In response to a recent letter I wrote to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News about a local school board policy of no activities on Wednesday and Sunday, a local resident responded and said that I had an “anti-religious prejudice.” This is not the first time, nor will it be the last time, that someone does not understand my atheistic views. In this post, I want to dispel the notion that I am, in general, anti-religious or that I am in any way prejudiced against people of faith.
First, I am not a person, in general, who is considered prejudiced by most people . The dictionary defines as prejudiced person this way:
- Being biased or having a belief or attitude formed beforehand.
As an atheist, I do not think there is a god of any shape, size, or form. While I can not be “certain” that some sort of deity does not exist somewhere in the universe, I can say, based on the evidence at hand, that the gods humans worship are no gods at all. I can also say that the probability of there being a god of some sort is very small, so small that I do not worry about it and I live my day-to-day life an atheist.
Based on what I have just written, it should be clear that I do not think the Christian God exists. While I think Jesus was likely a human being who lived during the time of the gospels, I do not think he was divine, a miracle worker, or any of the other things the Bible ascribes to him. Like all humans, he lived, he died, end of story.
There is a huge difference between my beliefs about religion itself and my beliefs about the various sects and the people who have some sort of religious faith. I reject ALL religious belief and faith. This is not prejudice. This is me using reason and looking at the evidence for or against religion and faith. Based on the evidence, I reject all religious claims.
When it comes to particular religious sects, my attitude towards the sect depends of how they treat people who practice that religion and what expectations that religion has. I have no problem at all with a religion as long as it is not coercive, controlling, or emotionally and mentally damaging. I may not think their beliefs are valid or reasonable, but, as a citizen of a country that codified the freedom of religion, I recognize that people have the freedom to worship God as they please.
It is when religions are coercive, controlling, or emotionally and mentally damaging that I have a problem. I think groups like the IFB church movement, much of Evangelicalism, Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and sundry other unaffiliated Christian sects and non-Christian sects, can be, and are, coercive, controlling, or emotionally and mentally damaging. It is against these kind of groups that I fight, in hope of helping people find a religious faith that is affirming, kind, decent, and loving. By exposing the ugliness, hate, and emotionally and mentally damaging actions of pastors, church leaders, and churches, I hope it causes people to flee such churches and find a church that is not harmful emotionally and mentally. Above all, I write because I sincerely want to be a help. My goal has never been to convert people to atheism.
Here in America, we have a pernicious brand of Christianity that demands the secular state give it preference. It is theocratic in nature and thinks their God divinely and with purpose brought America into existence. They want the Ten Commandments taught in school, the Bible read in school, public prayer in school, creationism taught in science classes, abortion outlawed, same-sex marriage banned, and if they had their way, only their brand of Christianity would be allowed. They are no different from Islamic Fundamentalists or the Taliban, at least as far as their objective is concerned. (certainly their methodology is different)
Theocratic oriented Christians confuse my objection to, and my fight against, their theocratic tendencies, with me having an anti-religious prejudice. This is not prejudice at all. The First Amendment grants the freedom of religion. Our country operates in the principle that there is a clear, definable separation between church and state. (theocrats, of course, deny any such separation exists) Based on these two things, I fight ANY attempt to cross the line of church/state separation. When a school board, like the Central Local School board, has a policy of NO school activities or building use on Wednesday and Sunday, the unbiased person will quickly see that this is nothing more than a hat tip to local churches. The school board doesn’t want conflict with local ministers and churches, so they blackout the school schedule on Wednesday and Sunday. (an unwritten/written policy that has been in force my entire life)
If this policy was brought before a federal court there is no possible way it would stand. We live in a secular state with secular schools and it is impermissible to give preference to religion. I do not object to the local school board having blackout nights. My objection is to their reason for doing so. A reason, by the way, they refuse to admit. It is disingenuous to say that the Wednesday and Sunday blackout has nothing to do with giving local Christian churches preference. (proof? what two days do local churches meet on?)
Local residents need to understand that, while I do not share their religious sentiments, I am a supporter of their right to freely exercise and practice their religion. Based on the fact that America is a secular state and our governments and schools are secular institutions, I demand that there be a strict separation of church and state. I consider the church and state separation wall to be a high and wide wall that must not be breached. Americans are free to practice their religion in their homes and in their houses of worship. They are free to proselytize on public street corners and sidewalks. They are free to put religious signs and crèches in their yards, religious bumper stickers on their cars, wear religious garb, pray privately at work, and read their Bible on their own time at work. They are free to start a church, build a church building, and enjoy all the freedoms living in America provides. However, when they cross the line of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, they can expect people like me to be standing there to keep them from going any farther.
As far as individuals are concerned, they are free to believe whatever they want. They are free to attend any church they want, worship any or no God, and do whatever floats their boat. I am indifferent to the religious inclinations of others. It is when those religious inclinations are used to harm others physically, emotionally, or mentally that people like me are going to object. When individuals want their peculiar religious beliefs and practices to be given preference in the public sphere, I am going to object every time. Demands for preference or obedience to the Bible or a moral code will be met with strenuous objection.
I can’t say this enough. We live in a secular state and our schools are secular institutions. It is time that American Christians get this through their thick heads. If they want to believe that America is a Christian nation, that the earth is 6,000 years old, and prayer changes things, I can’t stop them. But, don’t expect me to accept such nonsense as fact. If you want me to accept your “facts” then give me the evidence to do so. Just because you say it is so doesn’t make it so. Quoting Bible verses or threatening hell and God’s judgment have no power against people like me. Christians would be better off threatening me with the wrath of the Incredible Hulk, a being we all know is real.
If there is one group in rural NW Ohio that is prejudiced, it is local Christians. (not all, of course) They take to their pulpits, Sunday School classes, local restaurants, and the Defiance Crescent-News and rail against atheists and atheism, when in fact they don’t know the first thing about atheism.
They ignorantly believe that atheists are agents of Satan, secretly desire to be immoral. are communists, and are out to destroy the youth of America. Their evidence for this? They have none. They are often prejudiced not only against atheists, but homosexuals and non-whites. (the racism in this area is subtle but it is definitely there) These prejudices are based on fear, religious indoctrination, and ignorance. Their worst nightmare is an African-American lesbian atheist. (who is their pastor and they don’t know she is a member of the Clergy Project)
I have no problem with local Christians objecting to my atheism or my socialistic, liberal political beliefs. However, it behooves them to object from a place of knowledge rather than fear and ignorance. Local residents know where I live. I am as a close as a knock on the door, phone call, or an email. They might find that I really am quite religion friendly, an accommodationist that sees great value in religious faith; that I am a hick from the country who loves his wife, family, and grandchildren.