In this post, I would like to discuss several points on religion that I wish to explore further in future posts, to basically establish my starting point for atheist discussions. They include why atheism is necessary and relevant, and related to this, why I am throwing in my voice into the already prolific discussion among bloggers and writers already making a wonderful case in its favor.
First, a word about my religious background. I was raised a Protestant Christian in the U.S. In spite of devout but religiously moderate parents, I dove a bit deeper into the fundamentalist end of the pool. I was never abused in the church, but actually have rather pleasant memories of my time there. The social and community aspects were rich and fulfilling. There were several church retreats I attended which I’ll always look back on fondly. As a kid, my goal was to be a preacher and I not only read every book I could find on the subject, but took several Moody Bible Institute correspondence courses as well (They included such fascinating material as how evolution was wrong, about the letters of Paul, etc.). After a long deconversion realization (there was no real “magic” moment where I suddenly turned atheist — long story–) I gradually dropped church going, and beyond the occasional Creationist/Evolutionist debate in college, didn’t give the matter that much thought. A much simplified deconversion story there, but that is the basic summary. At present, I consider myself an atheist at about a 6.7 +- 0.2 on the Dawkin’s scale. So, if any Christian readers desire to convince me, feel free, but I’ve heard most of the arguments already.
So, why do I wish to thrown in a few thoughts into the discussion on atheism? Perhaps it is a matter of increased observance and awareness. I have noticed, at an anecdotal qualitative level, a significant increase in the occurrence of “Jesus fish” on cars, “Harvest” bumper stickers, “Not of this World” stickers, ad infinitum. In my neighborhood, I’ve got 5 churches springing up out of nowhere, meeting in all the public schools (since they have no buildings yet) right next to each other, and incessantly advertising with obnoxious signage. Not too many years ago, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, famously said we didn’t need to worry about the environment since Jesus was coming back soon.
Along those same lines, Jared Diamond, in his book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”, discussed how, guided by this type of religious end time thinking, mining companies chose not to take the environmental problems caused by mining seriously. George H.W. Bush famously said he didn’t think atheists should be citizens. I have no chance of winning a presidency in my country because I’m honest enough to tell people that I am not a Christian. George W. Bush thought God told him to go to Iraq, and even some more fun nonsense. The current Republican pick for V.P., in a famous youtube video, seems to think that our misadventure in Iraq is a “task from God” and stated elsewhere that she thinks Jesus is coming back in her lifetime (How this belief may influence any policy decisions, nobody, to my knowledge, has asked her.). In addition to all this, people who have displayed the so-called evolution or Darwin fish on their vehicles, have had tires slashed and property damaged. In addition to these creationist/ID “controversies” popping up like a whack-a-mole game everywhere (in seemingly unrelenting attempts to undermine our science education), and biologists often receive threats. I won’t even get into 9/11.
What do many of the above mentioned actions, opinions, and biases have in common? As Sam Harris rightly pointed out in “The End of Faith”, actions stem from beliefs. The beliefs that have led to many of the actions and threats listed above are religious in character, and thus beyond the reach of reason. This is a dangerous situation and religious moderation provides a foothold for some to climb to the more extreme fundamentalist beliefs which have become ever more visible and threatening. These beliefs are a matter that need to be opened for serious criticism and questioning. We atheists do need to stand up and make our voice heard and be recognized for the rational and moral people many (I’m aware not all) of us are. I have seen statistics quoted (but can’t find them now, unfortunately) that atheism is increasing among the younger generation in this country. But still, religious fundamentalism, perhaps in a last gasp effort, has become increasingly vociferous and influential, and, therefore in my opinion, still poses a significant danger.
There does seem to be a concerted effort to roll back the Enlightenment and to march us back into the Dark Ages. In this light, I’ve decided to add what I can, in this insignificant little blog, to my fellow atheists as we work to tear down the dam being constructed to stop the flow of the Enlightenment. Whether or not anybody actually reads this, hey, still an interesting writing exercise for the time being.
So, what do I really want see in terms of the future of religion? In the long term (on the order of 500-1000 years, perhaps?), I would like to see religious belief relegated to a somewhat interesting subtopic of history studies. I realize this is unpractical in the short term. Religious belief is not going away for some time. It is very much a part of people’s cultural identity, offers consolation, especially on matters concerning the fear of death, and offers a strong sense of community (matters which some atheists are starting to address — see here for an example–).
So, in the short term, I would like to see religious discussion unraveled out of our public political discussion and make sure the wall of separation between church and state is well fortified. Public policy should be guided by secular rational discussion (does that really need to be said?). I support the efforts of Americans United for Separation of Church and State in this. I would like to see religion become more of an individual private hobby perhaps shared by some willing like-minded community with the common beliefs not to be foisted upon society at large and certainly not taking religious dictates to the detriment of the adherent’s own health and safety. It is my hope that a strong component of critical thinking in a stronger education system will allow us to move towards both short and long term goals.