PZ Myers at Pharyngula, as I noted in my original post, offers a strong perspective:
It convinced me of a couple of things. I apparently have not been militant enough, and am going to have to work harder at aggressively promoting godlessness. And I'm adding CNN to my list of news agencies to ignore, along with Fox.
Just Throwing it Out There has a nice post and includes a message he sent to CNN:
The panelists that you featured included two Christians, one Jew, and zero atheists. It was intellectually insulting to watch such a biased discussion, with biased questions. Perhaps instead of "Why do atheist inspire such hatred?" you could have posed the question, "Why is mainstream America so intolerant toward atheists?" The first question implies that atheist are deserving of the scorn they receive, while the second asks for real justification.
While I respect the opinions of the panelists, I have to say that featuring three religious people in a debate on discrimination against atheists is unethical at best. CNN had a chance to bring about real discussion, and failed to do so in so blatant a way that I feel it damages your credibility. You cannot host such a one sided debate in a forum where balance and honesty are paramount. I personally expect more from a news organization with such prestige and reputation, and I believe that you owe atheists and Americans an apology for that panel.
The banner behind all this while they were talking read "Why do atheists inspire such hatred?" Might as well ask why Jews inspire such hatred, or Muslims, or Catholics, or Hindus...etc... Atheists have it tough in todays world. Cinema, literature, and parenting has raised kids to think that believing in something utterly, without any proof whatsoever, is a wonderful thing. In any other area, this is called stupidity, and we make fun of people for it.
I dream of a world where no one believes in God(s), where religious wars are something we laugh at as a pointless relic of an earlier age, where old, decaying, or entirely baseless rules/taboos are thrown out, where no man may feel justified in killing another thinking he's doing the lords work. *cough cough Osama cough cough Bush cough cough*
According to Dreyonlegacy:
You know, I thought it was just an isolated incident when my interviewer encouraged me to find religion during college. But no. Apparently atheism is the new black. Because belief in God makes you a moral, rational, upstanding person (eg. Hitler).
The Bacon Eating Atheist Jew is typically pointed in his comments:
But it was Debbie Schlussel who really pissed me off. If America is a Christian nation like she says, it also a White nation then too. Why doesn't she tell the black panel members to shut up as well? She states that Atheists target Christians. This has to do with the fact that there are a lot more ex-Christian Atheists than anything else. And they know the psychological brainwashing that goes on with a Christian youngster.
God has his own blog, which I didn't know, and God wasn't at all happy about the CNN segment:
If you take My name out of your pledge and your money, you’ll be just another hot-bed of sin like Canada.
To say atheists believe nothing is to underestimate the threat they pose. They believe the best way to understand the Universe is through cautious, rational inquiry, and that you shouldn’t jump to poorly supported conclusions just because they make you feel good. That’s much worse than believing in nothing. If that way of thinking spreads, all the industries that rely on people believing false things will collapse. Yadda yadda yadda, armageddon.
Godless Geek at Braindump is similarly critical:
I had given myself time to calm down before I wrote this post, but writing it has just gotten me worked up again. This is the most bigoted thing I've ever seen on television. If they were saying this about any other group besides atheists, they would have been fined, lost advertisers, and would have fired multiple people, but because it was about atheists, no one cares. If anyone needs an example of the discrimination against atheists, this is it.
The Jaded Skeptic also takes on the segment, quote by quote, and concludes at the end:
So why are atheists put upon, picked on, mistreated. Because they deserve it. Apparently atheists victimize and use everyone around them. Do they steal children in the night as well?
That's what Paula Zahn taught me.
Jane Orben links to the videos and includes a letter she sent to CNN:
How dare your commentators talk about a whole group of peoples’ worldview so flippantly and in such a derogatory manner. Atheists are not some homogenous group. We are as diverse in our approaches to ethics, spirituality, politics, and lifestyle as Christians or any other religious group. And how similar are United Methodists to Amish fundamentalists? Not very. A minority of atheists are militant, especially in parts of the country where we are most discriminated against. But other groups of atheists form coalitions with religious communities on issues we share in common.
Atheists don’t believe in “nothing”. We have beliefs about the natural world, ethics, political ideologies, and love for our family and friends. Many of us have values identical to some religious folks, even if the foundation for those values is different. According to polls, we are less likely to get divorced or to end up in prison. “Atheist” is not synonymous with “nihilist” or “hedonist”.
In the comments to the original post, Mark Thomas posted the letter he sent to CNN:
Dear Paula Zahn,
Thank you for showing the video on discrimination against Atheists in America, on your January 31st show. If you or your panelists plan on discussing Atheism in the future, it would be good to have someone who can defend that point of view. Also, most studies show that approximately 15% of Americans can be called non-believers, not the 1 to 3% that was stated. The actual number is likely even higher, but many people are afraid to express their true beliefs because of the discrimination against Atheists.
I was astounded at the level of intolerance, religious chauvinism, and prejudice toward Atheists displayed by Karen Hunter and Debbie Schlussel. It’s especially egregious because these two are themselves members of minorities. Would either of them tolerate similar statements against her minority group? Karen Hunter should understand how Christianity has been used to endorse racism and slavery. Debbie Schlussel should understand how Christianity has been used (especially by fascism) to control the populace and deny rights to Jews and other minorities. Apparently neither of them understood what I saw as the main point of the videos you showed — that overt discrimination is still active in America, and it is wrong.
Karen Hunter said that schools should have religion, as long as it’s her religion. She obviously does not understand that public schools are for all students, no matter their religion or lack thereof. Debbie Schlussel put forth the false idea the we have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Freedom of religion means the right to reject any religion, including all religions. Only Stephen A. Smith understood the concept that freedom of speech is critical especially when one disagrees with what is said.
Debbie Schlussel grossly overstated the teaching of Islam in a California school, see http://www.snopes.com/religion/islam.htm Her statement about Muslim prayers at football games and public high schools also seems to be overstated and intentionally inflammatory. However, both these purported incidents should give her some idea of what it’s like to have somebody else’s religion foisted upon a captive crowd.
Karen Hunter said that Atheists believe nothing. This is a common belief, and it is false. Most Atheists are also Secular Humanists. The philosophy of Secular Humanism declares that humans are most important, not any imaginary gods. We have the power, thru love, reason, science, courage, and vision, to solve our problems. We shape our destiny. We are each capable of personal development and satisfaction. Humanism holds as its highest goal the happiness, fulfillment, and freedom of all humankind.
All of your panelists agreed that the United States is a Christian nation. Although most citizens are Christian, the Constitution mandates that the government takes a neutral stance on religion. This was also expressed in the Treaty of Tripoli, which stated, “The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” One other function of the Constitution is to protect the rights of minorities from the tyranny of the majority — a concept that all your panelists should understand.
This is just astonishing to me. They run a story that clearly shows that this family was discriminated against, and follow it up with a panel discussion that backs up just about everything that town did to the family. Where was the atheist on the panel, or at the very least, where was somebody who actually has an understanding of the first amendment?
Dead Spin praises Stephen Smith as a voice of sanity:
This isn't the first time he's debated non-sports topics on CNN, but this is the first time we've grabbed a clip.
And you know what? We think that, without question, Stephen A. comes across as the only sane person in this clip. It might be because the topic of the show is the oncoming propaganda onslaught of atheists -- they're coming for you next! -- and a topic like this is destined to bring out the crazies. (Seriously, do atheists really need a "better PR campaign" and "Hallmark cards?")
In all the legitimate criticisms being made against the other two guests, I'm glad to see people are also making a point of noting how reasonable Smith was, at least.
At One Good Move, Mitch writes a comment quoting an interview Martin Luther King, Jr. did in 1965 in which he was asked for his reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling holding state-written and state-endorsed prayers in public schools to be unconstitutional:
I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally, or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right. I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision.
In the same interview, King elaborated on some of the problems religion has been involved with:
In a world gone mad with arms buildups, chauvinistic passions, and imperialistic exploitation, the church has either endorsed these activities or remained appallingly silent. During the last two world wars, national churches even functioned as the ready lackeys of the state, sprinkling holy water upon the battleships and joining the mighty armies in singing, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” A weary world, pleading desperately for peace, has often found the church morally sanctioning war.
Martin Luther King, Jr. obviously wanted to use religion to encourage peace and justice, but that didn't make him blind to the fact that religious theism is often involved in war and injustice.
Schlussel is a raving lunatic and always has been, so there's nothing she says that surprises me. But Karen Hunter, who I'd never heard of before, is an absolute moron. "Don't impose upon my right to want to have prayer in schools"? Are you daft? These people really do think that if they can't force YOU to participate in their religious exercises, you're denying THEIR rights. It's absolutely insane reasoning.
Laurence A. Moran at Sandwalk is even more pointed:
I've just about had it with Paula Zhan. She's almost the most stupid "journalist" on TV, a fact she demonstrated in her January 31st report on atheism in America. ...Did it never occur to CNN that having an atheist-hating Jew and two evangelical Christians discuss atheism was a bad idea? Where were the atheists on a show about atheism?
Questionable Authority calls for a boycott:
CNN did something that was very wrong here, and we need to get them to right the wrong. A tactic that has worked for other groups faced with similar situations is a boycott, and I think one is called for here. Let's tell CNN that they need to take i steps to address the unfair and unbalanced way they treated atheists on that program, and that if they do not, we will boycott their advertisers. At a minimum, these steps should include: (1) a public apology for their failure to include atheists in a discussion about the treatment that atheists sometimes receive; and (2) a broadcast that re-examines this issue and that does include atheists in the discussion.
If you have written to CNN — hopefully something polite — let me know and I can post the whole message or at least excerpts. If you hear back from CNN, definitely let me know so we can publicize their official comments, reactions, and position on the matter. Don't let the story disappear and be completely forgotten.
People who wish to complain to CNN can write to Paula Zahn on her comment page (thanks to Triphesas for this link). Debbie Schlussel has a contact page, but I doubt there is much point in using it. Stephen Smith also has a contact page, if you'd like to thank him for standing up for decency and equality.