Atheism, homosexuality, and other reasons your neighbors look at you funny

June 8th, 2012 by Tim Leave a reply »

atheismJune is LGBT Pride Month, and what better way to celebrate than to talk about how much easier it is to be gay now than to be an atheist. Would my parents feel better if I was gay instead of atheist? That’s not at all clear.  (But I’m pretty sure my fiancé prefers the latter.)

Ronald Lindsay’s essay does make the accurate point that the LGBT movement is farther up the acceptance curve than atheists are.  Sure, gays are only despised in many areas of the country, while atheists are a scourge throughout it.

Yet it’s pretty clear that equal rights and social equality for gays and lesbians is inevitable, even if they must first wait for all the Baby Boomers to die.  I think atheists will get there too, but that may take an additional generation.  Repeated studies have indicated that a Muslim Hispanic lesbian high school dropout with a kitten drowning fetish would be elected to the Oval Office long before anyone entrusts the nuclear codes to an Ivy League educated white male golf-playing baby-eating atheist.

Clearly, there are parallels between the groups, much as any of these freedom movements have parallels, but they are not the same.  One of Lindsay’s points of difference is that atheists, unlike homosexuals, make a choice.  I’m not so sure.

It wasn’t that long ago that the conventional wisdom was that homosexuality was a choice.  Genetic studies and other scientific evidence have since dispelled that myth.  I strongly believe that gays being born that way has contributed more than a little to their societal acceptance.

If you talk to a few gay people it becomes pretty clear there was no point in their life when they decided to be gay.  However, most do have a point where they stopped pretending to be heterosexual.  Those are not remotely the same things.

Science has yet to nail down a “god gene”, but there is work going on that does at least suggest a genetic origin for predisposition toward the spiritual.  I think discovery of such a DNA based origin for faith or the lack of it would go a long way toward making atheists less threatening.  However, I won’t be able to stop snickering at the delicious irony if it turns out religion was an evolutionary trait along.

I know for me personally, I could not choose to be religious. My brain is simply not wired that way. I could choose to act religious, but that’s not the same thing.  Especially in this country, the bar for appearing Christian is quite low in most communities.  Simply don’t talk about religion, wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and show up to church every Easter.  That clearly doesn’t make you religious, but you’d pass as a default Christian in the average American town.

This may be the real key difference between gays and atheists in society. Homosexuals are not asexual. If they were, they would have no desire for romantic attachment. As an asexual, it would be fairly easy to just keep your mouth shut and let everyone assume you were single and straight—much like the closeted atheist.

But homosexuals do have desires. They want to be in relationships, have families and all that social-centric stuff.  In religion terms, being gay is more like being Hindu than atheist.  They want to practice, just differently. It’s definitely easier to just decline to play rather than want to play, but by different rules.

So, I think it is harder being gay in society than atheist.  And I think the ease of ignoring or hiding one’s atheism is also why getting atheists to come out of the closet will always be more problematic. Hence,the reason the movement toward atheist’s rights will progress slowly… glacially even.  We’ll get there, but probably not in my lifetime.

My mother always said I could grow up to be President.  It turns out that’s not so true.

4 comments

  1. I think the key difference is that god will forgive you for being homosexual.

    But seriously, the key argument against gay marriage is that it undermines traditional marriage. I don’t agree, but I think a valid argument could be made that atheism undermines theism. Atheism, unlike homosexuality, is contagious and therefore much more threatening.

    Only a fixed, minority of people in this country will ever be homosexual, but the percentage of atheists is ever growing. Acceptance of atheists and their rights will not progress glacially. Rather there will be a tipping point where the idea of discriminating against an atheist will be as nonsensical as not eating meat on Fridays.

  2. Perhaps it’s more that homosexuality undermines religious doctrine rather than it undermines traditional marriage. In that way, it’s like atheism, just that atheism undermines pretty much all the doctrines.

    And I’m unsure how contagious atheism is. I think there are many people out there who would align with the popular trend whether that was Christianity, atheism, or Pastafarianism. I’m not sure they would be catching atheism as much as just going along because they didn’t care one way or the other. I doubt the truly devout at heart will ever catch it. I don’t think they are wired that way. They will always believe in something.

    As to the tipping point, I hope you’re right. But the tipping point could go the other way given some of the current religious trends in this country. I agree that when it starts to tip, it will go pretty quickly. I’m still not sure that will be anytime soon. But I’d love to be wrong.

  3. Bill Snyder (via Facebook) says:

    Yeah, I’ve taken to telling people that if spiritual inclination is genetically-based, I’ve had the good fortune to be born double-recessive.

    I do think the change to acceptance is happening perhaps a bit less glacially than you say here. The tipping point is coming; it will come earlier in some locales than others — expect atheist city council members before atheist representatives, atheist representatives before an atheist president. Actually, I’m pretty sure we’ve already had all of these; it’s just a question of openness.

    And a final ‘but yeah': I’m also pretty sure my parents were disappointed when I finally just began refusing to go to church even to be social. But they also weren’t horrified. In fact, I think they knew from early on… : )

  4. Martin Bradt says:

    I think atheism is very contagious among young, impressionable people, just as religion is. Note that about 85 or 90 percent of the time a person’s religion in adulthood matches that of one or both parents. At a glance that can seem like genetics, but I find that when an adult changes to a religion, it is when they are very vulnerable and around people who follow that religion. When a person changes to atheism, I don’t think this is the case at all (wasn’t with me at age 14).

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