This is the second time this week I’m taking my material from the website of Hemant Mehta, the “Friendly Atheist”. As far as I am aware, he’s the first to point it out, so I’m using him as my source. Don’t tell him though, or else I might have to pay royalties.
In Time’s most recent cover story, Joe Klein write about the benefits that doing volunteer work can have on PTSD symptoms of war veterans. The basic idea is distraction; if you’re focused on going good for the community, not only are you moving the attention from your own thoughts, but you’re also making a name for yourself as a local community leader. I’ve seen similar approaches to other mental illnesses like depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, with a relatively high degree of success.
Later in the article, when talking about the relief effort in Oklahoma, he wrote this:
But there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon. They looked tough, megatatted, in camouflage pants, gray T-shirts and white hard hats. They moved with purpose and spirit and were equipped by Home Depot — which has done brilliant work locating and funding the very best veterans service groups — with an impressive array of chain saws, power tools, wheelbarrows, tarps and wood.
Not only is it demonstrably false, as Hemant and others have shown, but it was a snide little swipe an an entire demographic that didn’t even have any purpose being in the article at all. It’s as if he added it after the fact just to take a jab at us and show everyone how much better the religious handle tragedy and emergency response as opposed to the non-religious.
As I said, Hemant did some very quick research and came up with this (among others):
- Foundation Beyond Belief raised over $45,000 for Operation USA and the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.
- Atheists Giving Aid raised over $18,000 that will be given to local relief groups in Moore, Oklahoma and directly to families that need help.
- Members of the FreeOK atheist group helped families who needed wreckage removed from their property.
- Local atheist groups such as the Oklahoma Atheists, Atheist Community of Tulsa, the Lawton Area Secular Society, Norman Naturalism Group, and the Oklahoma State Secular Organization have organized volunteers, resources, and blood drives.
- Organizers of the FreeOK conference going on this weekend held a literacy drive yesterday to “benefit the schools affected” by the tornadoes.
In other words, as he puts it, Joe is lying out of his ass. This was a gross misrepresentation of the entire secular humanist / atheist / non-believer community that had nothing to do with the article and only served to insult (and deliberately ignore) those who took the time and effort to help.
I’m honestly not surprised. While I am in no way equating the way we are being treated today with the discrimination and outright violence that other groups like blacks, homosexuals, and transgendered individuals have dealt with throughout history and still have to face as they fight for equality, there certainly does seem to be a widespread hostile and dismissive attitude toward nonbelievers that spans age, race, gender, and belief. It’s as though no matter what religion you may have, no matter what God you bow your head to, no matter what requirements there are for salvation, everyone can all agree and find common ground in the conclusion that the atheist is still the worst of the lot. He or she has no morals, no ethical standards, and live as if there is no purpose to life in the first place.
What does surprise me … at least a little given our recent history … is the relative degree of impunity with which these feelings are expressed by public figures like politicians and those in the media. Now, I’ve said before in an echo of Richard Dawkins’ sentiment that no religion should be immune from criticism. Just because you have a strongly held belief doesn’t make it sacrosanct, nor does it give the belief any validation. Still, if we were to hear the things said about atheists said about Jews, racial minorities, or the LGBT community, there would be hell to pay, and rightly so.
More on this tomorrow, I think … but I just wanted to boost the signal a little.