On Discrimination Against Atheists and Atheism
Opportunities are rare when we are able to see, hear, and read atheists speaking about atheism in mainstream media. Yet, religious figures and granted extraordinary access and time to mass media, almost always without opposition.
I was disappointed by Neil deGrasse Tyson on a recent episode of his television show.
On Startalk, his popular television program which airs Monday nights on the National Geographic Channel, deGrasse Tyson announced his special guest would be Richard Dawkins, the famed British author and evolutionary biologist perhaps best-known for being one of the world’s most outspoken atheists. Dawkins was to be interviewed on the topic of atheism as it relates to science.
Startalk is a hit or miss show. But it does a pretty good job promoting science and the cosmos, and often comes up with interesting ways of making complex topics easy to understand. Moreover, DeGrasse Tyson is the ideal host of the hour-long program, which frequently invites the most brilliant minds from various fields to share their ideas. I have only an elementary knowledge of science, so programs like Startalk help me to better understand our universe.
Dawkins was scheduled to discuss his reasons for being an atheist. Whether you agree with him, or not — Dawkins is unquestionably one of the experts in his field. He deserves to be heard. Unfortunately, the program was counterfeited when deGrasse Tyson made a shocking announcement that another guest would be on the show — a Jesuit priest.
The Jesuit priest had previously been on Startalk many times. I’d always found him to be interesting and well-spoken. However, why was he invited to be in a show presumed to be about atheism? It made no sense at all to include the Jesuit priest. In fact, it made about as much sense as interviewing a priest about the Catholic Church and then giving an atheist equal time (which I’ve yet to see happen).
Unfortunately, the Jesuit priest wasn’t just given equal time. He spoke about twice as much.
Afterward, I was upset at the lost opportunity to hear more from Richard Dawkins about a topic on which he’s probably the world’s foremost authority. Granting the priest more time to intentionally confuse and misrepresent atheism came across as pointless.
Hence, one of the rare opportunities to learn more about atheism — including the principles behind its validity, its rich history, its basic belief systems, its place in modern society, and its future — was diluted by allowing a religious authority equal billing.
What was particularly frustrating about the episode was that it took place on a program about science. This wasn’t a debate. This wasn’t a discussion about religion. This wasn’t an interview on the existence of God. It was a show purported to be on the topic of atheism.
This got me thinking about how rare opportunities are when we are able to see, hear, and read atheists speaking about atheism in mainstream media. Religious figures and granted extraordinary access and time to mass media, almost always without opposition. They are guests on virtually every news program prepared to discuss any topic. Religious-oriented programming dominated dozens of channels on cable and satellite. Religion is everywhere.
Yet on the very rare occasion when we get to learn a little about atheism from the world’s top atheist, what do we also get? A religious buffer.
I expected more from deGrasse Tyson and Startalk.
Shutting out atheism and silencing atheists has been standard practice in America since the days of Darwin. It’s only been recently when atheists feel safe enough to express their opinions without fear of backlash — professionally, from friends, and from family. Still, many atheists remain silent because of the risks associated with speaking out.
This must change, and the only way to make changes is to speak out. Firmly and forcefully, and always with civility.