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.
Being a Christian to me is having a close relationship to God. If there is no God, where did we come from? Why is our make up so intricate and complex? I find it SO VERY hard to digest that we are from nothing, living for nothing, and ending up as nothing. But to each its own. To most Christians, it is not about religion, it’s about the one on one relationship with God. Conscience is that little voice that tells you inside not to kill, steal or destroy. Without God, then we’re all free to do evil and not be held accountable?
Seems to me that “with God” we’re free to do evil. Are you forgetting about that whole “free will” thing? Are you saying that Christians never do evil? You ask why our make-up is so intricate and complex, yet science holds the answers in a far more articulate way than belief in a supernatural being. I’m comfortable with your blind faith. I don’t understand it, but I’m comfortable with it.
Well said! So nice to here the voice of reason from other atheist women. Strange that the balance is so heavily male in the on line atheist community. I don’t specifically mind but its just nice to hear from articulate and thoughtful ‘sisters’. Thanks!
This was too funny not to share. Steve Martin singing the first Atheist’s Hymnal.
Carol, this song’s for you. http://community.herewomentalk.com/video/atheist-song-first-hymnal-for-atheists
Carol, I wish I had your way with words. This was wonderful and I think you said all that was in my mind. Thank you for this.
I’m just sorry I didn’t have the balls to say it a long time ago. Having a forum like this and the experience of the week before made it the right time. Thanks for weighing in.
Carol very interesting and brave dialogue….and it begs all to ask questions. Questions some have never asked, viewpoints that they would rather overlook. Good for you….for many fail to realize all wars have been fought in the name of God. Not about if there is a God or not, but how to worship or own God as their own. Very interesting topic and one that isn’t talked about rationally, for very few can lovingly ‘defend’ their stance.
Carol – Brilliant piece. After the shootings in Az. where Gabrielle Giffords was nearly killed and six others were slaughtered, I worte a piece on Sarah Palin and her use of crosshairs on cities that needed to be free of democats in congress and how people who are not mentally stable might look at that as a sign to go out and kill. if Son of Sam can take orders from a dog, anything is possible. the response nearly brought me to my knees. I was attacked for having an opinion and my first thought was that these are the people who believe in a god who has his favorites and the rest of us are going to hell. I did lose my words for about a week and then came back and let them all know that they will not stop me…ever again.
this was one powewrful piece and educational. If only people took the time to get to know the person then perhaps the world could be a better palce, But I am not holding my breath, but I am not keeping my thoughts to myself. You go,Carol. elizabeth
Don’t you ever back down, sister. When the mentally ill have greater access to firearms than to mental health services… it says something about us as a nation. You keep standing up for what’s right and I’ll keep having your back.
Kudos for this well thought out cogent article. I did not read the original “controversial” piece but this response speaks volumes. Let us not forget most of the wars throughout history have been waged in the name of religion.
Merry “separation of Church and State.”
Very well stated, Carol. As the Quakers would say: truth from any source! You have found your own path, spoken your truth and shown respect for other paths and beliefs. Happy WInter Solstice, and may we all rejoice in this wonderful season as our planet turns back towards more light.
Throughout history, “religious” people have forced THEIR beliefs and righteousness on others, killing non-believers in the name of God. It still happens in some societies. Earlier this month in Saudi Arabia, a 67-year-old woman, a Sufi Muslim who practiced the Prophetic healing arts, was beheaded by the Saudi government for practicing witchcraft (story: http://tinyurl.com/clto2lr)
In Peru, 14 shamans–traditional healers–have been murdered in the last two years (some hacked to death by machete). Allegedly, these murders were ordered by the mayor of Balsa Puerto, a Protestant who claims shamans are possessed by demons and must be eliminated. (story http://tinyurl.com/43p2tyn)
I’m thankful we live in a society that protects our right to believe in God or not AND gives us the freedom to openly express our beliefs.
Wouldn’t the world be a great place if we could just live and let live.
Carol, I honor your Atheism.
Vicki, I honor your Christianity.
“…non-religious people tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, …”
If that’s true (and it makes sense to me), perhaps it’s because they’re operating on their own moral compass.
Thanks, Carol, for this thought-provoking post.
As one that defines myself as a Reformed Catholic and most closely to a Scientific Creationist —- meaning that things lead me to believe that a higher power set the wheels in motion but had no control once the machine was in motion, I suppose that I should have a Happy Pi Day. Someone will get that one. 😉
P P Q, perhaps? 🙂
I respect all religions and those who choose no religion. The moral character is not and should not be defined by your religion. If you choose to be an atheist you are no less human, kind, good, or respected in my opinion. I choose to be a Christian, but I learned kindness, respect, and charity outside my practice of religion too. These are traits I pass on to my children by example and by the acts of Jesus. You are a fine person Carol Baker and your belief or non belief does not change the person I know when I hear your voice or see your face. You are truly good, kind, and loved. Amen.
I would just like to say that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is a wonderful amendment and I believe it is a part of the Bill of Rights. I respect all opinions and beliefs.
I always wanted to ask exactly what form of Christianity would be the Christianity leading a Christian nation? There would be so much fighting between the different Christian beliefs, we would quickly enter the next holy war.