Sunday, December 27, 2009

Does freedom *from* religion exist in the USA?

In light of the annual "you can't take the CHRIST out of CHRISTmas" screaming, this article (which I discovered via Richard Dawkins' Twitter account) seems disturbingly appropriate.

What is it going to take for Christian zealots to stop imposing their will upon other supposedly "free" Americans? This country was founded on the notion of freedom from religious oppression. While many will say "The pilgrims were still Christians fighting for their own Christian ideals and this is therefore a Christian nation" (see this insane interview with Indiana's bonehead governor), it seems silly to base our ideas of fairness in 2009 on principles laid out in the 1600s. Why are we not allowed to progress in our attitudes toward religion?

It is frightening to me to think that there is still so much religious hatred and persecution against non-believers. It seems Christians have more hatred for non-believers than they do for even Jews or Muslims. There are so many ridiculous statements floating about non-believers--several good examples are cited in the above links, especially the Gov. Mitch Daniels interview--it is difficult to even address them. What hubris does it take for a Christian, whose primary religious document warns strongly against casting stones, to accuse non-believers to be a group of morality-lacking lunatics? As if there are not Christian lunatics (Timothy McVeigh, Scott Roeder, any sampling of KKK group you want to cite). This is not to say that there are not good Christians, or that they are predominantly bad as a group, but rather to point out that there are bad applies in ANY group, but they hardly ever can accurately define a group.

This should be kept in mind when atheists are lumped into a category with Hitler and Stalin to point out what atheism does (the argument is usually that a lack of religion is a lack of morality/consequence that leads consistently to immoral behavior and moral decay). For one thing, Hitler wasn't an atheist! But even if he was, he no more represents all atheists than the KKK represents all Christians. This tactic is a logical fallacy known as "poisoning the well", and is weak at best.

But back to the point at hand: what about atheists inherently disqualifies them from being fit for public office? The first link about the North Carolina councilman is disturbing for several reasons. First of all, the hatred displayed toward the councilman--who has just taken office--is based on nothing more than the fact that he is not Christian. The man that was quoted as basically saying there is something wrong about having a non-Christian in elected office is shocking, because I have the strong suspicion this guy is also the type that says we need to "protect American values". The core of American values are the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, and endorsing a Christian theocracy (which is the de facto result of this man's statements) is a DIRECT VIOLATION of those values. This is a prime example of personal religious conviction being placed above the foundation that is supposed to make this country great, and makes hypocrites of a great many self-proclaimed "patriots" that want prayer in public schools (just for a brief example).

If a candidate meets the requirements for public office and is qualified for the job description, there is absolutely no reason to take that person's religious beliefs (or lack thereof) into account. That is because any person in an elected office should in NO CIRCUMSTANCES base a decision for constituents on their own personal religious convictions, as it is in direct violation of our most cherished documents. It was disturbing to hear President G.W. Bush cite scripture in his official duties, as it is any time a governor (Mitch Daniels) or senator or even a councilman quotes some religious text. There is separation of church and state in this country, and we CANNOT let it become optional.

The fact that there is any debate whatsoever about the Ten Commandments in courthouses or gay marriage shows the very sad state of affairs in the United State when it comes to maintaining distance between the church and our governmental functions. Because Christians are the predominant religious group in the USA, those in control are likely to be Christians and therefore are imposing their beliefs upon the nation as a whole. Little by little, religious thought is creeping into the gears of the government, in the form of hatred for science, gays, other religions and non-belief. If Christians, Jews, Muslims, non-believers and every other flavor of religious identifier do not step up and maintain the laws of the land, it would not be surprising to wake up one day after a major terrorist attack or natural disaster and find ourselves being led into a theocracy (see PATRIOT Act).

The good news is that more and more non-believers, secularists, and rational thinkers are beginning to make noise and fight back. This is where the preservation of our Constitution and Bill of Rights must be protected, as to prevent ANY religious group from exercising a strong upper hand against equality and fairness.

Many people would deport non-believers (and gays, and those practicing other religions, etc). The "if you aren't with us, you're against us" mentality is as strong as ever. We are facing unprecedented economic, social, political, and environmental challenges, yet our politicians are spending time debating gay rights, for example. In the face of all these very REAL issues, our politicians are waxing poetic to defend their religiously-based views on relatively unimportant issues. I mean, really, how do two men marrying impact the future of our country more than the threat of bankruptcy, or terrorism, or global warming? These issues--which exist ONLY because of religious convictions--are holding this country back. There is absolutely NO reason to prevent gay marriage if you remove the Bible from the equation, no legal consequence or illegality; why is public policy being shaped by ONE religion?

These are very disturbing questions that will likely not be answered any time soon, if ever. But these are issues that must be addressed to protect the American spirit in a very ominous future.