Thursday, December 12, 2013

Writer Thinks Atheism Is a National Religion

The Coloradoan publishes the opinions of its readers from time to time. Recently they published an article by Neil Mccaffrey entitled Soapbox: Atheism becoming national religion of U.S. This kind of ignorance of our viewpoints as well as of the historical wisdom of church/state separation in our country is a deep problem. At no point in the article does the author demonstrate even introductory level knowledge about atheism, separation of church and state, or what secular activists do and want. The article is short, so I want to go over most of it here.
“Atheist mega-churches take root across US, world” reads a recent AP headline. Therein hangs the problem facing America today as we grapple with “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise thereof.” The atheist ethos that drives so much of the attack on religion in public life is itself a religion, or more to the point, a loosely-connected cabal of religions.
Atheism is not a religion. There is no organized ethos, moral philosophy, world view, or set of behaviors that set us apart as a unique group. The only thing you know about an atheist is that they lack a belief in a personal god, that they do not hold a positive belief in theism. This is not necessarily true of atheistic organizations, which may have different sets of rules, behaviors and aims. But they are no different than other secular organizations like the Girl Scouts or Red Cross, neither or which can not be reasonably called a religion.
The very people who cry foul whenever God finds his way into public view are themselves establishing churches, even as they continue to assert preeminence in the religious freedom debate.
I am aware of the organization of churches and congregations within the secular community. First off, just because they exist does not mean that most atheists desire this or support it. In my experience, we do not generally like this as a group. It would have been beneficial if Mccaffrey were to actually ask us about our sentiments on particular topics instead of just assuming that a single group in city X of America that started a church speaks for all atheists. They are also not mega-churches, as a couple of hundred of people doesn't qualify. Secondly, when atheists do choose to organize themselves into a congregation, they still support the separation of church and state. For example, the Ethical Societies have been classified as a religion but they exhibit respect for church and state separation.
It is an illogical situation. The Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project survey on U.S. religions indicates that more than 80 percent of us are Christian (78.4 percent), Jewish (1.7 percent), or Muslim (0.6 percent). Yet God is stricken from the public debate. A tiny minority ties up the courts and forces their religion, their belief system,on the rest of America.
The separation of church and state is not an atheistic position, it is a secular one. Atheists that happen to be secular activists are not advancing the teaching of atheism in the public schools or the privileging of atheism as a religious viewpoint over all others. Atheists are also not the only group within the secular community. There are plenty of theists, including Christians, that work hard to preserve the separation of church and state. It's a matter of equality and respect for all people's given identifications, not a matter of forcing a belief system onto America.
By removing God little by little from the public square, the courts — note, not Congress — are in fact establishing the religion of atheism as our national religion.
I already corrected Mccaffrey on his mistake of thinking atheism is a religion. He also seems to think that Congress can pass unconstitutional laws that will override the basic concept of separation of church and state. That's not how rights work. He also seems to think that there is one 'god'. Which god should be invoked by the government? Satanists, Wiccans, Muslims, and other believers like him have different opinions. This is why the separation of church and state is such a good idea, we don't have to worry about the harmful mixing of religious faiths with our government.
Why should one person’s belief trump mine, or that of my neighbor, simply because that belief substitutes some personal god in place of God?
I agree with Mccaffrey on this point. No religious faith or belief should trump any other conviction when it comes to our government. It appears he at least has the same kinds of worries that our founding fathers had when they dealt with this issue, but for some reason he can't come to the obvious conclusion that separation of church and state solves the issue.
The public debate must be on fair and equal footing. Atheism constitutes a belief system. Indeed, that same Pew Research survey shows that 1.6 percent identify themselves as “atheist.” With the advent of these mega-churches, atheism is now in fact being properly recognized as a religion by both adherents and critics. Once the courts recognize that, perhaps they will leave well enough alone. Stop wasting time and energy removing the word God from this and that; and stop the removal of minimal prayer, which no one is forced to say, from the public forum. That will save the various courts’ valuable time.
Atheism is not a system of belief, anymore than "off" is a television channel or not playing tennis is a sport. Repeating something over and over doesn't make it true. The figure given excludes agnostics and those without a religion or who don't bother to answer the question, which makes the 1.6 figure appear much lower than it really is. In reality the secular viewpoint is as high as 15-20% of Americans.

As for the court's wasting valuable time and energy, the country's Christians could solve this problem overnight. They could stop attempting to privilege their religion over others in the public square. If this happened, the courts wouldn't be forced to police their bad behavior any more. I wonder if Mccaffrey would approve of "minimal prayer" coming from a Satanic priest at public schools, even if "no one is forced to say" it. I highly doubt he would object to the inevitable lawsuits that secular organizations would launch to stop this from happening. I would expect he would support church/state separation in that instance, but only dislikes it when it applies to his specific religion.
 It is always important to revisit the fact that our Founding Fathers themselves asserted that the government finds its legitimacy in God. In fact, they underscored the importance of both faith and prayer by visiting a different church en masse each morning to pray for guidance as they crafted the Declaration of Independence.
Many of them hated Christianity as a religion as well. But all of them agreed that the separation of church and state was a good idea that solved the problem for all identifications. Carl Sagan once pointed out that the Bill of Rights has many historic signs that indicate it was crafted with the witch-hunts and inquisitions of Europe fresh in the lawmaker's minds. Whether or not some of the founding fathers had a private faith is of no relevance to anything.
A clever bumper sticker provides a fitting summary to this endless debate: “God is dead” (Nietzsche) … “Nietzsche is dead” (God). 
I find it somewhat humorous when religious folk bring this old phrase up like this. It shows how unwilling they are to do a little bit of hard work or to think critically. In order to think this is funny, you have to think that Nietzsche was saying that god did not exist in some sense. But he wasn't talking about death in the usual sense of the word. He meant that because of the enlightenment, the subject of theism and other supernatural superstitions would never again be viable in the academic world among intellectuals in the fields of the sciences or philosophy. And this is actually true to this day.

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