Is 'atheist' still a dirty word in Irish society today?

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SeanB
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Is 'atheist' still a dirty word in Irish society today?

Post by SeanB » Thu Mar 17, 2011 11:01 pm

"Is 'atheist' still a dirty word in Irish society today?"

-This is the question i'm setting out to try and answer in a fair and balanced way. I want to make it the subject of an essay for myself and an article I'm going to write for the AHS's newsletter. It's been my experience, as someone who's lived in cork all his life, that atheists are often subject to wariness and contempt when they express their views publically. However, my perspective is very limited so I need to look further afield to the rest of the country.

I guess the sub-questions I would like to try to find answers to, in order to address the overall question, are:

(1 )Where, if anywhere, in Ireland is it a common among the population that Atheism is viewed with contempt, dislike, wariness, dismissiveness etc, especially when one speaks publically about their views or otherwise?

(2) If the answer to (1) is that atheism is not viewed, in general, with these things, then how is it viewed?

(3) If there is a trend that atheism is viewed with these things, then what are the underlying causes that contribute to this stigma today?

(4) What sources can one look to in order to be able to gauge these views among Irish people?

Discussion would be greatly appreciated. If you're going to refer to sources to back up what you're saying, please cite them. Though sources aren't especially necesary since i'm not actually sure if they exist.
Dev
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Re: Is 'atheist' still a dirty word in Irish society today?

Post by Dev » Fri Mar 18, 2011 1:05 am

One of the reasons Atheist Ireland was named as such was to alleviate the stigma attached to the word. Really the organization could be more accurately described as Secular Ireland but it was felt that it was time to challenge such animosity by drawing positive connotations to the word. So it became an upbeat, polite and reasonable advocacy group for secularism.

From that you can take it that some atheists do feel that there is stigma attached. I think most Irish people are apathetic in this regard in the same way most don't really care to much about what gays do.

If you were to find it to be considered a dirty word it would be almost certainly people who considered themselves religious in some way. I wouldn't try to view this in geographic terms but rather social ones but you could argue that rural Ireland is more likely to hold such views. I think most people here would agree that the fervent see atheists in some sense as either misguided, confused, silly or in some minority of cases evil. There are degrees of stigma to note.

If you were to try and estimate how much stigma there is you could look at how such things are measured for gays and make the best parallels you can.

Equality of treatment under law. Ireland infringes on a few things here in particular admission to certain public offices.
Number of hate crimes against atheists - pretty much non existent here.
Income anomalies - I suspect they're pretty even steven.
Media depiction - beyond anything written by David Quinn, John Waters and Brenda O'Brien the media is pretty respectful.
DaithiDublin
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Re: Is 'atheist' still a dirty word in Irish society today?

Post by DaithiDublin » Fri Mar 18, 2011 6:28 am

Where, if anywhere, in Ireland is it a common among the population that Atheism is viewed with contempt, dislike, wariness, dismissiveness etc, especially when one speaks publically about their views or otherwise
I've never experienced contempt or dislike, I have to say. I've never been shy about describing myself as atheist. I don't lead with it, but if invited to partake in any rites or ceremonies I'll explain why I decline. The reaction normally falls into the last two categories - wariness or dismissal. For example, no matter how often I explain it to my family they will still advise me to say a prayer if there's something I want, and utterly dismiss the notion that I simply do not believe what they do.

I think that the national Xian beliefs are so deeply ingrained that people find it next to impossible to comprehend unbelief. These feeling are reinforced everywhere they go and at every point in their lives. I think that the woeful state of the perception of what exactly science is, what it does, how it does it, what it can and can't say and why not is the only thing left propping up religious thought.

No, I'd have to add that practically 100% of the believers I know have not actually read the bible. They don't therefore have a complete grasp of what it is they believe in. And of those few that have read more than the parables and gospels, practically none have any conception of how the book was compiled and the human machinations involved in that process. For them to discover, for example, that Jesus' divinity was decided on by vote 3 centuries after he lived is a bombshell. They will dismiss this new knowledge over the bible itself despite the fact that the one can be corroborated and the other cannot.

Lack of knowledge, lack of understanding, and the depth of tradition are the barriers I see between my position and theirs. These things are seen as difficult and are dismissed out of hand in preference to the comfort of going with the flow.

My experience then, is that my atheism is seen as cynicism, and something to be pitied. Pascal's wager may have been logically false, but it is actually the fundamental core of what sustains many of those regular and irregular believers.
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Re: Is 'atheist' still a dirty word in Irish society today?

Post by Tulip1 » Fri Mar 18, 2011 8:53 am

I only experienced bad atitude against me when I did go public about my sons school.

Before that people didn't mind I am an atheist.

Basically they don't mind atheist as long as you don't do anything with it. This is the experience I had with some religious people but I have to say that there are a lot of people who are indifferent about it and I even met religious people agreeing that Ireland discriminates against non religious or other religions and they think change is needed.

I think that Ireland is changing slowly but surely.
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Re: Is 'atheist' still a dirty word in Irish society today?

Post by Ygern » Fri Mar 18, 2011 12:10 pm

It is and isn't a dirty word - as in, it depends on who you are talking too.

On the whole most of my circle of friends / family / co-workers have not been that negative about my being an atheist. I'm completely open about it and mostly its met with curiosity.

On the whole if anything its provoked some interesting discussions. In many cases there is a lot of ignorance about the word, people don't know what it means and I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss atheism if people ask me. At least it gives me the chance to clear up some misconceptions about Hitler & atheists going around killing & raping all day long. :roll:

Facebook has been the biggest pain in that regards. A few people who knew me 25+ years (not people who are in my daily life anymore) ago are a bit shocked and hurt, and one or two have been hostile since discovering that I have long gone over to the Infidel team. Mostly they pray for me though.

So for me, the worst I encounter is ignorance.

However, that is not the case for everyone here. A few people on this forum have been asked by their family to "give up" their atheism, other still haven't told their family. So for them atheism is such a dirty word that it must still be kept a secret.
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Re: Is 'atheist' still a dirty word in Irish society today?

Post by bipedalhumanoid » Fri Mar 18, 2011 3:59 pm

Ygern wrote:Facebook has been the biggest pain in that regards. A few people who knew me 25+ years (not people who are in my daily life anymore) ago are a bit shocked and hurt, and one or two have been hostile since discovering that I have long gone over to the Infidel team. Mostly they pray for me though.
In real life the I've had a few problems from small minded people who assume that the fact that I'm an atheist means I want to see religion banned. Sometimes this anti-religious assumption is also twisted into an accusation of being anti-Irish. Any attempts to set those people straight results in me being shouted down, something that can't really happen in a text based medium.

I had to block one person (an Aussie) on facebook when he started getting abusive. Someone I hadn't spoken to since highschool. Other than that, I've been challenged a few times by members of my family, but I've always managed to put them neatly, and politely, into their places.

Sometimes I feel like I'm surrounded by pig ignorance, but as long as the topic of religion isn't raised, I find that I'm treated no differently than anyone else.
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Re: Is 'atheist' still a dirty word in Irish society today?

Post by aZerogodist » Sat Mar 19, 2011 2:26 am

You think knock would be the last place for an Atheist to go or be, talked to a religion teacher from near there and he loved having Atheist students, as they asked questions and they could have philosophical discussions, he kind of felt that the catholic students just sat there, didn’t engage.

You think Dublin would be more tolerant of Atheists but a friend in Dublin (also a religion teacher) was shocked that I was an Atheist. ("how can you not believe in god? you mean you don't believe in god at all")

I think Mayo/Donelgal was more intolerant of Atheists you had to be either RCC or CoI. Contact Benroe he has some great stories.
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Re: Is 'atheist' still a dirty word in Irish society today?

Post by Dr Raskolnikov » Sat Mar 19, 2011 2:37 am

Ygern wrote:It is and isn't a dirty word - as in, it depends on who you are talking too.

However, that is not the case for everyone here. A few people on this forum have been asked by their family to "give up" their atheism, other still haven't told their family. So for them atheism is such a dirty word that it must still be kept a secret.
I still haven't told my family (well my parents anyway). The fact is their belief is so entrenched that it would shatter them. They'd be convinced that me and my wife and kid are lost souls forever.

When I was a nipper they used to point to atheists on television (I seem to recall a couple of them being wheeled out onto the Late Late one time), and Mum and Dad would say "Look at them. They don't believe in God. How sad they must be. How empty their lives..."
Science is like a blabbermouth who ruins the movie by telling you how it ends. Well, I say there are some things we don't want to know. Important things. - Ned Flanders
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Re: Is 'atheist' still a dirty word in Irish society today?

Post by Dr Raskolnikov » Sat Mar 19, 2011 2:41 am

bipedalhumanoid wrote: I had to block one person (an Aussie) on facebook when he started getting abusive. Someone I hadn't spoken to since highschool. Other than that, I've been challenged a few times by members of my family, but I've always managed to put them neatly, and politely, into their places.
Given what I've said in my previous post about not being able to tell family, have you any tips for putting family members neatly and politely into their places?

I always manage to come up with the killer reply about 24 hours too late... :(
Science is like a blabbermouth who ruins the movie by telling you how it ends. Well, I say there are some things we don't want to know. Important things. - Ned Flanders
SeanB
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Re: Is 'atheist' still a dirty word in Irish society today?

Post by SeanB » Sat Mar 19, 2011 4:08 am

@Dev: Thank you for the tips on how I might go about finding an answer. I'll take them on board.

And if anyone else has ideas to add to Dev's, they'd be much appreciated.

@DaithiDublin: So to sum up your position in a tiny bit more detail, Daithi, are:
1. Dismissiveness bred from ignorance of what atheism is
2. Wariness, resulting from a resistance to change and break down of traditional belief
and 3. Pity, resulting from the misconception of atheism as synonymous with cynisysm the main reactions you recieve when you express your views? Is there anything you'd like to add to that or change slightly? Or is that a fair summation? It's just that I dont want to mix up "wariness", "dismissiveness" etc and apply them exactly as they should be used for each point.

@Tulip1: So would you describe your experiences as indicative of general progressiveness among the people of your area in terms of the general perception of atheism? Or would you say that some areas within your social sphere are more progressive than others? Also, where are you from in Ireland? Only if you're comfortable saying.

@Ygern: Would you be able to take a somewhat accurate guess as to the ratio of people ignorant of what atheism actually is, to those who understand it, that you have talked about it to? In general where in your social sphere are you likely to find those who are ignorant? Is it mostly facebook or are there other areas that you commonly find these people? Also could you tell me where you're from if you feel comfortable in saying it?

@bipedalhumanoid: Are these experiences common among your other atheist friends living in the area? Can you describe where in your social sphere you experience the most hostility or blatant misconception or what have you. Are there any areas of your social sphere that feel more progressive? Also, where are you from if you feel comfortable in saying.

@aZerogodist: If you're comfortable in saying, would you mind going into a bit more detail about the area you live in yourself and your experiences with the people in that area?

@Dr Raskolnikov: same questions as i asked to aZerogodist.

Thanks to everyone who'se participated. This is already really helping my understading somewhat, even if it cant exactly be considered random sampling of atheists in ireland :P If you'd try to answer some of my further questions in this post i'd really appreciate your inputs :)
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