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Secular Diversity: Where are the minorities?
Skeeve
I was going though atheists news links in Google today and ran across this article at The Baptist Standard.

From the smallest local meetings to the largest conferences, the vast majority of speakers and attendees are almost always white men. Leading figures of the atheist movement—Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett—all are white men.


It's funny, but I never really thought about the lack of minority representation in secular/atheist gatherings, and sadly, when I stopped to think about it, I could only count 2 non-white atheists that I'm immediately aware of. Greydon Square, of RRS infamy and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

While the article above throws out some figures that I'm not completely sure of, there does seem to be a severe lack of minority representation in the atheist ranks.

Some observers assert minorities tend to be more reluctant than whites to “come out of the closet” as nonbelievers because religion and culture tend to be deeply intertwined in minority communities, according to Anthony Pinn, a black humanist and professor of religious studies at Rice University.


This may well be true, but I'm hesitant to paint with too broad a brush, and sociology is not something I'm familiar with.

Anyone with more knowledge than myself care to work through this for us?
 
Cynic
I wouldn't say I'm more familiar with sociology, but from a statistical perspective it stands to reason that if racial minorities in America are more prone toward religion, that means there are correspondingly fewer atheists among them whether they're afraid to profess their non-belief to their communities or not.

As a white male, however, I do have a very strong sense that I can operate more or less anonymously and break way or shrug off community bonds more so than others whose communities are by definition smaller.

In response to the questions of a pastor for his seminary project, I recently floated out the grossly disproportionate representation of Christians versus atheists in American prison populations as part of my "view on the Christian faith." I wasn't trying to imply anything, except as a potential dispute of the commonly held opinion that Christians are more moral, and if so, how does one explain such numbers?

To compliment that observation, I also offered that perhaps the proportion of Christians and atheists in American prisons is actually much closer to the outside population, but that atheists might be less likely to admit their atheism in the hopes of better treatment or fear of reprisals. My implication being, of course, that if true, that also might offer some insight into my observations and thoughts on "Christians and the Christian faith." (Because the only way to detach Christianity from that charge is to lean on human nature harder, which weakens their claims of cultural primacy even further.)

So, I wonder if that has any bearing here: if this is true in prisons as a strategy for getting along better, would that not also hold for any small community?
 
JohnH
This will be a bit convoluted so please forgive me. Neither of my parents nor any relatives of that generation were ever told by me that I was an atheist. I do not recall even telling my in-laws. My friends, most of whom are non believers or at a minimum non observers, know. My co-workers knew. My children certainly knew from an early age what I thought about religion. I was still afraid to tell my older family.

I fit the pattern, I am a middle class white male. Yet even with that I was afraid to tell the whole truth to the older members of my family. I did not come from a particularly observant family. None were regular church goers. The closest they came to making religion important was my uncle almost refusing to go to his daughters wedding because she was marrying a polish catholic. My uncle was after all dutch/german and had grown up in Chicago.

I realized I was an atheist at about age 19, I am now 64. So for somewhere between 20-40 years I was reluctant to come out of the closet (so to speak) with close family members. I have seen reports that indicate that atheists are more distrusted than muslims in this country (Wikipedia, I know, I know). But to be a successful white male and not be comfortable with telling certain close relatives what you are should indicate something. This in the San Francisco Bay Area, long known to be tolerant of different behaviors.

Consider african-americans growing up in communities that are often centered around a church. People who have heard rousing hymns coming from churchs their whole lives. Consider the fact of their possible ostracization (SP?) if they admit to what they are. How much harder will be telling others what they are if they come from that kind of community. Further that community has supported them their entire lives, how difficult would it be to turn their back on it.

Or maybe hispanic-americans. My son joked, when his soon to be wife had to go to confession so she could be married in the church, that he was afraid she would be there for at least 10 hours. Among other things they had lived together for about 6 years. The family and the church can become intertwined to the extent that people are reluctant to reject it.

Family can force things on people that cloud their judgement and force them to hide their true feelings. I think for example that my daughter-in-law is a believer she just disagrees with the churchs dictates.

There is also brutal reality. The US is dominated by white males one only need observe legislative bodies from the local to the national to understand that. As a consequence of white male dominance they would naturally be the leaders in any organization. They also will have greater freedom to flaunt authority then others. Excepting some very left wing individuals. Is this the way things should be no, is it fact, yes.

Then there is the fact of education. For the most part atheists are better educated than church goers. I think it may be a chicken and egg question but it is for the most part true. White middle class males have better access to education in this country than any minority, with the possible exception of asian-americans. Critical thought can lead many to understanding the basic failures of religion. If it is not available then those to whom it is not can be ensnared by religions false promises.

We who are openly atheist should share that more. I can do it because of where I live. I understand it is difficult for some of you. We need to make all comfortable with what they are.
Edited by JohnH on 02/28/2011 23:41
 
seeker
Both Cynic and John make excellent points here. I do tend to think that being part of a minority tends to make people cling together more. The result is they tend to adopt each others beliefs or at least avoid questioning each others beliefs.

A good example of this might be the rise of the Nation of Islam, a radical Black Muslim group. They were essentially a small group until the civil rights movement of the sixties when their Black Supremacist teachings became a sort of rallying point. I seriously doubt that many people agreed with much of their beliefs but Black Muslims became almost mainstream purely because they espoused a belief system that was comforting to people in the civil rights movement.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
 
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