1. Religion & Spirituality
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

You Might Be an Uncle Tom Atheist If...

Uncle Tom Atheists Exchange Liberty for Crumbs of Privilege


Are you truly committed to equality, liberty, and liberation for all atheists or are you more of an "Uncle Tom" atheist? Would you turn your back on working for real equality in exchange for a few scraps from the tables of religious theists so you can pretend you're being treated as an equal? Would you support increased privileges for Christians in the hope that a few of those privileges might drip down to benefit you personally? You might, and without even realizing it because some seemingly innocuous behaviors can do all atheists more harm than good.

So, You Might be an Uncle Tom Atheist if...

You "Accommodate" Believers' Demands to Have Special Privileges

Special privileges for one group is an indirect means of furthering the oppression of other groups, so an Uncle Tom Atheist cooperates with privileged groups by helping them defend current accommodations or acquire more. Privileging religious believers generally or Christians in particular means that secularism suffers and secular atheists become further disadvantaged. Uncle Tom Atheists, though, hope that their active cooperation will allow them to enjoy a few scraps dropped from the table of privileged believers. This is unlikely to happen in practice and when it does it only means that those atheists are kept even more under control, but for some the hope of such scraps outweighs any hope for genuine liberation.

You Allow Religion to Give People a Special Status to Speak on Moral Issues

One of the greatest lies perpetuated by religion today is the idea that religion, religious leaders, and religious institutions have any special authority on moral questions. This allows them to frame both moral and political debates in ways that further entrench religious power in society to the detriment of secularism and secular atheists. Uncle Tom Atheists cooperate with this by encouraging the perception that there is anything about a religious leader or religious institution which should automatically confer a stronger voice in public debates than secular leaders and secular institutions. This may flatter religious believers, but it sets back the cause of liberation from religious authoritarianism.

You Make Civility and Being "Nice" More Important than Condemning Immorality

Being nice to people is an important social value, but it's not the only social value and there are times when not being nice — like incivility or derision — is called for. This is most plainly the case when we are faced with gross immorality: we don't need to be civil when discussing racism, we don't need to be nice when discussing neo-Nazis, and we don't need to worry about the hurt feelings of White Supremacists. Uncle Tom Atheists dismiss this and insist on worrying about the hurt feelings of religious theists no matter what they are being criticized for. Uncle Tom Atheists put the feelings of religious believers first and the suffering of victims of faith-based crimes or immorality last.

You Argue that Atheists are Somehow Responsible for the Bigotry Against Them

The most common way someone can become an Uncle Tom Atheist is to blame the atheists for the bigotry, animus, hatred, and discrimination they experience. This can be seen whenever someone insists that atheists are disliked so much in America today because of the so-called "New Atheists" who are unapologetically critical of religious beliefs. That this is false is clearly demonstrated by the fact that attitudes towards atheists today are actually better than in the past, but facts here are irrelevant because the goal of an Uncle Tom Atheist is not to accurately describe reality but rather than make religious believers feel more comfortable about their faith-based bigotry and oppression.

You Apologize for "Bad Atheists" Making Religious Believers Uncomfortable

It's easy to see how generalizations about an entire class of people must be wrong, but bigots get around this by dividing a group into the "good" members who do what they are told and the "bad" (uppity) members who make the entire group look bad. Uncle Tom Atheists accept this division and thus also accept the principle that the actions of a few atheists can be classified as "bad" and thereby tarnish the reputations of all atheists. Whether the behavior of the "bad" atheists in question really is bad or not typically remains unaddressed for obvious reasons. By apologizing for other atheists, Uncle Tom Atheists tell religious believers that they have good reasons to be bigots and are therefore not immoral.

You Vote for Anti-Atheist Bigots as the Lesser of Two Evils

Rather than actively fight oppression, an Uncle Tom Atheist actively supports oppression if it means being a little bit less oppressed themselves. One example of this is to pretend that it's OK to vote for political candidates who are merely a little less bigoted against atheists than their rivals instead of fighting for candidates who somehow manage to not be bigots at all. No one can avoid voting for people they disagree with on some things, but when you vote for people you know are bigots or who support or tolerate bigotry, you are actively cooperating with evil in the hope that a little less evil will fall on your shoulders. Why not risk the wrath of worse bigots by fighting to end oppression completely?

You Don't Think Equality for Atheists is Very Important

Anti-atheist bigots don't believe in equality for atheists and Uncle Tom Atheists put a positive, atheistic face on this. They can't say directly that atheists shouldn't be concerned with equality, so they argue that there are so many other things that are so much more important that atheists will essentially give up on demanding equality. Removing "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance isn't important and would upset Christians, so atheists should focus on "more important" issues. Insisting that politicians oppose anti-atheist bigotry before atheists vote for them is less important that other issues facing the whole nation, so atheists must set that aside. No matter what, atheists are always less important.

You Begin a lot of Sentences with "I'm an Atheist But..."

Even if you don't recognize any of the above behaviors in your own life, you might be doing them without realizing it. One way to check is to reflect on whether you tell religious believers that you're an atheist but: you disagree with New Atheists, you think religion should be exempt from satire or mockery, you agree that religion should have a privileged place in society, etc. Saying "I'm an atheist, but..." is an indirect way of apologizing for being an atheist in the first place; it's a way of saying to religious believers "you have every reason to despise me, but let me explain why I'm an exception and should be treated better." You might as well say "I'll be your Uncle Tom, really I will." Get off your knees, why don't you?

How Can You Help Yourself & Others Avoid Uncle Tom Atheism?

Nothing here, and certainly no one thing, means that a person is necessarily making oppression of atheists easier. These are signs of problems, not proof or error or even malice. If you find yourself doing any of them, though, you should stop to reflect on what's going on. Avoiding the trap of Uncle Tom Atheism isn't just a matter of doing the exact opposite in each of these case because many of these behaviors can appear completely innocuous or reasonable on their own. The key is to place your behavior in a larger context in order to understand how it fits in with larger social trends rather than just your own life. You want to be sure you aren't missing the forest for the trees.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.