In my last blog post, I had a very intriguing question posed by a reader:
“Thanks for sharing your views on atheism. It’s very interesting to hear a first-hand perspective of how you view God and religion…. Do you see they [sic] need to proselytize as an atheist?”
As I can only specifically talk about my Atheism, but I can generally speak to Atheism in America, I have given this some thought and a s it turns out, a very lengthy reply . So, instead of putting that reply in the comments, I have brought it forward to a new post.
As Atheists, we feel the need to make certain that the fundamental evangelical Christians do not continually try to oppress and trivialize our freedom of speech and the freedoms of other non-Christians in this country.
First, let me tell you a little bit about myself, and where I’m coming from. I grew up in a small rural town in the Northwest, my parents never really talked about religion, and as a kid, going to church with Grandma was more about getting to spend the day with Grandma. She is a moderately Christian person, as are my father and his three sisters. My mother’s older sister and her husband are Catholic, and her brothers are all religious to varying degrees. My grandma says everyone has free will, therefore only I can choose my own path, though my father, who may not have attended church in my lifetime, has certainly more conservative views. My first cousin has a daughter in a Christian college, though I am not certain what she is learning there.
I would never consider trying to actively convert anyone even within my own family to my viewpoint, though I have the hardest time reconciling the fact that the man who taught me the scientific names of all the trees in the woods around us before I started first grade, and who taught me about plants, animals, evolution, dinosaurs and ice age mammals, would now tell me that I am going to hell for not believing in a God that he never even talked to me about as far back as I can remember. I don’t see how he could be surprised that both my brother and I are Atheists.
When my last husband was alive, and was so sick from untreated diabetes and knew he was dying, we were in church every chance he could be there. He went from a laid back, easy-going hippy kind of person to a Paul Crouch & James Dobson quoting conservative person within the span of 3 months. I loved him and would do anything I could do to help him feel better, physically, mentally and emotionally. I understand why he was devoting all his waking moments into prayer, and his need to be at church services every possible moment. The truth, obviously, was that he feared dying, as most people do.
In fact, I quit a very stable job that had great medical benefits (so he could finally have insurance coverage) because they would not change my schedule to have Sundays off. I was our only income, meager as it was, but his mental and emotional health was more important at that time.
I realized that the drastic change in his words and actions was due to fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of death. Fear that there may really be a hell waiting for him if he didn’t “get right with God.” I knew that his fervent prayers were not going to actually heal him, but at least it would ease his mind, so we went to church, tithed money we really needed for food and utilities, and even participated in the pastor’s local radio ministry.
So, where was his God? His God, just like all 6500+ other gods and goddesses that have been described since the dawn of written languages, does not exist any more than Zeus, Odin, Baal or any other deity, all of which have also been revered, prayed to, offered sacrifice, and worshipped throughout history. My ancestors’ gods are just as invalid as the Christian God, no matter how much I would prefer someone telling me that Odin & Thor were real. (Just for a nice twist of fate).
Regarding preaching, proselytizing, etc, we (Atheists) only started getting vocal when we saw the way the fundamental Christian community has been increasingly hateful against anyone different from themselves. There have been non-believers throughout history, and there have been many who vaguely tbelieved in possibly an impersonal deity who set the whole universe in motion then left, no personal god to pray to for guidance or intercession, they were the deists, like Thomas Jefferson. Even the most devoutly religious, John Adams, knew that there MUST be a clear line drawn between the government and any form of religion.
In the last 50-75 years, there has been a very well planned interjection of religious belief into our country’s laws. It has been slow, deliberate, and insidious. It gained traction during the cold war and McCarthyism’s “Red Scare” of communism, and has only gained momentum in the last 10-15 years.
McCarthy and many of the government leaders of the House & Senate started linking a type of government, communism, with the scariest thing they could imagine, “godless heathens”. They had been listening to their very charismatic preachers, ministers and reverends who preached fear and distrust of anyone who was not a “God-fearing Christian”. The interesting thing is that Russia, per Wikipedia, has 41% Orthodox Christian, 4.1% unaffiliated Christian, 25% “spiritual but not religious, 4.1% other orthodox, 6.5% Muslim, 5.5% undecided and 13% Atheist. Their Christianity goes back to the Kievan Rus’ in the 10th century. So much for godless.
Americans were duped and lied to about the “godless Russian communists” as we were taught to fear them throughout the last half century. This lead to a revival, a push for more Christianity in the US, and more evangelicalism to feel superior to the country we feared the most – Russia. Then, a more pragmatic approach prevailed for a while and the cold war ended. As a culture, though, Americans, especially American Christians, still tie communism (politics) with Atheism (lack of religion), and tie Capitalism with Christianity. This is in error, but still are tied together by Christian leaders in this country.
The laws passed in this country over the last 20-50 years have been increasingly religious-biased. For our nation, founded on secular principles of keeping any religion out of Government, to start passing state and federal laws that are so blatantly Christian is disturbing, to say the least. Laws that restrict access to healthcare for women, laws that define “traditional (Christian) marriage”, laws that remove empirically-proven scientific knowledge and attempt to replace it with religious beliefs in creation, laws that try to put religion in public schools and in government buildings, and many more – these are some of the many reasons Atheists, and even religious Secularists, have had to become more vocal about this disturbing trend and our demand to make it stop.
Back to proselytizing… My brother and I are both ordained Ministers with the American Marriage Ministries and the First Church of Atheism. This does NOT mean we have an actual church, nor do we go evangelical and start trying to convert people. Other Anti-theists and Atheists may actively try to get religious people to start thinking rationally and critically, but that isn’t quite the same thing as evangelizing to non-believers like some Christians do.
We are both Ministers for one reason only – to perform marriage, baby-naming, and possibly even funeral services for people who do not have a religious belief or don’t have a house of worship that will perform these services for them, particularly when it is a same-sex marriage. I don’t even charge anything for my services, though I will accept tips.
Other ministers with the AMM & FCA do actually charge for their services. That’s certainly fair, since most theist ministers do charge for these same marriage services as well, or at least request a donation to their church/synagogue/mosque/ashram. We don’t “Preach the gospel of science and Darwinism” as some Christians seem to think. We encourage rational, logical, skeptical thought. We request evidence. We cannot take it on faith that a new drug may cure or treat a disease, we want to know that there were double-blind tests, that those tests were not biased in any way, and they were successfully replicated by other scientists and they all followed the same scientific method for that peer-review. We ask for more than blind faith, because we have tested the “power of prayer”, and the evidence shows it was non-existent. Prayer will not reattach a severed limb, no matter how steadfast and fervent the prayers are offered.
There have been too many children who have died slow, painful deaths at the hands of prayer by their very devout parents and religious leaders. There have been too many people who have been willing to give their last dime to a televangelist, fervently hoping to make up for their past choices so they can buy their way into heaven, based on their fear of death. This belief and fear of a fire & brimstone hell has made many Christian preachers, ministers, and reverends very wealthy.
Megachurches are one example of this, as is the Roman Catholic church. With that wealth comes power to impose their beliefs upon their politicians. And their tax-free status makes them even more wealthy and powerful.
Atheists and secularists see this trend and are horrified by the implications. For example, when looking at countries of this world, I see a distinct trend, based on their importance of religion in their everyday lives and their country’s actions, both in how they treat their own citizens and their neighboring countries. Here a few notables from Wikipedia and the percentage of people who believe religion is important:
Sweden – 16.5%
Denmark – 18%
Czech Republic – 20.5%
Norway – 20.5%
United Kingdom – 26.5%
Australia – 32%
Russia – 33%
United States – 65%
Now, at the other end of the spectrum, these countries all have at least 95% of their citizens who say religion is important:
Rwanda, Bahrain, Cameroon, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, Cambodia, Comoros, Yemen, Burma, Jordan, Laos, Pakistan, Senegal, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Guinea, Zambia, Burundi, Djibouti, Egypt, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Morocco, Somaliland, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Then there are the two who report 100%, Bangladesh and Niger.
The countries who have the better record of taking care of all their citizens, of quality education, and are known for being peaceful neighborly countries have very low percentage of people who believe religion is important in their country. The countries who do place a greater importance on religion are generally considered third-world countries and we see them in the news often, due to wars, genocide, and civil strife. Whether there is a direct correlation between the two or not, it is a disturbing trend, especially given our country’s current religious push towards a more theocratic government. The risk is too great, so we must speak out. That is what the Friendly Atheist videos are attempting to do, and what my blog post was trying to share.