Social pressure? What social pressure?
Greta Christina observes that atheism is not always greeted with open arms. It doesn’t always get even a mere hostile silence. It sometimes gets just plain forcible rejection. Just good old “no you may not.” Just “sit down and be quiet you hateful atheist you.”
Resistance to atheist groups from high school administrators, while not universal, is depressingly common. According to JT Eberhard, campus organizer and high school specialist for the SSA, “Most of them seem to elect to try and drag their feet until the interested students either lose interest or graduate. The ‘objections’ are varied. I’ve heard ‘it would be too controversial’, ‘all clubs are secular’, ‘other groups already do the same thing’, and a whole host of other lame reasons.”
And this, you see, is one reason we explicit atheists fight back. It’s not necessarily because we are bullied or oppressed ourselves, it’s because a view that we think right and important and under-represented gets treated like a contaminant.
The need for high school atheist groups — or indeed, for atheist groups of any kind — is baffling to many people. When USA Today ran an article about Brian Lisco and the SSA’s new high school program, it was met with a barrage of hostile comments… partly in the hysterical “Satan is trolling for the souls of our youth!” vein, but largely with puzzlement and snark, along the lines of, “Why would anyone need a club to talk about what they don’t believe in?”
But the powerful resistance these groups have encountered makes the need for them all too clear. The reality is that atheists are the most distrusted and disliked of all minority groups — more than blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, and gays and lesbians — and polls show that Americans are less likely to vote for an atheist than they are for a person in any other minority or marginalized category.
All very recursive. We need groups because of the marginalization, so the attempts to set up groups are marginalized, so we need the groups all the more, so; repeat until tired.
Countering anti-atheist myths is important even when the bigotry isn’t overtly threatening or grotesque. Myths about atheists are widespread, even among more moderate and progressive believers. Countering those myths requires visibility — and visibility is more effective with organization. Groups can provide emotional support to people who are coming out when they face opposition and hatred… and groups can make visibility easier to accomplish. As Eberhard points out, “One of the best ways gay students have acquired a greater level of acceptance is by ‘coming out’, so that many people are now realizing that they not only know gay people but that they like gay people. So it must be with atheists. We need to encourage non-believing students to be proud of who they are if the social stigma is to ever be dissolved.”
And not just in high school. Even among adults, even among meta-adults (which is to say, old adults), myths about atheists are widespread, even among more moderate and progressive believers, and even among actual atheists. Atheists who hate atheists; talk about internalization.
So – let the groups spread – let people grow up familiar with atheists – and eventually the automatic hatred will fade away.