I am open about my atheism to everyone I know, at work and otherwise. I work with a few other atheists and I find it endlessly enlightening to discuss any and every topic with them because of how different we all are despite the common thread of atheism which tenuously connects us to one another. Last night I found myself participating in a discussion about civil rights. A woman I work with, I'll call her F, was making a very convincing point that she couldn't understand how someone could justify supporting gay rights but not supporting gun rights.
To be honest, I could see her logic with this and while I understand that the issue of gun rights and the issue of gay rights are different enough for it to be questionable to simplify either issue to the point where it's interchangeable with one another, the basic message was clear - civil rights are paramount and should be protected regardless of your personal biases or opinions. I happen to fully support gay rights and cautiously support gun rights, so this was a point that I easily understood.
Then I brought up the case of the baby who had recently died because her parents believed in faith healing and refused to take the little girl to the doctor and posed the question - do the rights of the parents trump the rights of the child because it's a religious issue or should those parents be charged for child endangerment and/or manslaughter?
I was shocked that my co-worker and very vocal atheist F was quick to say "Oh no, that's religion. That's not an issue of civil rights - you can't mess with that."
I was incensed! How could a fellow atheist honestly feel that religion should be allowed in any way to trump a person's civil rights - especially when that person is a truly helpless child whose very right to live is being put at risk? As a parent I would be madder than hell if someone told me I couldn't raise my kid the way I saw fit and so in that respect, I can understand the emotionally intense feelings behind parental rights. I have to add, currently being of sound body and mind, that if I was ever effed up enough to decide I was justified in allowing my son to come to harm in any way because of my beliefs which I was imposing onto him, I hope someone would have the balls to step in and save my kid from myself.
I argued that the baby had no way to choose the religion, so basically F was saying that the parents were justified in making two decisions for the child which were not their place to make - the first being what religion the kid was and the second being the choice to allow the child to die from an ailment which is easily treated. F said that the Constitution protects religion and a minor is subject to its parent's decisions and that's that.
Other people were present during our conversation and so, as it often does in polite company, the conversation quickly moved away from religion but the couple of minutes that I found myself disagreeing with another atheist about a position which I honestly felt was pretty much universally accepted among atheists of every kind was immensely enlightening.
Atheists really do come in every possible personality and lifestyle and so it becomes even more important for us to focus on unification if we want to be respected, accepted and represented in society. Maybe one of the reasons so many of us tend to focus on the negative aspects of religion so much is because it's the one subject that we all can, on some level, agree on.