When I hear still-politically powerful Christians whine about how schools are no longer allowed to take their side in theological debates and how put upon they are, I can’t help but be reminded of Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Veruca was a spoiled little girl who often bullied her parents into giving her whatever she wanted. She wanted everything and she wanted it nooooow….
Since the article I wrote yesterday is getting a lot of attention, I’ve seen this mentality pop up in the comments section quite often. Now I don’t assume that these folks are being willfully unreasonable with their demands, but that’s the nature of Christian privilege. Those that have it, often don’t notice it.
One commenter mentions something that I hear American religious folks mention a lot in discussions of church and state separation. I see this poster making the same error that I tried to stress throughout the article, that the erosion of Christianity’s cultural and legal dominance does not equal the erosion of Christianity’s right to belief or practice:
Let me see, you’ve taken prayer out of school, God out of the public square, and you want to to take God off our currency. I would hazard a guess many Atheists would like their to be no churches. Gee, I don’t know why we would somehow feel oppressed.
What was taken out of public schools was *mandatory, teacher led prayer*. Kids can privately pray whenever they like these days, provided they aren’t disruptive. They can even create after school student-led Christian clubs.
People forget that prior to the 1960s, the prayers in schools were one way that Christianity abused an institution that belonged to all Americans — the public schools — to validate their beliefs. People can pray at home. They don’t need a public employee, their teacher, to lead them in sectarian prayer. They were unconstitutional then and remain so now.
Students have the right to express themselves religiously in school and in the public square, provided they obey the normal school rules about being non-disruptive.
And no one took “God out of the public square,” as private individuals can still publicly display their own religious beliefs however they like and talk about them in conversation. However, the *government* doesn’t have the right to express religious views or take sides on promoting or discouraging religious beliefs on state property or through state venues.
It puzzles me when I hear people say that Christianity has somehow been driven into the shadows, given how there are thousands of Christian radio stations, Christian magazines, Christian television networks with 24-hour programming, and pretty much every viable candidate for president must state to some degree that they believe in a god — usually the Christian one. The public square is chock full of God-talk. Even on the AM station we’re on, there are dozens of Christian programs. Even in secular Seattle, the public access station that “Ask an Atheist” used to be on was loaded with religious programs of all types.
What public square is your god being excluded from?
And yes, I would like the word “god” off of our currency. It was only added to all currency and made our motto in the 1950s, to explicitly separate us from godless Soviets, but it also excludes plenty of godless Americans from sharing in these national symbols and statements as well. We already had a perfectly good national motto before the 1950s: “E plurbius unum.” “Out of many, one.”
I’ve often wonder why so many Christians need to have their beliefs constantly validated and repeated to them by the state or every other private institution. Do they really feel so insecure in their faith that they need to have department stores and the government reminding them that they’re right?
This is the very essence of Christian privilege. Christians have had, for centuries, extra-constitutional advantages given to them for so long that they feel picked on when they government takes — not the side of atheists — but the intended side of neutrality.
I would like to see churches go away, but not because of any sort of government ban or law. Certainly not by force. I respect your right to believe and meet in churches and practice your religion. But I hope eventually religion just fades into mythology like the stories of Thor and Zeus, as people just don’t want it any more and they choose to give it up.
I can’t make anyone into an atheist and I don’t try to. I simply produce a radio show to fill a void in the national discussion where people like me are usually excluded from the debate. Either someone finds my arguments compelling or they don’t.
But mainly I speak out as an atheist because of issues like Christian privilege. In fact, I find it silly that you feel picked on that the courts are slowly taking away Christianity’s de facto extra-constitutional endorsement from the U.S. government and reasserting Jefferson and Madison’s wall of separation in the last few decades.
Here’s what the world looks like from where I stand, and why I’ve made atheist activism a big part of my life:
- We live in a country where even decades after the Supreme Court struck down state constitutional amendments that said that atheists cannot serve in public office and in juries, that we still can’t get that legally unenforcable language out of those constitution. We can’t even get these basic semantic rechange out of a legislative committee.
- We live in a country where majorities have repeatedly polled saying they wouldn’t vote for a non-believer for president, even if the candidate were “well-qualified.” Atheists came in dead last in that poll, way below Muslims, gays and other marginalized groups. Six in ten said they’d be less likely to vote for an atheist.
- We still live in a country where atheism is used against parents to attack them in divorce procedings to deny them custody.
- We live in a country where 41% of all Americans believe that Jesus will return in the next 40 years, kicking off the End Times. Mind you, that’s 41% of everyone, not just Christians. When you chop off the 20% of people who are non-Christians (atheists, Muslims, Jews, pagans…etc) combined, this number gets scarier.
- We still live in a world where religion in the United States is incredibly politically powerful and a candidate stating things like a refusal to accept evolutionary theory, or that the world is 6,000 years old, or that storms are god’s punishment for sin, can make someone a popular presidential candidate and even rise to the level of Senator. And someone saying they don’t believe in deities is a political non-starter.
- We live in a world where Christian politicians in the US are trying to force their religion into science classes, history curriculum, and eroding the rights of women, gays and religious minorities.
- We live in a world where Christians abroad in places are still hunting witches, dousing “demon possessed” children in acid to “save” them, and politicians with direct links to American evangelicals are trying to enforce anti-gay laws with the death penalty.
- We live in a world where in many Muslim countries, women are treated like property or cattle. Where women can be banned from driving, killed for bizarre crimes like witchcraft, or can be beaten or killed for showing skin by regimes that use scripture to back up their authority.
- We live in a world where Muslim terrorists fly planes into buildings and remove heads for explicitly religious reasons.
So yeah, as a non-believer it looks like the world is insane. Especially when the first group and the last group want to fight it out and think that more religion is the solution to the problem. I can’t exactly jump into Jor-El’s rocket and find myself a new planet, so I have to fight for this one.
I’ve never said we should ban anyone’s right to believe and if your Free Exercise rights — your rights, not you hijacking the state and using it as a pulpit — to privately express religious beliefs was violated, I’d be pissed off on your behalf….
…but I cannot do anything but fight back when your religion wants to have an unreasonable amount of influence, if not outright dominance of the culture and the government.
So I speak out against it. I try to convince people that governments should have no power to enforce religious dogmas or laws. That the government belongs to all of us and should be neutral in matters of belief. That faith-based decision making has no place in crafting laws.
So I have a radio show. I’m not trying to take any rights away from anyone else. I just want to join the dialogue, because people have talked about us forever and it’s time we started speaking on our own behalf.
Our show doesn’t take overt political stances that can’t be connected to the broader topic religion or belief, and that’s why we come out so strongly for gay rights, because I can see no other motivation for denying a couple the right to legally bond and start a life together.
I see no demonstrable harm these people do to me or anyone else and it puzzles and scares me how much organized groups like the LDS Church, the evangelical groups or the various Catholic Archdiocese will spend on preventing people who won’t affect their lives from getting married.
And they do it for explicitly religious reasons. To be perfectly blunt, if religion kept its hands to itself, this show and my activism would have little reason to exist.
They’ve had the power to just tell everyone what to do for so long that they think they’re being victimized when that unfair dominance is taken away.