Atheism, Religion, and Politics
I started this blog a few weeks ago. Two things have become apparent to me in that time. First, the label, “atheist” is more controversial among atheists than I had previously thought. Second, there seems to be some disagreement on the role that religion plays in the politics of the United States. Before addressing these two topics, I would like to ask that you please leave your comments below, even, or especially, if you disagree with me. The last time I wrote a post like this, someone placed it on reddit. I think that is super, reddit is a great site. In the end, I received only a +1 rating. Now, in no way do I blog for a reddit score, nor do I particularly care about a reddit score. What does concern me is that roughly 50% of people who read my blog, Secular Humanism in Today’s Political Climate, did not comment on what I had to say. Disagreement is great, I encourage it even, but I do not know on what points they disagreed. I would like this blog page to be a place of discussion. I am not pedantic or arrogant enough to imply that I have all or, even, any of the answers to many of the questions that I post here. I would like to offer an opinion, an educated one, I would like to hope; then have a discussion with whoever is kind enough to leave a thoughtful comment.
To the first topic: atheist as a controversial term. Some of the people that I have corresponded with have wanted to define themselves as “atheists” and leave it at that, end of story, if you will. My response is always, “define yourself however you want”.
Personally, I choose to define myself as a secular humanist first and atheist second. Why? To me, atheism is simply a lack of a belief about deities. I do not feel that it “defines” me at all. It is the same as my informing all of you that I do not like cauliflower (in fact I detest it). That tells you nothing about who I am except the fact that I do not like cauliflower. Telling people that I am an atheist says nothing about me, except that I do not believe in deities. I would like to think there is more to me than that. If I state that I am a secular humanist, it can mean so much more, and the atheism is implied as one of the criteria. Here is the most important part—that is how I choose to define myself. How you choose to define yourself, if you even elect to do so at all, is, in my very strong opinion, up to you. I would welcome your thoughts below on this topic.
The second topic is the role of religion in today’s politics. I have received a handful of emails writing that I am over-blowing the state of religion and politics in the U.S. If you are not a regular reader of this blog, I am sorry to say you will have to look at some of previous posts to get a feel for my views. In short, the objections that I receive say basically the point: that it is a small number of religious folks who are smart and/or powerful enough to figure out a way to impose policy I must continue to disagree with this criticism.
First, the concept, “that it is a small number of religious people who are smart or powerful enough to figure out a way to impose policy”. I grew up in the “liberal northeast” for the first 30 years of my life. At that point in time, I was an atheist, and would have agreed with my detractors. I would have felt that I was blowing the role of religion out of proportion. There do not seem to be many or any Mega Churches in New England that I am aware of. The last 10 have been spent in “the heartland” of middle America, in a few different states. I can longer share my former opinion. When one looks at the flocks who fill stadiums anywhere from 4,000 (Santorum religious rally in Nebraska) to 35,000 religious rallies all over the country—this is no longer small potatoes. There is an atheist blog out there right now, called Emily Has Books, I would encourage you to take a look at the clip she has up of Rick Warren at Angels’ Stadium and tell me it is only a few people. I would encourage anyone to look at the plethora of small towns that dot Middle America, where the local evangelical church is the main thread in the fabric of their society, and tell me that it is only a few people. Lastly, we are in currently living in a country, where one religion, the Catholic Church, is attempting to drive policy, and may prove to be successful. I could go on and on, but you get my point. If I am wrong, I will gladly admit that fact. However, that is my opinion until someone shows me evidence to the contrary.
Secondly, let us just say that my detractors are correct, and that it is a small number of religious people who are hijacking social issues in this country. Does size matter? Whether or not Americans by the millions are lining up outside stadiums to hear the message or not is irrelevant to me. Many people, a few people, whatever… the fact remains that religion is now really starting to shape some of our national policy proposals and I see that as a problem.
There is another objection to my work and I do not know what it is. I call it the silent objection. As I mentioned earlier the few posts of mine that have been on reddit regard my view of secular humanism as an important part of today’s politics. My basic belief here is that if we all took a secular humanist approach to problems, the world would probably be a far more peaceful place. This clearly upsets about half of the readers. I suppose I would like to know why. I am I way off base? If so, I am certainly not opposed to trying to look at things differently to see what I may learn. As I have stated before, I want this to be a place of discussion, so….. please discuss.
Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments.
“Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.”—Christopher Hitchens