this is an article i got published in Querelle 2012.
As I was thinking about writing this article, by chance I came across a word that summed up exactly why I care about atheism: religionormativity.
Just as we’re familiar with heteronormativity, roughly the privileging of heterosexuality, religionormativity is the privileging of religion, religious views of the world and religious interests.
Religionormativity, and specifically christonormativity, is rampant in Australia. It’s why our atheist Prime Minister spends tax money for catholics to visit the Vatican and says that she doesn’t think society is ‘ready’ for marriage equality. It’s why we see churches and billboards displaying crosses like gallows in the town square, and dub it ‘freedom of speech’. It’s why cuts to cities’ christmas budgets generate more outcry than cuts to the country’s welfare budget, and even minority religions feel the need to vocally perform their acceptance of the all-pervasive decorations.
It’s why we accept religious private schools and the fact that they often get more funding than public schools, while even the ‘secular, compulsory and free’ public schools teach christmas as curriculum for three months of the year and allow scripture teachers in to openly teach dogma every week. Primary Ethics has fought hard to run ethics classes in NSW schools for the non-scripture students who are often neglected and discriminated against, but even they dare not touch the religions’ regular access to school students, nor acknowledge any link to atheism. Now our government now upholds the right to put untrained religious ‘chaplains’ into state schools despite the High Court’s ruling against the program. Our government which still has prayers in parliament. It’s all religionormativity, and it’s dangerous. Secular people regularly accept that queerness and nonbelief are matters for adults only, which allows religions to stereotype us as the dangerous ones, who shouldn’t be around kids. Certainly not all religions commit these travesties, but they all support the religionormativity which is why we have to fight for adoption, insemination and even the right to teach. Not only do religions get tax breaks because dissemination of religion is still categorised as charitable in our law, but they also get permanent exemptions to the anti-discrimination laws that keep us out of their schools, adoption agencies and crisis shelters.
The census doesn’t give us data on atheists, as the question is framed religionormatively. However the number of people who marked ‘no religion’ has grown in this latest census to 22.3% of the population, counting us at nearly a quarter of the country, and bigger than any single religious group except catholicism, even without the 8.6% of the population who didn’t answer the question, those who answered ‘jedi’ or ‘pastafarian’ and all the people who put down their family’s religion instead of their own beliefs. Yet people still say ‘but we all believe in the same god anyway’ and really believe they’re being inclusive. And we let them get away with it.
In queer communities, we often think we’re better than that! We can analyse the effects of religious lobby groups on politics and the media, and we’re certainly clued in to the marriage debate and the motives of the players. A high proportion of us are nonbelievers, and an understanding of the destructiveness of intolerant churches and conservative religious families resonates through us, whether or not we’ve experienced the effects personally. Indeed, I’m glad to live within such an astute crowd.
However, all is not perfect. We have our own subtle forms of religionormativity that we often hold dear. In communities so full of atheists and other nonbelievers, we often let this aspect of ourselves remain closeted. We don’t want to recognise this, because we still fall prey to the idea that outing ourselves, declaring our belief structures, is oppressive to those of us who still are religious. Even while we find some people’s beliefs to often be pretty odd, we underestimate them by placing our assumptions about their sensibilities above our own freedom to be out and proud atheists, agnostics, secular humanists or whatever else we want to be.
We need to come out about our beliefs just as much as we need to come out about our sexualities. To name ourselves allows us to build communities where we can openly express ourselves and stand together for what we need. We already know this. So examine your own internalised religionormativity and come out, so that everyone else can too.
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