By Avery Winston
Look at the people who are nearby you—what do they look like? You can tell a lot about a person from looking at them, but can you tell what they believe in? Some might say yes because said person is wearing a religious symbol on their neck, on their shirt or even as a tattoo on their body.
I say you cannot, because no specific mannerisms, characteristics, skin color, hair color, eye color, accent or what have you can make you believer or nonbeliever. Belief, or lack thereof, is invisible to the human eye.
Some may be thinking, “What about the people I see wearing a religious symbol around their neck, on their shirt, or even have a tattoo that is religious in some way?”
I have friends who wear said symbols around their necks, on their shirts or have them tattooed on their bodies, but they do not believe in that religion at all. Why, then, would someone wear it or tattoo it on their body?
Some people like the message a certain verse may give, whether they believe in it or not. Some people may believe a cross, a star and crescent or even a Star of David are really cool designs and they want to have a shirt, necklace or tattoo of said thing.
Religion has become a label more than anything. There is rectitude with being a believer, so if you take the label as your own, people will usually think more highly of you. People tend to have common misconceptions of nonbelievers, whether it is that they are immoral, anti-religion or what have you. If you took time to get to know some people who are not believers, you would realize those misconceptions are not true.
You now realize how belief, or lack thereof, is invisible. This is what I want to talk about. It’s easy for people to see someone who is a different sex, or who has a different color of skin than them; some may even make the same argument for sexual orientation, but we all know that is not always true.
People tend to watch what they do and say when they can see someone nearby who they may offend. Since belief, or lack thereof, is invisible, how can you watch yourself around certain kinds of people and be inclusive of those people who do not stand out?
We could start with the idea of interfaith dialogue. A lot of interfaith groups have been very inviting of nonbelievers to join their conversation which is really a good thing. The issue is in the name “interfaith.” People do not think of nonbelievers as people of faith, so when they hear “interfaith,” nonbelievers are going unnoticed due to faulty language.
After the Newtown Shooting, there was an interfaith prayer vigil in the Peale Chapel, and after President Obama was inaugurated, he attended an interfaith prayer service at the National Cathedral the next day. Because of this, I am convinced that interfaith stuff is for people of belief. I have no issues with interfaith dialogue and events, but if we are to be included, I would rather the name not be exclusive and prayer not be involved.
You read or hear in the news about the Gay Rights Movements, the abortion debate, gun control laws, immigration reform and even stuff regarding religion. Do you ever see or hear the news talk about nonbelievers? Have you have heard of the Reason Rally? I’m not surprised if you have not, because it was hardly covered in any major news source.
On March 24 of last year, 20,000 people assembled on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. to stand up for their rights as nonbelievers. It was known as the largest secular gathering in history, and it was a milestone in the secular movement. You see stuff in the news about abortion and gay rights rallies—but not this.
We are the invisible minority because we don’t stick out, and we live in a country that is primarily Christian. I personally believe that if you are Christian in this country, you automatically are privileged in many ways. If you think that is not true, just look up the “War on Christmas”—this is how poeple are responding to others wanting to be included in our society and culture.
The fact that most of our politicians are Christian affects a lot of laws and policies in this country. People ignore the part of our Constitution where it says that the government it supposed to neutral when it comes to religion and how it affects laws and policies, and that is not happening. It is affecting laws that pertain to abortion, marriage equality and separation of church and state. It was also responsible for laws that put segregation into place and laws that prohibited certain people from voting.
Nonbelievers are fighting against these kinds of things right now to make sure that religion is not being used to oppress people at the federal, state and local levels.
I am sure no one knows that this is happening, of course, because we are invisible to society. I am also sure that a lot of people think “how can someone be good without god?” People may also not know that there are actually people who are recovering from religion like people recover from drugs and alcohol. Some people are traumatized by religion, and these things are not known by anyone. But why? People are too busy judging people by what they can see with their own eyes.
Everything we see and go through is invisible, and I am sure if they could see that someone is a nonbeliever, then they would judge you for that, too. Trust me; I have seen plenty of it in my own life.