It would seem that my last blog post on poverty and my somehow evil admission that I am an avowed Atheist raised the ire of several Christians who had some choice words for me. I’ve lost no sleep over it – or your threats. I shall no longer attempt to be civil to people who, in their shallow aim to dehumanize me for my lack of acceptance of their beliefs, made my case splendidly. If that’s how Christians ‘witness’ to non-believers… no thanks. My mission in that post was to put a realistic face on poverty – complete with real numbers about real Americans and the real challenges they face. I also called out politicians who loudly wear their faith as a fashion statement, claiming the moral high ground while, vilifying those in poverty as though they deserve their lot in life and working toward public policy that would have dire consequences for the least among us. It was really that simple. What it turned into was an ugly exercise in “otherism” for my admission in being a non-Christian. I was more than a little taken aback, given that my admission of Atheism was a minor aside to a much larger discussion… but that’s what they chose to pounce on.
It was pretty clear that those individuals had positively no idea what it meant to be an Atheist. One even attempted to explain it within the simple-minded confines of a one sentence dictionary definition. Atheism is no easier to explain than Christianity. It comes with many levels and many nuances. Atheism is as personal to an individual as the blind faith in a deity that was displayed in the comments. But then, I’ve gotten rather used to it. Look, I really don’t care what philosophy you choose to follow. Everyone should have the right to decide what works for them – and contrary to popular belief, my beef is not with Christians… it’s with hypocrites who like to cherry-pick the scriptures to fit in nicely with their political beliefs and ignore the parts about love and charity and giving. I like those parts.
At first, I attempted to defend my humanity – to no avail. It was stated that any perceived good I had done in my life had been offered with ill intentions. It seems that, unless a person accepts Jesus as their personal savior, complete with the punishment for doing bad and the reward for doing good at the end of our lives, there is no reason for a human being to live a decent, moral life. Without Jesus, there is no reason to be kind to another person, to be charitable, to honor our parents, not to kill, not to steal – the entire litany of the Ten Commandments could not possibly be carried out by someone who didn’t accept Christianity, simply because a person was, by nature, a good, decent, moral individual. Common sense would tell you that simply could not be true. Human decency is not derived from religion – it precedes it.
Before the Christians reading this take offense, understand this is not an indictment of you, your faith or your personal beliefs. I have a deep respect for the Constitution of the United States that mandates we be permitted to have both freedom of religion and freedom from religion. It’s a two-sided coin. You can’t have one without the other. Our democracy depends upon this basic right. It was a founding principle of our nation. To those who would insist that this is a Christian nation, all laws should be based on Christian law and Christianity should be forced on children in school, regardless of the beliefs of their parents and what they would have their children learn, I will only say to you, that’s a profoundly un-American point of view. I’m perfectly comfortable with what you choose to teach your children, but I do think that philosophy is best taught in the home and the church. No one, certainly not me, would choose to keep anyone from practicing their faith or teaching it to their own children. I do, however, believe there is a time and a place for such religious instruction and the practice thereof. I don’t believe anyone has a right to force the children of Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics, Jews, Hindus, Shintos, Rastafarians… to be subjected to Christian indoctrination. Is it because I’m an Atheist that I believe this? No. It’s because I think the men who drafted the Constitution understood that if you legislate one religion over another, it’s a risky, slippery slope – because the Christians may not always be in power and may not always be in the majority. How do you suppose it would fly if all of America’s school children were mandated to observe the laws of Islam, pray the Muslim prayers and get detailed instruction in the ways of Islam? Yeah, that’s what I thought. The same Islamophobic people who are demanding that Christianity be ever-present in our schools to ‘protect’ our kids, aren’t stopping to think about the doors they’re opening for the tenants of other faiths to be taught.
But I digress… this is about Atheism. While I can’t exactly explain what Atheism is – because it varies from person to person on so many levels, I can tell you what an Atheist is not. An Atheist is not a sociopath, or someone with an absence of conscience. If that were true, logically, our prison population would be overwhelmingly Atheist. The prison population generally reflects the makeup of society, with percentages of religious groups in that population roughly equivalent to the percentages of those groups in society at large. With one notable exception: Atheists make up between 10-15 percent of the population as a whole, but less than 2 percent of the prison population.
An Atheist is not predisposed to lacking a conscience, morals, decency, or humanity. In fact, on basic questions of morality and human decency – issues such as government use of torture, the death penalty, corporal punishment of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, stewardship of the environment or human rights, non-religious people tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, especially when compared to those who self-identify as being ‘very religious, according to the Zuckerman study on Atheism. While the non-religious don’t fare so well in matters of mental health in this country (I’m not quoting part of this study without giving the downside), mental health experts maintain that those factors connected to the mental health indicators are complex and in some cases deceiving. Denmark, one of the most non-religious countries in the world, rates having some of the happiest and most well-adjusted people in the world.
Former President George H.W. Bush said atheists should not be considered either citizens or patriots. It has been suggested to me that, as a non-Christian, there is no place for me in our society and I should be shipped to Saudi Arabia or I should be beheaded. Comments such as those are a sad reflection on a nation that has encouraged and, dare I say, embraced free thought. I’m relieved that the majority of the world, the majority of Christians do not share that view. What a sad world this would have been without the likes of Thomas Edison and Ivan Pavlov in the field of science, Thomas Wolfe and Kurt Vonnegut in literature, Camus and Comte in philosophy, Bartok and Harburg in music and lawyers like Clarence Darrow – Atheists all. Atheism is a personal choice. It does not make people who make an alternate choice wrong. It does not make me wrong. Wearing your faith like a fashion statement, say, a designer handbag with which to beat me over the head will not make me a believer. After being told this, wishing me a ‘Merry CHRISTmas’, means nothing to me. Making reference to the ‘bitch’ moniker as the title of this column and confirming that it fits me to a “T”… well, thanks. That’s mighty Christian of you.
An Atheist is a person who does not believe any God exists. I am an equal opportunity Atheist, a Polyathiest, if you will. I disbelieve in all deities equally. I can’t prove God isn’t real, but at the same time, I can’t prove that my dog doesn’t run a violent Asian street gang while I’m asleep. What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof. The late Christopher Hitchens perhaps said it best…
“Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.”
So, on that note… to my Christian friends, I wish you the merriest of Christmases. To my Jewish friends, I wish you a happy Hanukkah. To my friends who celebrate Kwanzaa, I wish you a happy Kwanzaa. And finally, to my Atheist and Agnostic friends, I bid you peace. To the haters… please refer to the photo in my original column. That one’s for you.
Carol Baker is a political writer, satirist, and co-host with Vicki Childs of our Here Women Talk weekly internet talk radio show called BROADSIDED. You can hear their show every Thursday at 11 am Eastern/10 Central/8 Pacific.