Part 1 of a 2-part post.
Atheists get banned all the time, usually for the obvious reason: some True Believer is in charge of whatever one was banned from. it’s just a fact — IxQuick it if you don’t believe me (or Google it). It’s not that bad when one is merely being banned from a web site. It’s frustrating, sure, to be pressing one’s face up against the glass from outside one’s old haunt, unable to snipe back while one’s enemies in the forum troll-wars dance on one’s virtual grave. But it’s just a website, right? So what if the True Believers never seem to get The Ban from Site X, while the atheist population is regularly culled down, right? There’s always Site Y. It’s not like one was banned in real life.
Except that many atheists are still ‘in the closet’ in real life, and the internet is the only safe place they feel they can express themselves. It’s no great secret that New Atheism (what I prefer to call “movement atheism”) is being watered from the digital well. For closeted atheists, being banned from an online community means their support network just shrank.
Add to this observation the fact that banning is more likely to occur on sites where there is a mixed religious/non-religious forum, and the result is a ghettoizing of the online atheist community as banned users are pushed out of the general population of trolls into atheist-friendly safe sites. The cumulative message is clear: atheists are not fit for mixed company; we should sit down and STFU when the grown-up believers are talking, or at least have the decency to confine our blasphemy to isolated enclaves.
There are no statistics that I know of about the online ghettoizing of non-believers, and to be fair, there are a number of progressive news and forum sites whose moderators treat everyone with equal disrespect, up to a point. Moreover, “If some site moderators have a double standard for atheists,” my straw-man apologist argues, “what of it? There’s always another website with a booth up in the free market of ideas.” Hence, to many atheists — never mind theists — these concerns seem like much ado about nothing. And maybe we could so glibly dismiss the topic if the banning and isolation of atheists was limited to cyberspace.
Persecuted in Meatspace
The isolation, banning, and even persecution of atheists are real world problems, though, and the internet is where atheists from every corner of the globe have gathered to fix them. Examples of the discrimination against atheists IRL abound, and know no national boundaries and often even the digital/analog divide isn’t enough to keep us safe.
Alexander Aan is a 32-year-old Indonesian civil servant who started an atheist group on Facebook on which he published articles about Mohammad and questioned the existence of God. He was beaten up by his work colleagues then arrested for blasphemy. He was today jailed for two and a half years and fined Rp 100m (about $10,000). Aan was originally charged with blasphemy and persuading others to embrace atheism, but was instead convicted under the Electronic Information and Transactions Law of deliberately spreading information inciting religious hatred and animosity. (Atheist Ireland, 14 June 2012.)
Two and a half-years in an Indonesian prison and $10K fine for a Facebook page? Really? It’s no wonder USAmericans are willing to act in support of Mr. Aan.
The internet has permitted atheists to form a global movement in mutual aid — and this is true even if most atheists aren’t in fear of real world persecution. We are weaker in the U.S. than we are in Europe, but don’t face the same degree of institutional persecution that we do in some Islamic nations.
In March 2012, following his exposure of a supposed miracle at a Catholic Church in Mumbai as nothing more than the result of a leak, a complaint was lodged against Sanal Edamaruku by local Catholic organisations with the Mumbai police, who are now able to arrest him. He has been denied ‘anticipatory’ bail which means if arrested he faces a long term in prison merely for explaining the science behind an apparent mystery …. He stands accused of “deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments of any class or community”, an offence under Section 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code. No arrest warrant has been issued but the case is “cognisable” meaning the police can arrest without warrant at any time. (Human Rights Petition at Change.org, on July 8, 2012.)
Keep in mind this is nuclear-powered India we’re talking about, not an Islamic nation. And, Sanal faces a possible long sentence for the crime of ‘understanding capillary action’ against the Catholic church. It’s like Galileo all over again, but in 21st century!
In online forums in the U.S., theistic apologists — even liberal Christians and professed agnostics — will routinely use these more extreme cases in more fundamentalist nations to dismiss atheist’s protests against perceived discriminatory behavior. in the West. “Quit complaining,” my straw-man says, “and be glad you’re not Alexander Aan.” This dismissal is belied by this case, alone:
Spc. Jose Ramirez
The Clay County Sheriff’s Office said human remains found in a shallow grave in rural North Texas are those of missing U.S. Army soldier Spc. Jose Ramirez, of El Centro, California …. Authorities were called to the home after an anonymous tipster contacted them about an unsolved murder.
Ramirez went missing from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, more than seven years ago. A former friend of Ramirez’s, 30-year-old Justin Green, was charged with the murder in February. Three others, including Green’s mother and sister, also face charges related to helping clean up the crime scene and hide the body.
A criminal complaint against the group, obtained by Raw Story on Thursday, shows that Green’s sister believes he killed Ramirez “because Ramirez did not believe in God.” The tipster that helped authorities break this missing person turned murder case said the alleged killer, Justin Green, described Ramirez as “a hateful man” because he “did not believe in the Lord.” (Examiner.com, in March 2012).
Nah. There’s no “persecution” of atheists in the U.S. :sarcasm: They’ll just murder you and steal your wallet. If an atheist soldier isn’t safe in Oklahoma and Texas, how safe should the rest of us feel? How is disappearing a soldier and defying the U.S. Army for seven years not domestic terrorism, my dear straw-troll? “It’s an anecdote,” he pompously asserts, “an outlier.” Really? Then what about Madelyne Murray O’Hair? What about Arthur Shelton?
Should private citizens who go publicly atheist like Jessica Ahlquist, Damon Fowler, or this poor YouTube kid ignore these brutal precedents when they are making the decision to come out of the closet? Or when they receive death threats online? Even my straw-troll’s protests that discrimination against atheists is illegal in the U.S. rings hollow. In seven U.S. states, atheists are barred from holding any public office. In some places we shouldn’t even go to the police when threatened.
Never mind the innumerable smaller cases of discrimination that go unreported for whatever reason. And never mind the tacit privileges granted to the religious by the U.S.’s faith-based initiative. Forget about continued instances of unconstitutional prayer and creationism in public schools, and religious discrimination at the workplace and in the military. Don’t talk about Christian privilege, or be banned, that’s the message: STFU, the True Believer troll wants to talk about how many died in Stalin’s gulags.
That’s why if progressives and liberal believers really care about the real world effects of cyber-bullying, as they claim, they will stop enabling the isolation of nonbelievers in our society by their coreligionists. For many atheists, the webz are the only place we can speak out. The occasional banning is just the price we pay for talking to privileged believers.