I am not the world’s biggest fan of the Huffington Post. It’s not because they are a “liberal news blog”. If that’s all they were, then I’d be a much bigger fan. The problem with the Huffington Post is that they tend to court a lot of pseudoscientific bullshit. Famous snake-oil salesman/quack Deepak Chopra has a regular column there. They routinely host articles by religious scientists calling for more humility in science (as if science isn’t somehow humble enough… you know, seeing as the first step in being a scientist is recognizing what you don’t know).
However, I still follow Huffington Post because they do have good columns and good articles, like this one written by Ronald A. Lindsay. The article compares and contrasts coming out as an atheist with coming out as LGBTQ, and notes that they are not the same. The reason they aren’t the same is because when you come out as LGBTQ, you’re not going to then turn around and proselytize your sexuality… you’re not going to try and turn heterosexuals into homosexuals (at least… I certainly hope not…). Coming out as an atheist, however, is a little different.
Let me quote Ronald here:
There’s a big difference between being gay and being an atheist. Someone can persuade you to be an atheist; no one is going to persuade you to be gay (no matter what the extremist anti-gay propaganda says).
I don’t foresee a best-selling book entitled “The Straight Delusion” or “Heterosexuality Poisons Everything.” The LGBT community wants acceptance; they don’t want to persuade others to join their “team,” and even if they had that objective, they would strive for it in vain.
By contrast, the amount of literature that has been produced in the last decade criticizing religious belief is extensive and continues to grow. Moreover, these critiques of religion seem to have had some effect.
Of course, many atheists have little or no interest in persuading the religious to abandon their beliefs. They merely want to be treated as equals and to end the influence that religion has on public policy. That doesn’t matter. The realization that many atheists once were religious and then “lost” their faith has an unnerving effect on some of the religious. How far will atheism spread? Will I be next? Or my children?
Gays are different, but they don’t send the message that heterosexuals are mistaken about their sexuality. On the other hand, not only are atheists different, but explicitly or implicitly, they are telling the faithful that they’re mistaken about a core commitment (for some the core commitment) of their lives. As the number of open atheists increases — and this seems likely — we can expect some religious to become more defensive, more strident in promoting their beliefs. They will regard themselves as under attack.
So, in light of this, I, as an atheist and occasional anti-theist, would like to explain my personal thoughts on all this.
I do not want religion to go away. I do not care what you believe, or how strongly you believe it. The reason for this is simple; while economically I can be classed as a liberal or even a Socialist (I simply do not trust the market to regulate itself), socially I am a true Libertarian. I believe that you have the right to do whatever you want, as long as you do not violate another person’s right to do whatever they want.
So I have no direct problem with religious belief.
Where I must become an anti-theist is where it affects society as a whole. You have the right to believe whatever you want, practice whatever rituals you want, follow whatever traditions you want, and accept whatever dogma and doctrine you want. You do NOT, however, have the right to force your worldview on the rest of us.
One great example is Young-Earth Creationism. If you want to believe that the earth is only around 6000 or so years old, and it and life (including humans) were created exactly as it says in Genesis 1, that is your right. You are factually wrong, of course, but no one is telling you to not believe that. If you want to pay for a private religious school to teach your children this factually incorrect belief, I feel bad for your children as they will be woefully unprepared for the real world, but you have the right as you are paying for it with your own money.
But you do NOT have the right to force this into the SCIENCE CLASSROOM of publicly funded schools. First and foremost, Creationism is not scientific. Whether you like it or not, evolution is scientific. Second, these schools are paid for as much by my taxes as by yours, and I do not want my taxes to pay for this type of pseudo-education. Insisting that your incorrect religious belief (Creationism) be taught alongside actual science in a public school science classroom is forcing your worldview on the rest of us, and you do NOT have the right to do that.
(And no, evolution is not a worldview. I do not want “Social Darwinism” [a worldview which is only connected to evolution by a very thin, twisted thread and is based on applying the scientific theory is ways it was never meant to be applied] taught in public schools, either, with the exception of history classes as it is part of history, and it is a part of history that should not be repeated. Science, however, is not a worldview, and as evolution is science, and not a worldview, teaching it correctly in a science classroom is not forcing a worldview on anyone, as there is no worldview to be forced on anyone… and no, understanding evolution does not make one an atheist, despite what some would have you believe.)
Another example is abortion. A classic stereotype of those of us who are pro-choice is that, in fact, we are pro-abortion. We want abortion; as if we want to curb reproduction or something like that. While it’s true that I think 7+ billion people is beyond too many human beings for our fragile, limited planet to sustain, I do not have the right to force the rest of society/the world to accept that, and enforce laws that would stop continued growth. The truth is, I am pro-choice because I am a man and will never be pregnant, and I strongly believe that only a pregnant woman has the right to decide whether or not to carry her pregnancy to term.
I am not, however, pro-abortion, and I would rather abortions not happen if there is another choice. But that is not my choice; it is only the pregnant woman’s choice.
Now, many people are against abortion. That’s fine. But most are against it because of their religious beliefs. Again, that’s fine. You have made the choice to never get an abortion, and that is your right. But you do not have the right to force other women to make the same choice you have made.
In fact, there are many things not allowed in this country mainly because of religious sentiment. Recreational drugs, prostitution, homosexual marriage… all things that, as a social libertarian, I believe should be legal (the drugs and prostitution should be highly taxed and strongly regulated, of course), but the reason for their illegality is mostly because of religious sentiment. I’ve noticed that even atheists who are against these things being legalized cannot come up with a logical, coherent argument against them, and ultimately one finds out that their reasoning is a hold-over from their religious days.
I believe very strongly in choice. Every human being should be able to choose what they want to do and what they do not want to do, and should be able to do so freely, as long as it is not an action that involves a victim (meaning things like murder, rape, and thievery should still be against the law and punished as they are now [well… we could do a lot better punishing rapists, IMO]).
I do not expect to live in a world where religion is non-existent. This is an unrealistic expectation. Even when today’s religions die off (and they will have to eventually… such is the way of society), more will spring up in their place. I simply wish to live in a world where your religion does not affect my life. I do not want to live in a country where the Bible is the supreme law of the land, because such a government would be tyrannical; evil, even. It would be a horrible place to live for everyone except a very small minority.
And for those of you who want a religious government… which religion? Which sect of that religion? Keeping religion out of the government is not just an atheist’s fight; it is also a religious fight. And it is a religious fight for this reason:
Let’s say it is the non-denominational/evangelical Christians led by pastor John Hagee who ultimately take over. You think they’re only going to make life harder for atheists? No. Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Catholics, Protestants, Lutherans, Baptists, Wiccans, Hindus, Buddhists, Jainists, Taoists, Scientologists… the vast majority of US citizens would find themselves essentially unwelcome. So the religious should fight just as strongly for the separation of church and state as the non-religious do, in order to maintain their own freedom.
Because the separation of church and state is not just about freedom from religion. Secularism is not just atheism. They are about giving each and every free human being the right to be religious or non-religious as they see fit. Freedom of religion and freedom from religion are universal ideals specifically because they allow you to live your life exactly as you want to live it. And when one sect of one religion takes over, you lose that right.
Do you really want to lose that right?