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This Week: In Trouble

But I Want it NOOOOOOW!: More on Christian Privilege and Why I'm an Atheist Activist

tantrum

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:

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.

About the Author: Mike Gillis

Mike Gillis is co-creator, and co-host of Ask an Atheist. He hosts the Radio vs. the Martians! and Mike and Pól Save the Universe! podcasts. He also enjoys comic books, the Planet of the Apes, and the band Queen.

Feedback and Commentary

44 Comments 0 Trackbacks
Tech Writer D June 30, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Right on.

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Sharon June 30, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Very well put. Thanks for speaking out — I haven’t quite thought about organized religion this way, and it really clarifies a lot of things I’ve been thinking.

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Darren June 30, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Amen Brother!

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Mike Gillis June 30, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Since this post began its existence as a comment, a poster over there named Dave said this:
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“Mr. Gillis: We live in a very imperfect world. Are their “Christians” somewhere in world doing bad stuff, almost assuredly. I think their are also Atheists in the world doing bad stuff. But the few bad Christians shouldn’t castigate the majority of good Christians and likewise the few bad Atheists should castigate the rest of the good ones.

But to your comment; there is evil in world and it knows no boundaries. Be it Islamic Extremists in Iran beating and killing people, a Christian Zealot who kills a doctor or an Atheist like Jeffrey Dahmer doing abhorrent things to his fellow man. These people don’t make Muslims, Christians or Atheists as a whole bad.”

———————-
I never said this. It’s a common thing for theists to assume I’m saying this. When I take religion to task, I’m not simply blaming all of the bad done by Christians on Christianity and all of the bad done by Muslims on Islam.

For instance, most people in prison are self-described Christians, but I doubt that religion had anything to with their crimes.

I’m talking about actions done by religious people for *explicitly* religious reasons. When someone kills a blasphemer or shoots an abortion doctor, their religious beliefs are central to why they did what they did….they’re primary to what they did.

I know this because (1) they’re often not shy about their religious motivation and (2) they usually can cite chapter and verse that prescribes exactly what it is that they did.

I find it odd that you mention Jeffrey Dahmer because, one I don’t know anything about his beliefs and two, because his atheism – if he was an atheist – doesn’t seem to be his motivator. Atheism is a difficult thing to pin as a motivation because it isn’t a worldview or a philosophy. It’s a position on just one thing: whether gods exist or not.

That’s it. It doesn’t have a text or code of behavior that religions have. That stuff we have to come up with on our own.

———————————

“I would be curious to what real examples you see where there is a christianity or just religous push.
You said “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.” ”

———————–

I’m not sure why this is a question. There is a huge movement afoot to push these things into law. And the organizations behind them, whether its the Discovery Institute, the National Organization for Marriage or the Catholic and Mormon churches…are all explicitly Christian organizations.

———————————

“Here’s my logic:
My base premise that you have a supernatural belief system just as I do. It’s just that yours is the opposite of mine. So yes, a belief in no God is a belief.
Either one of us pushing our belief system on the other is not beneficial to society. We have to find a way to co-exist, happily. Here’s an example.

Part of your belief system includes a belief in the theory of evolution because evolution does not involve a supernatural God and for the unknowns Atheists can always say “oh, that just hasn’t been discovered yet”. I don’t want to take Evolution out of school. Surprised? I just want Creationism taught beside it. They are both theories. Neither one has been proven to be 100% accurate and provable. But the “christian privilege” of Creationism has been taken away by Atheists. And now you see Christians wanting to take away Evolution as a threat. Not meaning to be too hyperbolic or flippant I guess my comment would be “How does it feel?” We felt the same way when teaching Creationism was replaced by Evolution. But again, I don’t want Evolution replaced, co-existing is teaching both side by side.”

————————-

This is simply untrue, though I’m sure it feels diplomatic to say so.

I don’t have a supernatural belief system. My atheism as well as my skepticism about magical claims is based entirely on a preponderance of evidence.

Either a claim can be backed up with independently verifiable and scientifically determinable fact, or it cannot.

I don’t accept evolutionary theory because of an ideological bent or because it “denies god.”

(It depends on your god, really.)

I accept the theory because its the best explanation we currently have for the variety and diversity of life on this planet and has withstood the scrutiny of testing and restesting countless times, and because every new piece of data we obtain only seems to bolster it.

Biological evolution by natural selection is the nucleus around which all modern biology grows. If you toss it out, you’re tossing out the lion’s share of what we can know about the life sciences.

We didn’t take anything away from you. We asserted that you can’t treat non-science as science in a public school.

One of these things has mountains of evidence to back it up and the other has faith based assertions about talking snakes.

I’d highly recommend talking to a real scientist rather than a talk radio host about this. I’m a science cheerleader at best. The bottom line, science works. It’s predictions and collective knowledge have allowed us to travel to the moon and instantly communicate with anyone on the planet. We can cure diseases that once killed us en masse and can use it to make predictions that lead to even newer discoveries.

And not all atheists are rationalists or accept evolutionary theory. Some of us are supernaturalists or conspiracy theorists and some even belief in so-called “Intelligent Design.” I recommend Googling the Raelians, a UFO cult of atheists who believe aliens created us in the lab.

They’re silly people.

In the end, it comes down to one thing: Can you back up the things you believe with evidence or not?

And the minute you start invoking faith, you’re admitting that you cannot.

————————

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Edward June 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm

How is it that so many of these so-called Christians apparently have no problem ignoring the words of Jesus as reported in the Bible.

In Matthew chapter 6 verse 1-6, Jesus condemns the very behavior you’re describing saying, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. [ ] when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

C’mon folks! If you claim to follow this Jesus, why do you disregard his teachings?

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Mike Gillis June 30, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Edward,

Everyone cherrypicks. Even you. I’m sure you ignore a lot of the things the New Testament says about women submitting to their husbands or not speaking in church, or the fact that Jesus didn’t have any real problem with slavery or Christians owning slaves.

The liberal Christians ignore the barbaric bits and the conservative Christians ignore the bits about giving all their stuff away to the poor and living like monks.

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Edward June 30, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Mike, did you think I was a christian just because I know the bible? Ha ha ha.

It’s been over 30 years since I’ve escaped that way of thinking. My “religion” now is best reflected in the words of the gifted George Carlin. Perhaps you’ve heard his take on all of this?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeSSwKffj9o

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beth June 30, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Evolution is a theory the same way gravity is a theory. Creationism is a theory the same way the Egyptian concept of everything originating from water is a theory. Evolution and creationism are in no way competing explanations for the diversity of life on the planet. Creationism has the bible – a non scientific collection of oral histories – backing it up. Evolution has literally over a hundred years of scientific evidence backing it up. The same science that helped make it possible for you to communicate with me over vast distances using your electronic device.

The foundation of modern biology – you know, medicine and stuff – is based in large part on the theory of evolution. Conjecture about how things might have happened based on a single source is as much as Creationism can claim. So…why should both be taught again?

You should read up about the trial in Dover concerning Intelligent Design, specifically a book called “Monkey Girl”. It clearly explains exactly why the theory of evolution is in no way on the same footing as the concept of creationism.

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janet June 30, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I wish people would stop pointing fingers at each others ideals & groups and work on THE JOB SITUATION or LACK THERE OF. I don’t care who you are people need to work.

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Mike Gillis June 30, 2011 at 3:38 pm

But we can’t handle the economy because there’s war!

And we can’t handle that because….

We solve the problems we can, when we can solve them.

No one should have to wait until we have a utopia until we start solving smaller problems. We shouldn’t have to achieve world peace before they can fix the pothole, on my street for instance.

Besides, people craft political platforms from their religious beliefs and this effects everything from foreign policy, environmental policy, social policy, education policy. Even economic policy.

The governor of Texas is claiming right now that prayer alone will solve the woes of the economy. This is disquieting to say the least.

All big-scale stuff.

It’s like you didn’t read my article at all.

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Shin June 30, 2011 at 4:04 pm

What a great, well written, thought provoking article. I had never really conceptualized Christianity in America this way before. I am an agnostic, I don’t claim to know everything in the universe (and those who think humans can know everything that occurs within the known universe are, in my opinion, extremely egotistical), but organized religion having governmental power to shove beliefs down people’s throats is scary and unsettling.
I am so glad you are speaking out on behalf of an often overlooked minority in America.

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Mike Gillis June 30, 2011 at 4:07 pm

I can’t pretend to know everything, but the hosts of this show are agnostics too.

I’m an agnostic atheist. I can’t pretend to know whether a god exists or not, but the evidence is so bad and the claim so outlandish that I cannot say I buy into it.

I can say the same thing about leprechauns and unicorns, too. I don’t need 100% certainty to reject a claim put forward without evidence.

That said, thanks for the great compliment! I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

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Shanna June 30, 2011 at 4:20 pm

I live in Texas, a place that believes itself to be the buckle of the bible belt. I am disturbed that politicans and the people who elect them rely on what is essentially fables to make decisions. It is like the inmates are running the asylum.

I don’t have anything against religion, but religion is what an individual believes. It is something that should be deeply personal. If someone else agree with you, fine. But it isn’t something that should be forced upon everyone else.

I get irritated by the hypocrisy of mass religion. I had an aunt who wrote hot checks when she was younger. Lots of them. But truly believed that because she went to church, prayed, and asked for forgiveness then she was right in the eyes of her Lord. Didn’t do anything about the people she cheated out of money. I’m sure they didn’t care if she was forgiven by her god.
That’s a minor compared to the priest modestation cases, cheating and swindling politicians, and so on. Yet, they justify their acts by claiming that they are the devout believers of their phrophet. A person who doesn’t physically exist in this day and could never truly throw his lot in with them.

It’s bogus. And all based on a book written centuries before our time. It’s like using a VCR manual to program a DVD player. Why aren’t we, as the most intellectually advanced creatures on this planet, capable of updating our thinking? Why are those who see the world for what it is, instead of relying on fairy tales to filter our world view, seen as the enemy?

Thank you for giving an eloquent voice to those who put more stock in reason than outdated dogma.

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Mike Gillis June 30, 2011 at 4:25 pm

“It’s like using a VCR manual to program a DVD player. ”

I really like that turn of phrase.

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beth June 30, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Janet – why not start a blog about the things you care about instead of dictating what others ought to care about? I could easily say “how can you waste time concerning yourselves with jobs when there are still tornado victims in need of help? I don’t care who you are, people need housing.” People need a lot of things, including equal rights. You think there is something more important to talk about? You have the freedom to start your own conversations/activism too.

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Jim June 30, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Can I get a witness to a talk to the hand, a finger snap and a hair flip? Great article!

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Jeff June 30, 2011 at 7:57 pm

“I can’t make anyone into an atheist and I don’t try to.”

You are very good at identifying and articulating the intellectual dishonesty of those who hold different beliefs than you, and poor at checking yourself.

With every post, every comment, every derogatory statement towards religion and its practitioners, every insult hurled at your intellectual inferiors, every minute you spend producing a radio show called “Ask An Atheist”, every prescriptive statement you make about why your way of life is better than others’, you ARE trying to convert others to atheism.

That’s not necessarily a negative. Having the courage of your convictions and being so passionate about them you want to share them with others and make them see it the way you do? That’s a powerful part of the human experience, and you’re doing yourself a disservice to yourself and others who share the (lack of) beliefs you do when you say you aren’t trying to change anyone’s mind when it’s quite clear that is your intent.

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MrPeach June 30, 2011 at 10:48 pm

@jeff: In the immortal words of peanut the puppet: “nnnneeyow”

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fenchurch June 30, 2011 at 11:34 pm

*whew* at least in this iteration of phantom “Christian Persecution” syndrome, they’re not accusing an identifiable targetable group for their supposed loss of privilege (Jews, witches, Protestants, etc.).

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Mike Gillis July 1, 2011 at 12:10 am

I state again, my goal and the goal of our show is not to turn theists into atheists. We don’t attempt it.

That isn’t to say we don’t try to change minds.

I will gladly admit that we’re trying to undermine and counter misconceptions about atheists (that we’re hopeless or without morals, that we have no joy or meaning…etc.)

I will gladly admit that we’re trying to convince in-the-closet atheists to become more vocal about their non-belief to counter those same misconceptions and the social stigma we still have.

I’d also love to change minds about topics like gay rights and the separation of church and state.

I’d love to make people evaluate their beliefs and why they hold them. To force them to make better arguments in favor of them.

And I’m gladly going to tell people why I disagree with them *when* I disagree with them. Not because I want to make them into atheists, but because frequently they’ve never heard my point of view before and because the sorts of opinions this show showcases are often underrepresented in the media.

I’d also love to take away the power of faith-based arguments to pass laws that affect all of us in the public, and particularly legal, arena. I’d love to see people have to provide evidence for their arguments if they want to make a compelling argument rather than appeals to tradition or religious doctrine.

We’ve gotten emails from people who’ve credited us with changing their minds about religion, and I’m glad that they’re happy about it, but I have to admit I always feel a little uncomfortable hearing that I’ve made someone an atheist.

I have a couple of close theist friends that I think I’ve made into agnostics and I feel a bit weird about it in a way that I don’t yet know how to articulate.

But no, I stick to it. I’m not out to change anyone’s mind about whether a god exists. I just want to change their minds about the people who think the answer is “probably not.”

Trust me when I say that the producers of this show put a lot of thought into this very question. We’re much more interested in getting quiet atheists to be vocal and to fill the void in the national conversation. We accept that minds will inevitably be changed, but it isn’t our goal.

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Scott July 1, 2011 at 12:32 am

One thing I would suggest is whenever evolution is mentioned as a theory, please just link them to the definition of scientific theory.

SCIENTIFIC THEORY DOES NOT EQUAL HYPOTHESIS!

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Paul July 1, 2011 at 12:37 am

“We’re much more interested in getting quiet atheists to be vocal and to fill the void in the national conversation.”

In the words of my upbringing, “Amen”. I was always a bit leery of “affirmative atheists”, to borrow a phrase, because it did feel preachy, but I’ve come to appreciate that it takes a certain militant cadre to create awareness and encourage the silent to speak up. There are some folks I don’t agree with in how they project their atheism. But I think that atheists in general are better for the exposure and for the awareness.

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Paul July 1, 2011 at 12:40 am

Cherry-picking: The problem with quoting the Bible at believers is that you now enter a universe where the Bible is an authoritative document, and now you’re just arguing over which part means what and supercedes which. At that point you may as well be arguing about Green Lantern vs. Aquaman.

At best you can emotionally shame a person with an open mind. But you can’t bring your logic to bear on it once you’ve entered Bible-quote world.

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Mike Gillis July 1, 2011 at 12:44 am

As it happens, I happen to love arguing about Green Lantern vs. Aquaman. :)

Besides, I never argue with a true believer, under the notion that I’ll change their mind. For me, it’s about arguing for the good of the audience and perhaps making one person in the crowd reevaluate the points I’m making. It’s just about adding our voice to the conversation. I just want to be represented, is all.

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Branden July 1, 2011 at 1:41 am

Anyone anywhere should be allowed to practice their religious beliefs. Evolution is taught in schools, but does that mean every student agrees with it? Nope. So why is it such a crime to allow students to have the option of learning creationism too. There are numerous well-known scientists and astronomers that believe in a higher power. Forcing religious ideals on another individual is wrong. Letting someone choose is not.

Your extremist view of some so-called Christian movements is rather gut-wrenching. Putting every type of Christian or whatever in a box and seeing them the same way is narrow-minded. Not all individuals boasting the title are Christians in real life. For them it is nothing more than a title to use to their benefit. In some cases in groups we know as cults. Pointing the finger at religion for every wrong in the world is plain ignorant. Atheists steal, rape and murder too.

How about the human factor. If there was no religion in the world today, do you really think it would be that much different? Probably not because violence is in our nature. As is our desire to feel that there must be something more than this life. A grain of sand (human) on a pebble (Earth) in a vast ocean (universe) is going to tell me how to it all is and if I don’t agree with him I’m the one who’s wrong.

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Sam July 1, 2011 at 1:55 am

Branden:

The answer to your question, to all the points you raise in your comment, is simple, and a direct answer to how you finish you comment:

“A grain of sand (human) on a pebble (Earth) in a vast ocean (universe) is going to tell me how to it all is and if I don’t agree with him I’m the one who’s wrong.”

If that particular grain of sand is backed by vetted and tested scientific evidence, that’s exactly true. You are wrong.

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Branden July 1, 2011 at 2:08 am

Science is a human invention in an attempt to understand what is around them. We are constantly having to correct ourselves. The center of a black hole along with many other things in our universe uses completely new laws of physics that breaks our current understanding. Again, a grain of sand is trying to understand how an entire universe works. We still haven’t explored the whole earth or know all of the species on it. Just recently they discovered a complex life form at depths they thought was impossible. To state because science says so is dumb because on a regular basis science is proven wrong again and again. The universe or even our solar system is far more complex than even scientists/astronomers ever expected it to be.
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/sun-and-planets-constructed-differently-209340.aspx

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Mike Gillis July 1, 2011 at 2:10 am

Evolution by natural selection is taught in science classes because based on the evidence and endless research and observation, it’s the best explanation we have to explain the diversity of life on Earth. It’s the cornerstone of modern biology and necessary for understanding the life sciences.

Creationism, on the other hand, is not science. It’s religion. It has no evidence to back it up, only faith.

Science is not about belief, it’s about demonstrable fact. Science is a process of observation, testing and retesting to understand to the greatest degree possible how the universe works.

Creationism has about as much to do with science as phrenology, alchemy and astrology do. It’s a faith-based assertion.

And faith-based assertions have no place in science.

As for my “extremist views,” I’m talking about only acts where we have explicit religious motivation.

We’re not just adding up all of the bad things that Christians do and all of the bad things atheists do and blaming them on religion.

Clearly, as I’ve said countless times, most people in prison are there for reasons that have nothing to do with religious belief.

Nor did I blame all of the bad in the world on religion. Nor am I saying all Christians are alike. You’re projecting that absolutism, not me.

I don’t think that the world would be perfect without religion, just a great deal better.

If there was no religion in the world, I think things would be a great deal different. It would be easier to get good science curriculum in public schools. We wouldn’t have people flying planes into building for religious reasons, or having foreign policy decisions steered by religion. We would have a much easier time passing legislation for women’s rights and gay rights. A lot of suffering in the Middle East would be lessened.

I don’t claim that the world would be a utopia without religion, though. I’ve never met anyone who thinks it would be. I find it odd that you seem to think religious belief is irrelevant to the violence done in the name of religion.

Not only do some people do terrible things that they wouldn’t do if they didn’t accept certain religious premises, there are plenty of people who make excuses for others who commit acts of violence because of its religious motivation.

I also don’t pretend that religion invented violence or bigotry or intolerance. But I think there are a lot of specific forms of violence or bigotry that religion keeps alive way past their shelf date. Homophobia, for one.

Yes, I’m a small insignificant thing in the context of the universe. And this small speck (me) thinks another small speck (you) is wrong about something. Not because you disagree with me. But because you disagree with the known facts.

So what?

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Mike Gillis July 1, 2011 at 2:17 am

Science is “proven wrong” because it accepts that all knowledge is a current draft. It doesn’t entrench its views in dogmatic certainty.

We’re always learning something new and those new discoveries lead to new questions and that leads to new understanding.

That new understanding gives us the ability to walk on the moon, instantly communicate with people on the other side of the globe, to see things that are both infinitely small and infinitely far away with greater and greater precision. Through science, we’re able to hear the recorded voices and images of people long dead and kept their memories and words alive in a way unheard of centuries ago.

Meanwhile religion is making the same unsupported claims that it did in the times of Thomas Aquinas and the Black Plague. And it pretends to know things that no one knows, and pretends to know them with certainty.

As far as a process for understanding the universe, I’m going to go with science. It just works.

What boggles my mind about religion is how often it puts on a humility disguise while espousing such arrogant certainty.

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Freyasvin July 1, 2011 at 4:22 am

No one can know everything. My gripe with the Abrahamic faiths is their desire to rule everything and destroy anyone who does not agree with the narrow interpretation of a book or two. And it was not Jesus who said women should be chattel and slavery was fine. That was Paul.
But In America, everyone has the right to believe what they want, without being persecuted for it. And those who follow a faith, should not throw tantrums and go crying to a parent (ie government) to make their POV the only one. Abrahamic faiths should just accept that not everyone will agree with them, and move on with their lives.
That’s called being a grown-up.

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Libbie July 1, 2011 at 6:11 am

Another exceptional post, Mike. Well done.

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RobC July 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm

“Evolution is taught in schools, but does that mean every student agrees with it? Nope.”

Of course not. A lot of them have been brainwashed into thinking that because the facts are in variance with their book of fairy tales, that it must be the facts that are in error.

People are entitled to their own opinions. They are not entitled to their own facts. ALL of the available evidence backs up the theory of evolution. NONE of the available facts back up the theory of “the invisible man in the sky did it all in six days”.

“So why is it such a crime to allow students to have the option of learning creationism too.”

I have no problem with creationism being taught. In a comparative religion class discussing various creation MYTHS would be the appropriate place. Not alongside established, verifiable scientific facts.

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RobC July 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm

“Science is a human invention in an attempt to understand what is around them. We are constantly having to correct ourselves.”

You say that like it’s a bad thing.

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FastLane July 6, 2011 at 7:40 am

Nice article. I’ve been saying the same thing for years, but the ignorance doesn’t seem to stop. Maybe it’s because it’s so much easier to put it into soundbites that the mindless sheep can just repeat (We took god out of schools) rather than trying to take the two minutes required to understand the difference between government led and sanctioned prayer, and personal religion.

Besides, isn’t xianity supposed to be a personal relationship with their imaginary friend anyway? ;-)

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Daniel July 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Thanks for the great article. What you say is so true, I wish material like this would get more exposure.

Wasn’t there a recent court case where they couldn’t find a distinguishing characteristic between Intelligent Design and Astrology? The court basically concluded any argument for ID in the classroom could have also been used for Astrology. We should teach everything and just let the kids make up their own minds. What’s the harm in that?

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Mike Gillis July 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm

The harm is that we actually care about the education we give our kids. There’s a limited enough time to teach things to kids about science and we don’t need to clog up that time with pseudoscience and religion pretending to be science.

Intelligent Design, like astrology, is not science. Even Michael Behe, the ID proponent in the Dover case admitted under questioning, that if ID was considered science, so too, did astrology.

This would be like polluting geography lessons with the “other side” that the world is flat. Polluting astronomy classes with lessons on geocentrism. Polluting health classes with lessons on how demons cause disease. Polluting history classes with lessons about UFOs building the pyramids.

For one thing, these aren’t science. And for another, it does the exact opposite of educate children, it sends them conflicting messages about things that are outright demonstrable and provable fact. Things that are only “controversial” in public discourse, but not among scientists.

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beth July 6, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Daniel – You’re thinking about the trial in Dover where a group of residents took over the school board and then tried to push Intelligent Design into the science curriculum. During the trial it was exposed that the only way to make ID a viable subject for the science classroom was to conflate the definition of science as to include all manner of unscientific subjects, including astrology. Interestingly, even though ultra anti-evolution groups were trying to play this trial off as a conspiracy against religion by an activist judge, the judge in question was in reality a religious man himself and a Bush appointee. Regardless, he still received death threats after he rendered his verdict in the case.

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Jocelyn July 12, 2011 at 9:06 am

You are criticizing religious people for being human… which I think is somewhat hypocritical since you are human too…

Imagine the situation reversed. You have your ideal universe where all religion is mythology, science and reason rule the world and all of a sudden there are these people who start talking about a god. Then they want to start worshiping this god. Then they allow the god to dictate how they live and follow all these crazy rules and perform ridiculous rituals. So on and so forth.

Would you honestly stand by and watch science and reason lose its influence or dominance without a fight?

I’m not saying it’s ok, or right, or acceptable. I’m just saying it is human to want to remain dominant. There is a fear of what’s going to happen when your group is no longer the most influential and that is true whether you are a theist or an atheist, because we’re all just human.

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Mike Gillis July 12, 2011 at 12:16 pm

There’s a difference, Jocelyn.

Science and reason, as methods for understanding, don’t make unjustifiable claims about things either unknown or in contradiction to things already known.

The folks calling for reason and science to rule in matters of debate aren’t for instance, asking to dominate other people by making the government take an official atheistic stance.

If people want to waste their time with silly beliefs and rituals, that is their right. And 99% of atheists in this country will fight to let them keep that right.

But what the whiny Christian lobby is usually complaining about is not their rights actually being trampled. They’re just losing their right to trample other people.

I have a hard time shedding a tear for the self-pity of someone who know longer gets to bully people.

You have the right to your beliefs, but you don’t have the right to mine. A powerful and organized Christian coalition in this country is trying enforce their beliefs about homosexuality, women’s rights, creationism and pseudohistory on the rest of us and want to use the government to do it.

That’s unacceptable. On the other end of things, even the most vocal and ardent public atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris aren’t calling for the government to bring about your hypothetical reversal of situations.

They’re calling for a SECULAR government where the state doesn’t take a position on matters of faith, doesn’t get involved in them unless a law has been broken, and every individual is free to believe whatever they wish.

And in that neutrality, government policy should only concern itself in matters of demonstrable fact and leave religion to the churches.

But your right to believe doesn’t automatically entitle your beliefs to respect. Living in a free society doesn’t mean your beliefs gets to exist in a bubble, protected from criticism.

And if the situation truly WERE reversed, and atheists were organizing to ban religious worship or force the government to take their side on the issue of faith, and if it were Christians rallying to protect a secular government, then the Christians would be in the right.

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Susan July 13, 2011 at 8:26 am

It should be no surprise that your reasonable and logical arguments regarding religion’s place in ethics, governmental policies, politics, and education and are being responded to with brutish remarks and crude counterarguments.

It’s not unfounded to think that today’s major religions gained their widespread hold precisely because of the trained belief that the religion must encompass a person’s entire lifestyle. Religion is just as open to subjection to natural selection as anything else, and it’s reasonable to assume that a religion that didn’t pound that requirement on its believers would not be as widespread as one that does.

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Elly July 13, 2011 at 8:32 pm

RobC
I would totally be on board with schools teaching about God right beside Zeus, Confucias (? cant remember how to spell that but it is close enough), Odin, and Wicca.
I actually think a class about the world religions would be a positive thing for children to be exposed to…it would promote them to think for themselves and they would also be exposed to Atheism in that class. Probably not what you meant but that is where my mind went.

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RobC July 16, 2011 at 12:58 am

Elly,

I wouldn’t have a problem with that either. I have no issue with myths and stories being taught *as myths and stories*. It’s only when people want to teach belief as fact and fact as belief, or try to put creation myths with no evidence to back them up on an equal footing with actual science that I have a problem.

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Je Teh Lion December 5, 2011 at 10:57 am

who cares….let people handle religion the way they choose. there wouldn’t be an argument if people would stop trying to prove or disprove or disagree or persuade others to see ‘their point of view’. Mind your own business please.

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Mike Gillis December 5, 2011 at 11:55 am

And coming in a few months too late and still missing the point!

We’re activists because religion doesn’t mind its own business, and works to privilege itself over other people. Someone people “choose” to “handle their religion” by forcing their beliefs into law, through violence or by limiting the legal rights of women, gay folks and others.

Often what they complain about isn’t that they’re being actually persecuted, but that they aren’t being properly kissed up to and validated by the president or by department stores or by public schools.

To not argue with them is to let that outcome — which we don’t want — to win.

Your same argument could be made about terrorist groups. There wouldn’t be any conflict if we just did whatever they said.

The same could be said of slavery, the divine right of kings, the power of the church to kill dissenters, or the basic rights that people enjoy today.

If we hadn’t argued with those people, we would have stopped wars or debates or conflicts from occuring. But we’d also still have slavery, kings, a church that could execute people and no human rights philosophy.

And the most beautiful irony of all, by arguing with us on the comments threats, you’re continuing the debate.

Good job!

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