The Scarlet Letter


This colourful graphic has been selected as the symbol of the "Out Campaign" sponsored by Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion" to encourage and support those who wish to be identified publicly as atheists. That this symbol was selected for its similarity to the infamous letter worn by Hester Prynne, heroine of Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous novel, was not accidental.

Condemned to wear a bright red "A" (for adulteress) over her breast wherever she went, Hester had been convicted of adultery by Boston's Puritan leaders. Shunned and reviled by the 17th century Boston populace, she was forced to face social ostracism as a living example of the consequences of sin.

In many parts of the world, but particularly in the U.S. where, for example, the chances of a declared atheist being elected to public office are almost nil, atheists are the undeserving victims of a similar attitude or worse. That one would be reluctant to reveal one's true religious views to a neighbour or, better still, a potential employer is not difficult to understand given the dominant attitude towards non-believers. This is humiliating and morally wrong. No one should be intimidated by religion or its adherents.

Charges of similarity to the gay liberation movement are best refuted by Professor Dawkins.

"Before I go any further, I must forestall one major risk of misunderstanding. The obvious comparison with the gay community is vulnerable to going too far: to 'outing' as a transitive verb whose object might be an unfortunate individual not yet – or not ever – ready to confide in the world. Our OUT campaign will have nothing, repeat nothing to do with outing in that active sense. If a closet atheist wants to come out, that is her decision to make, and nobody else's. What we can do is provide support and encouragement to those who willingly decide to out themselves. This may seem trivial to people in parts of Europe, or in regions of the United States dominated by urban intellectuals where support and encouragement is unnecessary. It is anything but trivial to people in other areas of the United States, and even more so in parts of the Islamic world where apostasy is, by Koranic authority, punishable by death."

An organized effort is required to combat the prevalent negative and distrustful attitude toward atheists and to show that:

"We are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers and grandparents. We are human (we are primates) and we are good friends and good citizens. We are good people who have no need to cling to the supernatural."

The "Out Campaign" may be just that effort.

To access the "Out Campaign" website, click on the "scarlet letter."

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