I’m going to preface this by making a couple disclaimers. I’m a deist that used to be an atheist, and the only reason I’m not an atheist is because I can’t explain what made the stuff that made the Big Bang happen (and I took CLST 026 with Professor McInerney and one of his lectures immediately prompted me to question the existence of my consciousness after death). That said, I don’t hate religion, and it pains me that a lot of people automatically think all atheists do. I don’t have any numbers to back me up, but I’m pretty sure many, if not most, nonbelievers don’t hate religion or religious people at all.
This is all well and good, but I’m not here to preach religion or non-religion or whatnot. I’m here to preach First Amendment rights, with religion as only a convenient vehicle.
I browse CNN shamelessly – yes, I know it tends to have a liberal bias so I do take its articles and selection thereof with a grain of salt – and I can’t even count the number of articles that have been about God or how He has helped people through times of crisis. And, despite my lack of religion, I do read those articles and I empathize as best as I can. Many of them have been pretty amazing.
I have nothing against people who profess their religion and explain how it’s helped them. What disturbs me, however, is the response when an atheist professes their lack of religion and explains how it’s worked for them. A few days ago, I read a contributed article (an iReport) by a mother who explains why she chose not to raise her children with God. When I clicked on the headline on CNN’s home page, I received a warning. “The following contains content that has been flagged as inappropriate, and is currently under review. Do you want to continue?”
The only thing I could tell from the headline (literally, “Why I raise my children without God”) was that this was written by a parent (religion uncertain – for all I knew, the parent was religious and just wanted the child to be able to choose) about why he/she doesn’t bring God into child-rearing. So I clicked Yes.
The first thing I read was the second paragraph (habit – I always skip the first paragraph of article notes because it’s more likely to be a wall-of-text).
“CNN hasn’t flagged this iReport as inappropriate, but some community members have. This is a divisive topic, however it does not violate our Community Guidelines, so we ask people to please stop flagging it. We will continue to review this story as often as possible.”
So let me get this straight. Speaking about how God hasn’t helped you is a divisive topic. But speaking about how God has helped you is not? Yes, atheists are a minority, but what does it say about our community when one side of a debate is allowed to speak freely while the other is censured because people are so outraged about the opinion expressed?
Wait, I might have a term for this. Tyranny of the majority. James Madison once mentioned it as a problem in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, expressing the worry that “a majority when united by a common interest or passion can not be restrained from oppressing the minority…” In fact, his only remedy to this problem was to hope “that no common interest or passion will be likely to unite a majority of the whole number in an unjust pursuit.”
At this point, I’d just like to mention in passing that Madison was the one whose proposal was used as the basis for the Bill of Rights.
Of course, Madison’s argument for a Bill of Rights had its opponents. It’s worth noting, though, that Hamilton, the leader of the Federalists, only argued against a Bill of Rights because he feared being unable to enumerate all the rights that should be protected, thus leaving those unnamed vulnerable to encroachment. Regardless, my point is this.
Censoring based on disagreement between parties, I think we can all agree, is ridiculous. Censoring based on accusations of blasphemy is a whole other matter. Personally, I’m not completely convinced that the iReport I mentioned above was not flagged for the latter reason, and this is particularly concerning to me. I don’t foresee a future where Americans are unable to speak their faith – or even viewpoints on other topics – when it differs from the majority. Freedom of speech is integral to American society, and if it were ever to be compromised, I would hardly deign to call that society American anymore.