Too bad Rick Warren isn't so open-minded. After his over-hyped and intrusive interviews of Obama and John McCain this last August, the best-selling author of A Purpose-Driven Life disclosed to his congregation at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Ca., the one kind of person he couldn't vote for. "I could not vote for an atheist because an atheist says, 'I don't need God,'" Warren preached, according to the Los Angeles Times. "They're saying, 'I'm totally self-sufficient by [myself].' And nobody is self-sufficient to be president by themselves. It's too big a job."
It's hard to decide which is more laughable: Warren's conception of the presidency or of atheists. Unfortunately, both conceptions are widespread among Americans.
I second that. Warren posits atheists as people who are openly thumbing their noses at God--sort of like people who recognize there is a God but who just refuse to bow to "His" authority. As with many Americans, the notion that some people simply fail to believe in a self-conscious power that exists outside the laws of nature doesn't enter into the equation. Further, being an atheist isn't even a rejection of something--it is merely a failure to make an assertion. I always hate it when I have to answer the question "well, why don't you believe in God?" The burden of proof doesn't rest with me. God is a positive concept that must be proven, not an obvious construct that must be disproven.
Now, atheists, like the LGBT community, are not as numerous as evangelicals. The most recent poll I could find on the subject showed 78% believed in "God," 14% believed in a "universal higher power," and only 7% believed in "neither" (1% was "unsure"). When you are an atheist, it is pretty obvious to you that you are in a small minority. Further, since many people, not only Rick Warren but often members your own family, consider your atheism as somehow an affront rather than just a personal lack of belief, to make life easier you do your best to never bring up religion as a topic at all. Just being left alone about it becomes both the short-term and long-term goal. I don't even like writing about it on Open Left, because I know that some members of my family read it.
I do have to wonder though--why are opposing equal rights for LGBT, and why are hating atheists, still tolerated as mainstream opinions in America? The only reason why someone like Rick Warren represents "bringing people together" rather than hatred of multiple large minorities in America, is because hatred of atheists and homosexuals are tolerated. Maybe people like me haven't done a good enough job of demanding that we be allowed to be open about our views and not hated for them. For one, it isn't difficult to succeed in life while still being an atheist. For another, it isn't difficult to hide your views in situations where they might cause you problems. Further, you don't want to be associated with the atheists that attack religion in general, and you really don't want to start arguments with people.
However, as atheists, it is probably time that we stopped being withdrawn about our beliefs. Our public image is lower than even that of homosexuals, for example. The reason it is lower is because they fight for their rights and they fight for inclusion. We atheists don't. If we are all working together to try and end homophobia as a tolerated, mainstream position worthy of the inaugural benediction for a Democratic President, then we should probably work to make intolerance of atheists unacceptable, too. When we start excluding certain groups, it has the potential to spill out over into all groups, as Natasha wrote yesterday at MyDD.
If I am not speaking up for my owns rights to tolerance and inclusion, how can I speak up for others? A lot of the problem is probably my own damn fault, because I have never bothered to even ask for inclusion and tolerance of my beliefs. So, let me start with this: I am an atheist, there is nothing wrong with my beliefs, you are not going to convert me, and so you are going to have to live with it.