Evangelical atheists again? I confess: That's generally my reaction when I read news stories (and the mainstream media seem to publish them with increasing frequency) about atheists trying to win nonbelievers to their cause.
A new Religion News Service report caught my attention today. The top of the story:
(RNS) The young man in the video pulls in close to his computer camera with the trappings of a typical college dorm room -- a loft bed and the clutter of cast-off clothes—piled behind him.
Alex Fiorentini isn’t talking about girls, beer or football. Instead, it’s a coming-out moment of sorts.
“Is it acceptable to the majority of the population to be an atheist?” he asks the camera. “Nope. Are all of your friends going to accept you as an atheist? Probably not all of them. And yeah, those things are gonna suck. But the real question is, ‘Is it OK to be me?’ That is the real question if you are an atheist.”
For Fiorentini, a student at the University of Illinois, the answer is yes. He and scores of other atheists, young and old, have made similar videos for a new campaign designed to build community and support among nontheists around the world.
As puff pieces go, this one isn't terrible. It contains the relevant facts. It does a nice job of explaining the concept behind the "We Are Atheism" campaign.
The story draws a connection between gays who have been bullied and atheists:
Brown was inspired to start the campaign with her husband and a friend when she attended a talk by Jessica Ahlquist, a teenage atheist who was taunted and bullied after she objected to a “school prayer” banner hung in her Rhode Island high school.
These stories are valid, of course.
However, my problem with most of these pieces is that they only tell their stories from one perspective: that of the atheists. Specifically, it's framed through the lens of those atheists trying to draw attention to their cause -- which, of course, a news story does.
But while the heroes in the story are quoted by name, the villains -- those God-believers out there allegedly persecuting atheists -- are left vague and nameless. No one who believes in a higher power get to react to the atheists. No one gets to debate the facts in any of these clashes. No one engages in dialogue. No traditional theologians are enlisted to discuss whether, in fact, the atheists are becoming a religious group. Minus the F-word (faith), that is.
Maybe I'm alone, but I read this type of story and want to scream: Wait a minute! I believe in God, and I think atheists are wrong, but this is a free country and they have every right not to believe. Is it asking too much to want to see that point of view reflected?
My point is this: If we're going to keep reading evangelical atheist stories, wouldn't it be nice to see journalists approach this topic from a wider, more diverse, perspective? Wouldn't it be nice to see some believers and scholars quoted? Wouldn't it be nice to see some actual journalistic skepticism brought to the atheists' publicity campaigns?