‘I’m an atheist, but…’, revisited

It’s a bit of a dead horse, the issue of the self-degrading token atheist. Part of this I think is because the discussion has been dominated by the American perspective on token atheists; there is real antipathy towards the godless in the US, so there’s a real incentive for tokens to put up their hands for a few scraps from the table.

I live here in Australia. While I personally know of a few cases of workplace discrimination against atheists (such as by an sportswear manufacturer associated with a local pentecostal church, another example involving your’s truly and a Catholic employer, and others in the social services), and I’m aware that it’s part of a broader context of discrimination by religious employers, I have no objective information that tells me that an Australian atheist is more likely to be discriminated against than a Catholic or Muslim. I’m not willing, on the base of this, to abandon the null-hypothesis – which is that atheists aren’t singled out like this in Australia.

Subjectively, in general, I don’t feel oppressed. My main concern, is Australia’s soft theocracy, and privilege given to religious not-for-profits. The fact that religious organisations can lobby government for exemption from anti-discrimination legislation, and still be taken seriously, and the way S116 of the Australian constitution has been less than robustly enforced by the High Court, is all the justification I need, generally, for these concerns.

(Maybe one day, I’ll try to generalise what my problems with religion and various theocracies are, rather than this occasional piecemeal criticism of this-and-that issue).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t hot-spots of animus against atheists, or other issues of concern to us godless types. This isn’t to say that hostility towards atheists shouldn’t be resisted – especially when considering the roll-call of some of the Australians doing it; Prof. Greg ‘atheist plague’ Craven of Australian Catholic University (which has a mission statement of ‘tolerance’, bah!); George Pell; Dr. Peter Jensen and Prof. Gary ‘secularists are trying to shut down mosques’ Bouma (check some of his appointments to get why this is an issue) to name a few.

It’s just that I’m not going to get worked up about it on a personal level, or feel sorry for myself. Again, I don’t feel oppressed.

But… (meta-but?)

This doesn’t mean that we don’t have token atheists in Australia, especially not in the media. The implications are just a little different, and perhaps interesting if you’re a little jaded about the issue of ‘atheist, but…’ infidels.

John: I’m an atheist, but I respect religious people.

Jane: Why do you feel the need to point that out? Do you think that people will think you’re a bigot if you call yourself an atheist? You sound like you think you’re oppressed.


John: I’m an atheist, but I respect you, my Muslim friends.

Jane: Why do you feel the need to re-assure Muslims? Are you paranoid they’re going to blow you up or something if you admit to being a non-believer? You sound phobic. You do realise that Muslims in Australia are generally pretty moderate?


John: I’m an atheist, but I won’t rock the boat, dear religious employer/manager/editor…

Jane: Geez, I can tell you’re going to be fun to work with. You do realise that if your boss isn’t in the business of prejudice, you’ve just delivered them one whopping great insult? And if they are in the business of prejudice… well… cripes. Yellow stripe…


You really have to wonder why, in a country that’s so tolerant of atheists, there are still atheists willing to sell out their own for a few scraps from the table. Maybe it’s just general back-stabbing, and cowardice. Office politics for dolts.

Maybe some of these ‘but’ atheists have been bullied by religious employers/lecturers/parents in the past, and don’t know any better. I can’t say I’m in a position to sympathise.

Maybe, in context, locally, there is discrimination in practice. Maybe some atheist sod just needs a job, and happened across one of the bad workplaces.

Aside from any concern about the well-being of atheists as a group, there’s the issue, a big issue, in the media, of what exactly the dynamic is when editors are appealed to in this manner.

An editor’s a theist, so their journos start peddling garbage misquotes about atheists and whatnot to appeal to them. This presupposes that a religious editor actually wants this kind of tripe; it’s either an insult to a good editor, or unethical brown-nosing to a bad one.

But more than this, what you have is an up-front commitment by an atheist writer/journalist to negotiate truth in return for presumed career favours. Journalism born of this can only be of dubious ethics, and it’s something for interested atheist and theist readers to take serious umbrage over. It’s contemptuous.

Journalists and writers who do this knowingly regard their readers as fools. Journalists and writers who do this unwittingly are at best, flaky.

(Reflect for a moment on the plight of good editors having to manage this kind of ‘talent’).

This kind of career brown-noser is a class of social commentator I’m really getting quite impatient with; ever increasingly as I encounter repeated instances of such simpering cowardice.

~ Bruce

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