Stereotypes and prejudice are essential for daily living. For better or worse it's impossible to take the time and energy to get to know everyone personally and to fairly determine their true merit; stereotypes are shortcuts that allow us to function. Even though stereotypes are somewhat inaccurate when applied to individuals, they're often more right than many of us would want to admit.

This critical realization undermines (what I presume to be) the purpose of behind an article denouncing stereotypes of atheists as "uncaring" by Austin Cline.

Anti-atheist bigotry isn't just widespread, it's also very fundamental to how bigots view the world around them. By this I mean that when someone is bigoted against atheists, they are unable to grant any real sympathy or consideration to atheists: they refuse to accept that atheists can be kind, moral, decent, civil human beings. Atheists are barely even human from such perspectives and it really drives home just how destructive religious theism can be.

Of course, the article is immediately silly because the author denounces stereotypes of atheists by leaning on stereotypes of Christians in the very first paragraph. So it goes! I'll be the first to admit that stereotypes of Christians have some basis in reality, and it's transparently clear to most people that stereotypes of atheists aren't completely vacuous either. The author, however, completely obfuscates the matter by drawing nonsensical parallels, imagining the reaction if the "anti-atheist bigotry" he perceived were instead aimed elsewhere:

Imagine if they had said:
You can't be Jewish because the ability to care for others' feelings isn't Jew trait.

You can't be Catholic because the ability to care for others' feelings isn't a Catholic trait.

You can't be liberal because the ability to care for others' feelings isn't a liberal trait.

You can't be black because the ability to care for others' feelings isn't a black trait.

However, being (racially) Jewish or black is completely different from being atheist, Catholic, or liberal. Skin color has little or no inherent effect on behavior, but religion and philosophy are determinitive. If someone were to say, for instance, "Wow, you're sure nice for a Nazi!" no one would complain that Nazi-ism was irrelevant to niceness. Is this "bigotry"? Not in the pejorative sense.

Atheists have a reputation for being condescending, arrogant, smug, closed-minded, intolerant, irritable, and pretentious. This reputation is based on the words and actions of many of the most prominent atheists (cf. the South Park episodes where Cartman travels through time to get a Wii). It's not surprising that a person who doesn't know many atheists (perhaps the "bigoted" teacher in the article) would think that most atheists fit that stereotype.

By refusing to concede (or even consider!) that the widely-held stereotypes of atheists have a basis in reality, the author actually reinforces those stereotypes. I, personally, find life's little ironies such as this to be eminently amusing.

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