Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Most Despised Minority in America

This is America, and we aren't supposed to hate anyone because they are a minority, are we? Actually, we have been getting better lately with regard to many minorities - but not all. Electing Barack Obama President of our United States is evidence that being black has become a respectable distinction for a significant majority of Americans. 8% of the Members of Congress are Black compared with 13% of the population - getting closer. Having one woman as a vice-presidential candidate and another as a serious presidential contender affirms that being a woman is also considered acceptable, even though only 16% of Congress is female.

Being Hispanic is fairly well accepted with 5% of Congress representing 15% of the population. Being Jewish has actually become distinguished, as 7% of Congress represents the 1% of the population who are Jewish. A Gallup Poll reports that only 4% of Americans have a negative view of Jews compared with 23% who have a negative view of Evangelical Christians.

Are Gays the most despised minority? Their situation is still grim, but it isn't the worst. Because many gays, lesbians, and bisexuals fear divulging their status, various studies indicate that anywhere from 4% to 15% of Americans are LGBT. Three members of Congress are openly gay. That is a vast under-representation, even though more Representatives may not yet have declared themselves.

So who is most despised? One strong candidate for the title "Most Despised Minority in America" is Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, and the others who comprise the group unfortunately termed "non-believers." While "non-believer," in this case, refers to a "non-belief" in a super-human deity, it, like other negative terms, automatically carries a stigma, as would "non-white," "non-male," or "non-Christian."

How many "non-believers" are there in America? This question is even harder to answer than how many Gays, because it appears to be socially unacceptable to state that one is an Atheist or Agnostic. Though the estimates vary widely, 10-12% of all Americans and 20-25% of those aged 18-30 identify themselves as "non-believers," depending very heavily on how the question is phrased. When the poll offers three choices, belief in "God," belief in "universal spirit," or belief in neither, the number who don't believe in "God" jumps to over 20%. 20% of Americans is a huge number to be despised. For comparison, the US Census reports that only 13% of Americans are Black, and only 15% Hispanic.

As evidence of the prejudice against freethinkers ("non-believers"), a poll indicates that only 14% believe that America would accept an Atheist President, while 84% believe we would not. There is only one member of Congress, Representative Pete Stark of California, who openly acknowledges not believing in "God." This is not a lot of representation for 10-20% of our population. How many members of Congress are "closet non-believers?" Who knows. Pete Stark has represented a district near San Francisco since 1973, but only in 2007 announced his non-belief. Would others make similar announcements if doing so were not political suicide? One group suggests that 21 members of congress are closet non-theists.

Freethinkers tend to keep a low profile and not join with others who share similar beliefs partly because they are independent-minded people, and partly out of fear of reprisal for openly acknowledging their belief system. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) in the United States, is one of very few that actively work to protect the rights of freethinkers. One of the projects of FFRF is documenting a few of the widespread hateful deeds and words against freethinkers, such as comparing non-belief in a super-human deity to Nazi war crimes or the activities of the Ku Klux Klan or Al-Qaeda.

As more evidence of prejudice, the response when the group tries to display a billboard with the simple message, "Imagine No Religion," is outrage. Billboard companies refuse to rent space, and religious extremists respond with vicious baseless propaganda such as, "Why Do Atheists Hate America?"

Where do we go from here? How long will it be before every American has access to their full rights of citizenship, including free speech, separation of church and state, and proportionate representation?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Gratitude - I am so blessed to be an American living in 2009

I live in a country with an long established tradition of free speech and freedom of and from religion. I have the right to say anything I choose - as long as my speech does not incite hatred or such. I have the right to choose my relationship with Spirit - which rituals I will observe and which I will not. I give thanks that America has no state agency to ensure that I bow to the east at scheduled times or that I show up to listen to someone's particular version of the hereafter. I am equally thankful that my personal communion with Spirit is not forbidden - even if my beliefs and practices are not those of the majority.

Why would I bother expressing my gratitude? Because these freedoms are not inherent to the nature of life. Freedom of speech and religion are not common in the world even today, and they were less common in earlier times. Far more important, these freedoms are under attack in America today. There are more than a few Americans who would choose to suppress these rights. Perhaps you remember the comics published in Denmark that parodied Allah? The reaction from some was to call for the murder of the comics' authors. But is that so alien to America. Are we strong enough in our support of our American freedoms to support and encourage those who parody religious beliefs and practices that are common in America? Are we strong enough to encourage all sincere religious beliefs and practices however different they may be from the majority? Are we individually confident enough in our personal beliefs that we do not feel that they require government sanction to retain validity? Do Americans in 2009 still have the strength and generosity, as our American forefathers did, to allow others the right to hold beliefs that differ from our personal beliefs?

America is a magnificent country. Amazing things happen here. Electing a president from a racial minority is a magnificent accomplishment. Having a woman in serious contention for the presidency was also a great indicator of acceptancy. We have come so far. And yet, in the area of religious freedom, we appear to be in danger of stepping backward. I fear that America is not yet ready to elect a Buddhist or Atheist President, but I hold that one day America will accept religious differences as easily as racial and gender differences.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tax Time

April 15

Tax time, tax time, pile the papers in stacks time.
Fill in ten-forty from double-U four.
Seventeen piles on the living room floor.
The doc that is missing's the one that I need.
I saw it last Summer I pitifuly plead.

Procrastinate, procrastinate, it's later than I think.
I'll do it tomorrow, it's nice out today.
I've still got a week, then it's only one day.
It's too early, too late, I have work, I have play.
There's no end to excuse. Won't that tax go away.