Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

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.

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

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Tech Writer D
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Tech Writer D
5 years 2 months ago

Right on.

Sharon
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Sharon
5 years 2 months ago

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.

Darren
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Darren
5 years 2 months ago

Amen Brother!

Edward
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Edward
5 years 2 months ago

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?

Edward
Guest
Edward
5 years 2 months ago

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

beth
Member
5 years 2 months ago
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… Read more »
janet
Guest
5 years 2 months ago

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.

Shin
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Shin
5 years 2 months ago

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.

Shanna
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Shanna
5 years 2 months ago
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… Read more »
beth
Member
5 years 2 months ago

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.

Jim
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Jim
5 years 2 months ago

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

Jeff
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Jeff
5 years 2 months ago
“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… Read more »
MrPeach
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MrPeach
5 years 2 months ago

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

fenchurch
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fenchurch
5 years 2 months ago

*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.).

Scott
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Scott
5 years 2 months ago

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!

Paul
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Paul
5 years 2 months ago

“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.

Paul
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Paul
5 years 2 months ago

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.

Branden
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Branden
5 years 2 months ago
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… Read more »
Sam Mulvey
Admin
5 years 2 months ago

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.

Branden
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Branden
5 years 2 months ago
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… Read more »
Freyasvin
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Freyasvin
5 years 2 months ago
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… Read more »
Libbie
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Libbie
5 years 2 months ago

Another exceptional post, Mike. Well done.

RobC
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RobC
5 years 2 months ago
“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… Read more »
RobC
Guest
RobC
5 years 2 months ago

“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.

FastLane
Guest
5 years 2 months ago

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? 😉

Daniel
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Daniel
5 years 2 months ago

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?

beth
Member
5 years 2 months ago
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… Read more »
Jocelyn
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Jocelyn
5 years 2 months ago
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… Read more »
Susan
Guest
Susan
5 years 2 months ago

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.

Elly
Guest
Elly
5 years 2 months ago

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.

RobC
Guest
RobC
5 years 2 months ago

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.

Je Teh Lion
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

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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