In a year full of news stories in which religion played a role, which ones most affected the atheist community in a unique way?
My list is below. Let the debate begin.
10) Thousands Leave the Mormon Church in Mass Exodus
After the Mormon Church announced that gay people in same-sex relationships would be considered “apostates” and that their children would also be punished unless they disavowed their parents, thousands submitted their resignations in one glorious day. That was the last straw. The sentimental reasons many had to remain in the Church, even if they no longer believed the theology, were overtaken by a desire to break free from an institution that was actively denigrating people who had done nothing wrong. Let’s hope the dominoes keep falling.
9) John Oliver Exposes Faith-Based Fraud
In a brilliant segment lampooning Christian televangelists who con their viewers out of their savings and lambasting the IRS for allowing it to happen, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver created his own very-legal church for the sole purpose of taking in money. That money was eventually donated to Doctors Without Borders, but the point is that it didn’t need to be. “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption” exposed some of the worst practices in the Christian world and became a church that atheists everywhere could embrace.
8) NFL Star Arian Foster Says He Doesn’t Believe in a God
This year alone, the Openly Secular campaign managed to get comedian Bill Maher, actress Julia Sweeney, and a seminary president to film videos announcing their non-belief and urging others to join them. But none of them got the buzz that NFL star Arian Foster did with his video:
It was released in conjunction with an article in ESPN The Magazine, in which Foster told reporter Tim Keown, “I don’t believe there’s a God.” That made Foster the highest-profile atheist athlete in the U.S.
Perhaps more importantly, it didn’t seem to hurt his image at all. Let’s hope he recovers from his season-ending Achilles tendon injury and becomes a star player once again.
7) The Satanic Temple Takes Aim at “Religious Freedom” Laws
From forcing a Florida school district to end all Bible distributions, to using the “religious freedom” argument to fight back against Missouri’s 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, to requesting a Baphomet statue wherever a Ten Commandments monument sat on State Capitol grounds, it seemed like the Satanic Temple was everywhere this year.
It got to the point that the phrase “Lucien’s Law” was created to describe the power of the Temple’s spokesperson: He was the the nuclear option in church/state separation cases, stepping in whenever Christians attempted to get special treatment from the government.
6) An Atheist Kills Three Muslims in Chapel Hill
In a story that left so much open to interpretation, 46-year-old atheist Craig Stephen Hicks killed three young Muslims in their apartment near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While their religious differences have not been reported as a cause for his crime — Hicks really was angry about parking spaces, it seems — there’s no denying where he stood on the God question. For a while, at least, we had to consider the fact that a man who liked the same authors, bloggers, YouTubers, and memes that many of us do was responsible for this despicable act. Whatever his motive turns out to be, you can bet people will hold this against all atheists for years to come, whether it’s deserved or not. Some authors, like the discredited C.J. Werleman, already have.
5) The Rise of “Prayer Shaming”
After 14 people were killed in San Bernardino, California, the New York Daily News front page said what many atheists had been thinking for so long: That prayer isn’t a good enough response after a tragedy and “God isn’t fixing this.” Especially when those platitudes come from politicians who have the ability to enact gun control legislation, their “thoughts and prayers” ring hollow. This year, they were finally called out on it.
“Prayer shaming” doesn’t mean people can’t use prayer as a way to grieve, but it properly criticizes those who offer meaningless gestures while refusing to take any meaningful actions.
4) The Supreme Court Legalizes Marriage Equality
Considering that the only arguments you ever seem to hear against marriage equality come from religious people pointing to their holy books, the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling was an indication that there really is no objective case to be made for denying marriage rights to same-sex couples.
In some ways, it must have been a relief for social conservatives, who must know they’re fighting a losing battle. If they want to, they can now just say the law is the law and move on to other topics. Indeed, the Court’s decision will only hasten acceptance of same-sex marriage, making it that much harder for the Religious Right to argue that it’s somehow bad for society.
But we all know they’re still going to make that case. In time, it’ll become even easier for young people to walk away from a faith that fails on the simplest moral issue of our time.
3.5) Charlie Hebdo Cartoonists Killed
(I apologize for omitting this one earlier. I blame the newborn.)
In January, the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were slaughtered in their Paris offices by Islamic extremists who were offended that the magazine poked fun at their beliefs. Even though they routinely satirized many other religions — moreso than even Islam. It led to a conversation about whether “blasphemy” should be banned and whether the cartoonists brought these attacks upon themselves. Many famous writers from the PEN American Center even withdrew from an event because Charlie Hebdo was receiving a Freedom of Expression Courage Award; it was a complete act of cowardice.
3) Bangladeshi Bloggers Are Attacked and Killed for Their Views
Beginning in February with Dr. Avijit Roy and then happening every couple of months or so, atheist bloggers (and others connected to them) in Bangladesh were systematically hacked to death by Islamic terrorists. Government officials were slow to arrest people and, in some cases, blamed the atheists for criticizing Islam. There remain several names on a hit list circulating on social media — many of those people are now trying to escape the country or avoid a gruesome fate. We don’t know how many more will be murdered but it’s sad to say the death count will almost certainly go up in the coming year.
This is the price for criticizing religion in a country where free speech is a farce. We should be grateful to live in a country where, for all its flaws, we don’t have to fear for our lives after pointing out the problems with the majority’s sacred beliefs.
2) Josh Duggar’s Hypocrisy is Exposed
It would have been bad enough if we were just talking about how Josh Duggar molested his younger sisters more than a decade ago. But after In Touch magazine revealed a massive cover-up by his parents, sponsors of the family’s reality show fled, and TLC eventually canceled the show.
For a family known for its “Christian values,” whose members actively campaigned against non-discrimination laws using the argument that transgender people were sexual predators, their collapse was our schadenfreude.
Josh Duggar’s downfall was arguably the biggest example of Christian hypocrisy since Ted Haggard was caught seeing a male escort.
1) Kim Davis Becomes a Punchline
The Kentucky clerk decided her Christian beliefs trumped secular law, even though she was in a government position. By the time Davis finished her six-day stint in jail and gay couples could finally get married in Rowan County, 74% of Americans — many of whom were Christians — agreed that equality under the law was more important than someone’s religious beliefs.
By overstepping her bounds, Davis showed the country that “religious freedom” needs limits. She became the obstacle for loving gay couples who wanted nothing more than the marriage certificate they were legally entitled to. It was yet another PR disaster for the Religious Right and another nail in the coffin for their supposed “values.”