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Atheist Privilege Checklist

smug-atheismLots of talk about “privilege” lately. You know, that “invisible right or immunity granted to particular persons or groups.” Of course, it’s mostly charged to straight, white, males. But the list is really quite extensive. (Did you know you may suffer from Average-Sized Person Privilege, Upper-Class Privilege or Non-Trans Privilege?)

So I was a bit surprised when a writer for the Guardian suggested a new one — Atheist Privilege. Pondering how drug addicts and prostitutes challenged his atheism, Chris Arnade asked:

Perhaps atheism is an intellectual luxury for the wealthy

Wealth and affluence affords all kinds of privileges. Apparently, one such privilege is the intellectual luxury to not have to believe in or comply with a Deity.

Arnade’s observation arose after leaving his Wall Street job and spending several years photographing homeless addicts in the South Bronx. After observing the simple, heartfelt faith of so many of these addicts, Arnade was forced to conclude that maybe his atheist bubble needed bursting.

In these last three years, out from behind my computers, I have been reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes. Or, in Biblical terms, we are all sinners.

We are all sinners. On the streets the addicts, with their daily battles and proximity to death, have come to understand this viscerally. Many successful people don’t. Their sense of entitlement and emotional distance has numbed their understanding of our fallibility.

Soon I saw my atheism for what it is: an intellectual belief most accessible to those who have done well.

Perhaps “affluenza” is real after all. Only in this case, the malady of prosperity helps you escape the “prison of belief” rather than the electric chair.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that studies of Irreligion in the United States have noticed this odd demographic of the atheist population:

“[t]hey tend to be more educated, more affluent and more likely to be male and unmarried than those with active faith”

Talk about entitlement! Education. Affluence. Male. Single. Compound this with the fact that atheists are predominantly white, and you’ve got a screaming need for a new privilege checklist. So how ’bout I kick one off.


  1. I provide my own “daily bread.”
  2. I can be sure that my innate intelligence, talent, work ethic, genetic superiority, and honesty has resulted in my grasp of the truth.
  3. I can be sure that those who do not share my non-beliefs are inferior to me.
  4. I can be confident that beliefs other than mine lead mostly to misery, prejudice, poverty, discrimination, and wholesale ignorance.
  5. I can be confident, when participating in groups of like-minded individuals, to find people of my race, gender, education and income level well-represented.
  6. I can turn on the television, go to the movies, surf the web, or open up the front page of the paper and see people of my non-belief widely represented.
  7. I can go into a bookstore and be sure to find my ideas and opinions widely represented.
  8. I can mock religious people and be sure others will join me.
  9. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the superiority of their non-beliefs.
  10. I can dismiss the beliefs of the world’s majority without feeling guilty.

And I’m sure there’s lots more.

Point is: Atheism is the “intellectual luxury” afforded the privileged. Apparently, when you don’t need to acknowledge your “fallibility” and look to Heaven for your “daily bread,” when you have ample access to running water, a college education, and religious liberty, you are free to deify yourself.

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{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Josh Young January 10, 2014, 8:45 AM

    Je vais vous dire un grand secret … . N’attendez pas le Jugement dernier. Il a lieu tous les jours

  • Tomas January 10, 2014, 9:14 AM

    The leap from not accepting Any God claim to deify oneself is surely a grand and dishonest one. It might be meant as tongue in cheek, but to me it could very well be the writers inability to comprehend a world without any deistic figure.

  • D.M. Dutcher January 10, 2014, 9:30 AM

    Yeah, I agree with this. I think the one thing a lot of atheists don’t get is that atheism tends to work very well when followed by the strong, but is hell on the weak. The strong like it because it liberates them from from Nietzsche called a slave morality and frees them to use that privilege in whatever way they like. But it’s almost like kicking someone when they are down if they don’t have that, because there’s no consolation in atheism.

    If you don’t have power to act, or suffer from things, the idea that we die and that’s it is sort of a twist of the knife. You wind up resurrecting the pagan idea of fate, except in social or genetic forms as determinism.

  • Jim Williams January 11, 2014, 11:07 AM

    I think that atheists can no more be defined by a 10-point checklist than Christians can. Make a list defining Christians and I’ll point out the huge groups of “Christians” who don’t fit.

    The somewhat humorous notion that is often propagated by Christian bloggers is that any opposing force, be it science, education or non-belief in the Christian God *must* itself be characterized as it’s own religion.

    This sets up an “Us vs. Them” mentality, and boxes up one’s supposed opponents nicely for the purposes of intellectual debate, ignoring reality in favor of expediency.

  • Nissa Annakindt January 13, 2014, 9:51 AM

    I just wish, when atheists are calling me a moron, crazy, self-hating, ugly, and sexually repressed, they would exercise their massive intellectual superiority and spelling the words right.

    It’s almost as if once they have defined themselves as ‘superior’ atheists, they no longer feel challenged to prove their superiority but take it by faith alone.

    Of course I’m sure there are atheists that are not like that. It’s just that I’ve never run across one yet.

  • Barbara Petersen January 15, 2014, 3:23 PM

    Atheists Checklist 2…. !…. I’am thankful for what mother earth provides. 2… No way do I feel superiority when with friends in religion these friends are not inferior to me. 3…. What others beliefs lead them to is through their own choice. 4…. Atheist mainly don’t go participating in Atheist groups, we are happy with our own company and enjoy life. 5… I have no idea when I turn on TV, Movies, Surf Web or see the Newspapers, what their beliefs are, no concern of mine. 6…. Any one can go into a book store and find ideas, and opinions to represent their view. 7… Why mock religious people, treasure the time we have left on earth. 8… Our children will only have to deal with curricular material from their school, hope they do well in learning. 9…I can not dismiss the beliefs of the World’s majority, and feel awful in the name of religion, what people are doing to each other. 10… For I’am An Atheist!

    • Jim Williams January 15, 2014, 3:28 PM

      Barbara, you said it well….I thank you.

  • Tyler B February 4, 2014, 4:13 PM

    Christianity doesn’t make up the majority of the world. In order to make this argument, you’d have to argue that 4.96 billion is larger than 2.1 billion.

  • LC April 3, 2014, 1:23 PM

    It seems to me like the situation is quite the opposite. Once you have all the fruits of things that don’t come through prayer (running water etc.), you’re free to euphorically bask in admiration for the benevolent heavenly deity of your choice who just happened to provide everything for your benefit.

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