Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Offended by Secularist Rhetoric? Too Bad!

For the past couple of years, humanists, agnostics, and atheists have been standing up for themselves publicly. They are starting to come out of the closet. But their stance may be producing a Christian backlash as mostly fundamentalist Christians have started pushing back.

Evangelical Christians have lost a lot of political punch over the past couple of election cycles. The big blow came this past November when Barack Obama was elected president. Evangelicals like Mike Huckabee were eliminated early in the primary race. And McCain’s choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who is a very conservative Christian, may have cost him the election.

But it won’t take the fundamentalists long to regroup. Their numbers are large and they have a propensity to organize when they feel they have been shut out.

This Christmas season, atheist groups in America and in Britain have been bolstering their position by putting up billboards and placards proclaiming their disbelief. While only a small minority of Americans call themselves atheists, a considerably larger minority say they have no religion. They may call themselves agnostics, humanists, pragmatists, secularists, or even Christians, but they don’t attend church and religion is not a part of their lives.

But the push by the more radical element of this group to make themselves known has caused those like newspaper columnist Tom Sears of The Daily Star in New York to become offended. He asks in his column “What are atheists afraid of?”

In his column, he wrongly accuses atheists of being too lazy to give religion a chance. In fact, many atheists and agnostics have attended church and have read the bible. I am an agnostic and I am also baptized. I was a practicing Christian for many years and I was raised in a family of practicing Christians. So, no, I was never too lazy to learn about and to even practice religion. I simply got over it.

Sears then repeats the same old tired, but utterly incorrect, mantra about this country being founded on Judeo-Christian principles. It was founded on religious tolerance and freedom. It was founded by men who purposely left any reference to God out of the Constitution. It was founded by men who were religiously diverse, some of whom professed no religion at all.

Sears asks if atheists are afraid that children might see the nativity scenes and want to learn more about Jesus. Atheists have no problem with anyone learning about the historical figure of Jesus. What we fear is that children will be indoctrinated into a religion that blinds them to the facts of science and the real world, so they will be less likely to cope and more likely to rely on blind faith, thereby becoming disappointed and disillusioned when God doesn’t come through for them in times of need.

It’s the same fear that Sears professes he has about the children of atheists. He claims they won’t be exposed to religion so that they can make their own choices. My children have made their spiritual choices as adults. They did so on their own with no prodding from me. They, as I, attended church and were exposed to all the stories of the bible when they were kids. But they correctly left religion behind when they were old enough to start questioning.

But if Sears is offended by a sign, what about the non-religious folks who are bombarded all the time by signs, placards, billboards, and bumper stickers telling us with absolute certainty that Jesus saves or that His kingdom is coming? Sears claims the placard placed in the Capitol Building in Washington State was offensive because it denigrated his religion. It didn’t; it was merely a statement of belief by the atheist group who put it there.

Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told an audience that maybe if atheists have a problem with Christmas they should work that day and take their day off on another day, like maybe April 1. Yes, it was with tongue in cheek, but Sears brought up the same argument, saying atheists should leave Christmas alone and celebrate their own holiday where they can look into the mirror and worship themselves because they profess no belief in a higher being.

First of all, Mr. Sears, not believing in a higher being doesn’t mean that you believe that you are really superior yourself. We are all simply people. More importantly, non-religious folks don’t have a problem with Christmas. It is, after all, just as much a secular holiday as a religious one. Christmas didn’t even become popular in this country until it was given a secular bend.

Christmas was largely shunned in the early days of this nation, even to the point of being outlawed in Massachusetts. But it wasn’t until Clement C. Moore gave Santa Claus a personality and brought in his team of reindeer, and Coca-Cola imbued its magazine ads with an image of the jolly old elf, and Christmas cards became popular that Christmas began to take off. Then, people started trading presents, which meant they had to go out and buy the presents to trade. That’s the Christmas that was made a holiday. For centuries before that, it was just a Christian tradition that many chose to utterly ignore.

But Sears is correct; Christians are a force to be reckoned with in this country. Their numbers are huge. He tried to make that point by comparing two movies: Bill Maher’s Religulous and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. He noted that the former was a flop and the latter was listed among the top grossing films.

Well, sure. There are more Christians than atheists. That doesn’t mean they have a monopoly on the truth. Passion grossed more because it had a bigger core audience and because it was shown on many more screens than Religulous. But according to the votes on the Internet Movie Database, Religulous scored higher than Passion on how much viewers liked the film.

It doesn’t matter anyway. The popularity of a film doesn’t make its premise any better than another. The real test should be how a particular worldview affects humanity and its future. In this, secularism wins hands down.

Throughout history, the most backward, oppressive and imperialist countries have been theocracies or monarchies whose monarchs were supposedly chosen through divine right. Religion has produced the crusades, the modern jihads, the Spanish Inquisition, the corruption of the Church during the Reformation, the suppression of scientific inquiry, and so on ad infinitum.

Today, mostly in America, fundamentalist Christianity is trying in every conceivable way to infiltrate public schools with its view on the creation of the earth and the life upon it. We can’t teach our students about safe sex practices, only about abstinence. Our government refuses to fund birth control programs in third-world nations if there is any counseling about abortion. And let’s not forget that America, even though it is one of the most religious free nations in the world, still has one of the highest violent crime rates. Compare that with countries such as Sweden, Denmark, or Norway that have very low crime rates but whose populations stay away from church in droves.

So maybe it is the Christians who ought to be afraid, not the secularists. Maybe they see the handwriting on the wall. Maybe these last two elections have been just the vanguard of a coming trend away from the all-powerful religious oligarchy. The Bush era will soon be behind us, and not one second too soon. And with him, hopefully, will go the kowtowing to religious zealots that, since the Reagan years, have prevented this country from enjoying the progress it could have had.

In the mean time, we’ll settle for our newly-acquired ability to put up signage on the courthouse lawn proclaiming our doubts about God. And if that offends you, just get over it. Now you know how we feel when confronted with the ubiquitous religious propaganda. Besides, there is no guarantee in our Constitution that gives you the freedom from being offended.

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