Recently I’ve come across the movement Openly Secular, encouraging people to embrace and profess their non-belief to the world. Now I have considered myself an atheist for a long time but it never really occurred to me to spread the word. I mean, most people don’t go around professing their disbelief in Zeus or fairies, these things are taken for granted. It always seemed to me that the things you talk about, the ones you fight for, are the topics and issues which you strongly believe in not the ones that you don’t. Through the wonder of the Internet and the ability to discover a much wider world of experiences I have had a change in perspective. It turns out that non-belief can be a very dangerous thing in some places, in some cases there is the threat of death or abandonment, simply for not believing. One thing I do strongly believe in is fighting against this kind of hatred and bigotry, so the hope is that talking about it and sharing solidarity with the Openly Secular movement can help to change that so everyone is free to believe what makes sense to them without fear of repercussion.
Growing up in a Catholic family, when I first came to acknowledge my non-belief I’ll admit to some hesitation in talking about it with family and friends as, to my knowledge at the time, everyone I knew was religious and there is some inherent fear in going against the grain, especially as a young person. However when it did come out, after I was asked directly and felt I had to be honest with myself and my family, as I recall there was some stunned silence at first but in the end it was accepted as is and was never an issue for anyone. For me it came down to the fact that belief or non-belief is irrelevant to being a good person and living a good life, which is the important thing, and I believe my family and friends felt the same way. Unfortunately, as the world has been learning the hard way, not everyone agrees with that sentiment.
In Bangladesh right now secular bloggers are being killed for their rejection of the prevailing faith. In 13 countries the death penalty can be used for anyone convicted of atheism. (Think about that for a minute, these people are being murdered, legally or otherwise, over a difference of opinion. How can any good person, secular or religious, stand for that?)In other countries, atheists have no legal standing and must identify with a faith on legal documents as atheism is not recognized. Expressing secular views has led to mob beatings, prosecution and jail time for many. Less drastic but still concerning examples of this discrimination can be seen in the fact that seven states in the US prohibit atheists from holding public office, recent studies in western countries have shown that atheists have lower employment prospects than believers and face distrust and hate on par with rapists. While being killed for your non-belief is not very likely in North America, there are still many who have legitimate concerns that they may be disowned by their family for expressing secularism.
The above examples range from heinous to simply disturbing, but it is very clear that taking non-belief one step further and including one more god to the pantheon of gods most of us no longer believe in comes with many, sometimes unimaginable, consequences. In this day and age, this level of hate should be unacceptable to any decent person, much as it is when it falls under racism, homophobia, or sexism. In supporting things like Openly Secular we can increase the visibility of these travesties and foster change exemplified in the civil rights, LGBT rights, and woman’s rights movements which continue to this day. Stop the hatred, equal rights for all, as it should be.