headed down the road to becoming a theocracy (more on this later), there's still pockets of anti-atheist/humanist sentiment out there, especially in the Deep South...and South Carolina.
"Suppose I tell you that the universe was created just five minutes ago, at 11:28 AM, and that a supernatural being planted false memories in all of you. You can't disprove my claim, but you still think it is nonsense, right? Atheists have the same reaction to god beliefs."
- Herb Silverman, in a "sermon" to the Unitarian Church of Charleston
A professor of mathematics at the College of Charleston since 1976, Herb Silverman first felt the stamp of the scarlet "A" - atheism - in 1991, when he applied to be a notary public.
Probably on of the more inopportune times, but I want to say this about the 'out' campaign. I like the effort, and really respect Prof. Dawkins, but am I the only one that thinks the shirts look like shit? I'm not putting that stupid 'A' on my blog, because all you have you have to do is read any of my previous posts to see I'm an atheist. Sorry for sidetracking.
But the story doesn't begin there. You see, way back in 1961, the United States Supreme Court ruled that state governments cannot require a belief in God as requirement for public office.
Thirty years later, Silverman was floored to find out that - simply because he'd crossed out the part of his notary oath that read "so help me God" - that he was rejected for the position. (Indeed, of the 33,471 notary applications received by the Secretary of State's office from 1991 to 1993, Silverman's was the only one rejected).
In 1993, after some deliberation, Silverman and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the state. In 1997, the state lost the staring match, and Silverman and the ACLU won a unanimous decision in the South Carolina Supreme Court, which summarily struck down the religious test requirement for holding public office in the state.
Silverman - who also founded the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry in Charleston and who is the spokesperson for the S.C. Secular Council as well as a national board member of the Athiest Alliance International - says he's quite pleased that the subject of God (or god, as he puts it) is once again being tried in the court of public opinion. (Silverman, along with his SHOLC compatriots, was a key figure in bringing the "In Reason We Trust" license plates - the second such plate in the United States - to South Carolina.)
"I think the new interest in atheism is terrific," Silverman says. "I hope it convinces more people to come out of the closet. When people tell me I am the first atheist they ever met, I generally respond: 'No I'm not. You've met thousands of atheists. I'm just the first person you knew was an atheist.' The more people that acknowledge their non-belief in any deities, the less we will be stereotyped. There are good and bad atheists, good and bad Christians, and good and bad in all other groups. I hope someday that people will be judged more on their actions than on their professed religious beliefs. If all 30 million atheists acknowledged who they are, that action alone would change our culture."
Really, this article goes on for some time, but the point I want to get across is... well, I guess I don't have a point. Its been a slow few days. Still, it's a good article, even with quotes from a few ignorant priest denouncing atheism as evil, etc., etc.