This is a topic about which I will have a lot to say. Let’s start with a recent (September 2013) letter to our local newspaper:
Holier than Thou
Call me a pagan, an infidel, an agnostic, an atheist, a blasphemer, or a non-believer, but do not disparage me as one who “choose(s) not to believe” as Christine Flowers did in her holier than thou column “The Cross is in the crosshairs.” (The Leader, September 3rd)
There is no choice in non-belief. As a child I believed in Father Christmas, but then it became apparent that it was my parents who left a pillowcase full of presents at the end of my bed on Christmas Eve, and I believed no more. I even believed that there was a bump in the road marking the boundary between two provinces until one day I asked my parents whether the bump extended along the entire boundary. They sheepishly confessed that they had made it up to add interest to an otherwise long and boring journey.
To do them justice, while they introduced me to the trappings of their religion by sending me to an Anglican school, they did nothing that could be termed indoctrination, and I was left to sort it out in my own mind. The more I thought about the inconsistencies and paradoxes, the more it became obvious that all religion is one big hoax, like a cosmic Easter Bunny or a celestial tooth fairy and I believed no more. There is no God.
And there is no “freedom from religion”, something that Ms Flowers claims we prize. The majority of people worldwide have chosen to believe what they were taught by their parents. As Mark Twain put it “In religion and politics, people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination”. However, an estimated 1.1 billion (and counting) have examined their beliefs and now have no religious affiliation, and that includes some 20% of the American population. Yet religion plays an enormous role in the United States: you simply cannot get away from it. From the Pledge of Allegiance, to our money, to the laughable competition among politicians to show who has the strongest faith, where faith can justifiably be defined as the irrational belief in the unprovable, religion intrudes on our daily lives.
There is no separation of Church and State. Narrow religious beliefs affect nearly every political decision, which in turn affects not just us the United States, but others around the world. The very small number of Jews (there are more Sikhs here than Jews) has dictated American policy in the Middle east and blind support of Israel; views of abortion and contraception have contributed to the closing of family planning clinics in areas that desperately need them, and the teaching of science is being undermined by those who prefer “Intelligent Design” over “Interior Design” to misquote Ms Flowers.
She goes on to list instances of religious persecution – in other parts of the world, of course. Here people of faith just “come up against discrimination” (usually by people of another faith, I might add). Here the persecution (maybe too strong a word but I can’t think of a better one) is reserved for those with no religious affiliation, who are seen by the faithful as some kind of threat. Yet people do not fight wars in the name of non-belief and atheists do not sacrifice themselves for their views. As Bertrand Russell said “I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.”
Furthermore, Ms Flowers suggests that those who oppose same-sex marriage on the grounds of their religious views are called bigots. “True bigotry is when you can’t see the facts because your own beliefs are blocking the way,” to quote Lawrence D. Elliott of Chicken Soup fame. The blocked fact here is that marriage in the United States is a civil contract, one which may or may not be blessed by religion.
The bulk of the article is a whining account of the awful ways that Christians, Catholics in particular, are under attack, and ends up with the dubious claim that “a twisted view of Muhammad’s prophecy” is the “same mentality that motivated Hitler to destroy God’s chosen people”. She seems to have over-looked the facts that Christians have historically given as good as they have ever gotten, including some pretty nasty squabbling among themselves, and that Hitler was a member of the Catholic church all his life.
I suggest that those believers who feel their religion is under attack take a closer look at it. I suggest they ask themselves why it is under attack. What are they doing wrong? Ms Flowers obviously enjoys being a Catholic and I have no problem with the companionship, solace and enjoyment that being part of a congregation can offer. But as the Galactic Hitchhiker, Douglas Adams, put it “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”
Not only did I send this letter to The Leader, I also emailed it to Christine Flowers who had kindly supplied her address. This is her reply:
One reaction, Ms. Whitehouse. Statistically, more people have been persecuted by atheists (Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, Nicolae Ceaucescu, Enver Hoxha) than any single religious group, radical Islamists included.
Not exactly a tolerant group.
My best to you and my thanks for the enlightening letter
I’m not sure that her figures are correct. Well maybe they are, but only because there were are lot more people on earth to be persecuted by the dictators she names. My point, however, was that atheists do not wage war because God told them to; they wage war because they are just nasty people. For the most part, 21st century atheists are for more likely to be pacifists than warmongers. But just try and use atheism as a justification for requesting conscientious objector status, and see where it gets you. Say my religion will not allow me to fight and there you are, immediate honorable discharge. I’m going to start the Congregation of Godly Denialists and apply for tax-exempt status.