Every two years or so, I write something on here that invokes the wrath of many Christians, leading to tons of comments and emails - and subsequently I write an apologia and then try not to talk about it for two more years. I'd like to take a different tack this time, and (very briefly) explain why this cycle keeps happening.
I think there is a very under-reported and badly-needed story taking place in this country, a phenomenon I'll call The Quiet Rage of Agnostics and Atheists in America. Put simply, there is a group of people who have (for one reason or another) opted out of organized religion, but still feel bombarded by it on all sides.
When a political figure mentions his religious faith guiding his decisions, we shudder, not just because we think he means it (which is horrifying enough), but because he has to mention it at all. When religion gets involved in our school system, many of us feel like it's time to move to Finland.
Put yourself in our shoes, just for a minute. Millions of people believe in a sentient Creator who communicates with humans, and that he sent his son down to be a person to be killed for our sins, and then was resurrected. People who lived many, many years after the fact wrote a book about it with hundreds of rules - many paradoxical to each other - and now that book is supreme law.
I'm sorry. Many of you are used to it. Many of you follow it and find light, love and happiness. But we find it downright scary. We love many of YOU, to be sure, and would defend your honor because we call you our friends, but your religion absolutely flummoxes us. And we're not allowed to say anything about it, even though your rules make laws that govern our bodies and what we can do.
Say what you want about Michael Moore, but his thesis in "Bowling for Columbine" is right-on: a government that kills its own people sends a tacit message to its people: killing each other is an acceptable solution to a problem. I would say the same thing about a government or a President that stresses their Christianity. Claiming Christian values sends a tacit message to its people: it's okay to believe anything, regardless of facts.
I was called a "bigot" a few days ago on here, and I don't think that's fair. I should be allowed to put up resistance when a public figure uses mass media to further a Christian agenda. What people do in their own churches and in their own homes is none of my goddamn business, but when it explodes out - as it does more times a day that many of you are aware - ill-mannered agnostics like me should be here to say enough's enough.
And if I use strong words to do it, well, then, grow some thicker skin. Christianity has a lot of nerve carving any moral high ground given the imperialism, oppression, subjugation of women, gay-baiting and general misery done in its name for over two thousand years. It's also got a lot of nerve claiming any persecution, when at this point, everyone's already Christian. Congrats, you've won. You get the Presidency, 97% of Congress, most of the Supreme Court, millions and million of Americans... and I got this blog.
Your belief system must be capable of withstanding the occasional assault. I know mine is, all the time.
Look, I love you. Many of you are my friends, many of you are my family. You can think I'm a know-it-all asshole who is in dire need of an epiphany, and I can think you're slightly insane - it doesn't mean we can't laugh and give toasts over dinner. It also doesn't mean we can't commiserate over thousands of other subjects. But when I occasionally get exasperated and rude about your God, I hope you get why.
Posted by Ian Williams at January 10, 2010 11:24 PM
The Christians that I know are pretty typical, albeit I now know more Roman Catholics than Baptists. If anything, the folks in the northeast tend to be more moral than the ones I met in the south.
The statement had less to do with the level of their morality and more to do with mine. For example, I don't believe in divorce, especially after you have kids. While there are plenty of examples of a bad marriage that should be ended (abuse, etc.), most marriages end because one of the parties didn't uphold their end of the deal. To me, that is abhorrent behavior. Yet, we continue to see example after example of pious Christians telling us that they are just as weak as they are told they are by their faith and they are just trying to do better. To quote Yoda - Do, or do not. There is no "try."
As to the forces:
Gravity - not unseen. Easily measurable.
Magnetic attraction - same as gravity.
Quarks - similar to gravity, but does require more sophisticated measuring devices.
Evolution - not really a force, but pretty difficult to deny. Not that people haven't tried.
God - no proof, no evidence, mere conjecture piled on conjecture topped off with "If you can't provie it with science, it must be God." Really? I mean, so God was gravtity until Newton came along?
My previous post notwithstanding, I think something needs to be addressed, something Ian's post touched on: One of the repeated tropes throughout both testaments of the Bible -- both testemants -- is that the larger world is evil, and the God-fearing believers are persecuted.
If you look at the Evangelical movement, and the Mormons for that matter, this is a repeated theme -- the evil world is out to get us. And for Catholics, anyone who dies for faith is a candidate for sainthood. Being persecuted has a certain perverse glamour, and nothing gets Christians more excited than unambiguous cases of persecution -- in the old Soviet Union and China in particular.
In the US, no one can proclaim themselves an atheist and get elected to public office. Some Christians want their beliefs to be enshrined in law, and get upset at any reasonable enforcement of the separation of church and state -- and you'll never see a news report or editorial that criticizes this directly.
Like Ian said, it's over, the Christians have won. It's their country, and the rest of us just have to get on with life the best we can.
My feeling is that Christians who feel persecuted in the United States need to get over themselves. Our country was founded on the ideal (if not the fact) of religious tolerance and idealism, so no one has the right to impose their religion on others. I know it's drummed into you that you have the one true faith, but if you want a country safe for YOUR one true faith, you should respect the beliefs of those who don't share it.
@Salem's Little Sister: I have great respect for the comfort religious faith can give, and for the loving kindness it can bring out in people.
That being said, I didn't choose to not believe in the supernatural being outside our observable universe. The easy path would have been to smile and nod and go through the motions. In fact in our church they told us explicitly to do so -- if you lack faith, keep up the outer observance and faith will eventually follow.
I've probably quoted this before in xtcian comments, but Philip K Dick wrote "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." The facts of the physical universe are independent of what anyone believes. So to say that there's an equivalence between believing in the physical universe and believing in God isn't valid.
Faith is, by definition, believing in things you can't see* The problem with faith, from my point of view,is that believing one unprovable thing has logical equivalence to believing any other unprovable thing.
But the scientific world view and the Christian world view are both just provisional models of the truth of the universe. Neither is a provable ground truth. I certainly can see how Christianity is a successful working model for a lot of people. But it isn't the only model out there. If Christians want to believe theirs is the only true way to see things, that's their right, but they need to learn to respect the beliefs of others.
*for those who bring up "gravity? Magnetic attraction? Quarks? Evolution?" -- again, this is a category error. These are all things that one can see, just not with the naked eye. We can build instruments that can see for us, and what they see doesn't depend on faith. Saying that believing in gravity is like believing in God is just ridiculous. It's like saying believing in sound is like believing in God because you can't see sound.
"Put yourself in our shoes, just for a minute... that book is supreme law...we find it downright scary."
Solipsism is...properly regarded as the doctrine that, in principle, “existence” means for me my existence and that of my mental states. Existence is everything that I experience — physical objects, other people, events and processes — anything that would commonly be regarded as a constituent of the space and time in which I coexist with others and is necessarily construed by me as part of the content of my consciousness.
For the solipsist, it is not merely the case that he believes that his thoughts, experiences, and emotions are, as a matter of contingent fact, the only thoughts, experiences, and emotions. Rather, the solipsist can attach no meaning to the supposition that there could be thoughts, experiences, and emotions other than his own.
Solipsism is therefore more properly regarded as the doctrine that, in principle, “existence” means for me my existence and that of my mental states. Existence is everything that I experience — physical objects, other people, events and processes — anything that would commonly be regarded as a constituent of the space and time in which I coexist with others and is necessarily construed by me as part of the content of my consciousness. The solipsist can attach no meaning to the supposition that there could be thoughts, experiences, and emotions other than his own.
Christianity demands its followers share their faith. While it's not always pleasant for me to hear about the miracle of Jesus, I certainly respect those who choose to do it. They are following the doctrine of their faith.
What lots of liberal folks say about Christians is absolutely personal. It is not the same thing as disagreeing about liking olives. Faith, to those who have it, is a foundation for behavior, for values, for relationships, for questions about the universe, among other things. When that system is attacked, it is nothing but personal. It is the most personal thing there is.
It has always struck me as strange that there are people who believe in some sense of God or some higher power, but do not participate in religion. The point of having deities is to bring one to rituals, to community, to values. It seems silly to embrace the least helpful part of the experience.
I don't like when people say, It's okay for someone to be gay, as long as they don't hit on me. That's what it sounds like when you say, It's fine for someone to be religious as long as I don't have to hear about it. It sounds rude and bigoted.
I'm an atheist. And I occasionally participate in religion, because I find the sense of community and contemplation helpful. But I sure do seem to be carrying the torch for Christianity a lot these days. Just as it was wrong for Bush and Rove to manipulate religious people to win elections, it is wrong for liberals to be so smug and unkind to those of faith.