This article originally appeared on SkepticFreethought.com and is reposted here with permission.
Hello everyone! Dave Muscato here.
This is a difficult post for me to write. I’ve spent two days on this, actually. For most of my life, I’ve been natural inclined to be non-confrontational, and I think my friends and family would characterize me as a gentle person. It is not easy for me to say these things, but I feel like the time has come for me to take a stand.
I had lunch with a friend the other day and the subject of religion came up—I know, big surprise. My friend’s girlfriend had posed to him a question about the purpose of atheism activism:
“Why not live and let live?”
Aside from being intellectually wrong, what’s so bad about believing in a god? What’s the harm? Is it just academic?
Some background: His girlfriend is “not religious, but open-minded,” and teaches their 3 kids to be accepting of all different religions. He is an atheist and passionate about critical thinking and skepticism. He is concerned because he overheard one of their children praying before going to bed.
He asked me, “What can I tell her?”
Here’s my response:
Because they’re not letting us live and let live. Because, for no rational reason, gay people can’t get married in my state. Because they’re teaching the Genesis creation myth as fact in science classes. Because they’re teaching “abstinence-only” sex ed, which is demonstrably ineffective. Because, despite Roe v. Wade recently celebrating its 40th anniversary, we’re STILL fighting for abortion and birth-control access. Because priests are molesting children and nobody is getting in trouble for it. It’s been said before, but if an 80-member religious cult in Texas allowed some of their leaders to molest children, there would be a huge outcry. It would be front-page news. People would be up in arms! But when it’s the Catholic Church, we barely even notice. It’s gotten to the point where we’re not even surprised anymore—it’s barely even news anymore—when another molestation is uncovered. Like the saying goes, “The only difference between a cult and a religion is the number of followers.” Or worse, “One rape is a tragedy; a thousand is a statistic.”
I brought up Greta Christina’s wonderful book, “Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off The Godless,” and told him to read it, and to ask his girlfriend to read it. Nothing would make me happier than to live and let live. I dream of a world where humanity spends its time solving “real” problems, doing medical research, exploring space, fixing the climate, making art and music, studying philosophy. I would love for there to be no need for atheism activism. But I can’t do that, because I have a conscience.
He agreed with me on these points, but wanted to know about the problem with liberal churches. What’s the harm of religion so long as it supports gay marriage, comprehensive sex-ed, etc?
First off, it’s important to distinguish between believing in a deity, and believing in God. If we’re talking about a deistic creator, a god who allegedly sparked the Big Bang and hasn’t interfered since, I don’t really see any harm in this, other than that it’s unscientific and vastly improbable. I’d call this harmlessly irrational, on par with crossing your fingers for good luck. It’s magical thinking, which I think should be avoided, but it doesn’t really hurt anything.
But once we start talking about Yahweh, the Abrahamic god, the god of the Bible, we get into some sticky stuff. I’m not the first to say so but the reason moderate religion is bad, even dangerous, is that it opens the door for religious bigotry and worse. If a religious moderate believes the proposition that the Bible is the inspired word of God, who is he to fault a religious extremist for actually doing what it says to do?
If you use faith as your justification for moral decision-making, you cannot reasonably point at someone more committed than you doing the exact same thing and make the charge that they’re wrong. A religious moderate cannot call a religious extremist crazy without being hypocritical.
There is this idea among moderates that religious tolerance is an ideal condition. The whole “COEXIST” campaign is a prime example. There is this idea that all religions are somehow valid, despite contradicting one another. That no matter how much we disagree with someone, if it falls under the umbrella of religious tolerance, we should make every effort to find a way not to be offended.
To paraphrase Sam Harris, the idea that all human beings should be free to believe whatever they want—the foundation of “religious tolerance”—is something we need to reconsider. Now.
I will not stand by and tolerate the belief that it is moral to mutilate a little girl’s genitals.
I will not stand by and tolerate the belief that it is moral to hinder the promotion of condom use in AIDS-ridden regions, because they believe wasting semen is a “sin.”
I will not stand by and tolerate the belief that it is moral to lie to children and tell them that they will see their dead relatives again, or give them nightmares about a made-up “Hell.”
I will not stand by and tolerate the absurd and unsubstantiated proposition that humans are somehow born bad or evil, that we need to be “saved.”
It is offensive to me that, in the year 2013, people still think intercessory prayer works. Every time I hear about some poor sick child who has died because her parents decided to pray instead of take her to a hospital, I am horribly offended. When religious moderates tell me—although they also believe in intercessory prayer—that they, too, are offended by this, I am appalled at the hypocrisy. We should know better by now than to believe in childish things like prayer.
I am so sick of this crap. There is a time and a place for being accommodating of differences of opinion. If you think tea is the best hot drink, and I think it’s coffee, fine. No one is harmed by this. Insofar as your beliefs don’t negatively affect others, I do not care if we agree or not. But, I contend, your right to believe whatever you want ends where my rights begin. Religious moderation is literally dangerous because it opens the gate wide for religious extremism. A moderate cannot point to a religious extremist and say, “You are wrong. You are dangerous. You must not be allowed to continue.” However, I can. To stand up to religious extremism, we must come from a place of rational thought, of freedom to criticize, of ethics that do not depend on revelation or arguments from authority.
I make no apology for asserting that secular humanism is the most reasonable, most ethical, and best way for us to live. It is more rational than superstitious faith. It is more productive and humane than any religion. It is the ethical choice. To quote Sam Harris, “There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.”
We must become more reasonable if we want to survive. Our planet is in trouble. There is no divine guarantee that the Earth will always be able to support us nor that we will always be here. There is no life after this. What matters is how we are remembered, and the contributions to society we make while we’re alive. I assert that there is nothing more important or more urgent than this: Atheists, I call upon you to stand up to absurdity. If you see something, say something. Start the conversation.
I know that it is difficult to make waves. I know that it can be intimidating, especially when you’re outnumbered. But the facts are on our side, and the stakes are high. We must not be afraid to call bullshit where we see it. We must not allow religions to dictate what is and is not moral. We must speak up in the face of wrongdoing. We must make ourselves known. It can be as simple as correcting someone for using the word “fag,” or mentioning that you are an atheist if the subject of religion comes up.
Ending the danger and oppression of religion will not be easy, but if we work toward it, we can make it happen.
Until next time,
Dave Muscato is the Kansas/Missouri-Area Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A non-traditional junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!
First time here? Read this.
Today’s post is by SASHA guest contributor, Tara Schlotzhauer.
While I may be an atheist, I have many real life friends and acquaintances whom are religious; given that I live in middle of the Bible Belt of Missouri, the religion of choice is Christianity. Thus, it is not surprising that on a daily basis that I see at least one status on Facebook invoking some sort of help from God or thanks to God. At times, they are actually what I would consider legitimate concerns to pray for such as when a loved one is very sick or even dying. While I don’t agree with pray, I understand their need to let people know and the need to invoke good thinking towards them in this time of need.
However, more often than not, I come across a Facebook status where the person is praying for something that I would think is totally inappropriate to ask of God. For example, in the last couple of months, I have seen the following prays: asking for their football team to win the Superbowl/playoffs, asking for a big enough tax return to be able to buy a new Xbox 360/TV, asking for someone to be motivated to take their work shift so they don’t have to work, asking for God to send them someone to love and whom will love them, asking for their parents to buy them a new computer for their birthday, asking for the Supreme Court to overturn a court case where separation of church and state was upheld, etc.
As superficial and silly as I find all of these, I read a status from last night and a follow up this morning by a young high school girl that finally motivated me to write this post and share:
That’s right. A young high school girl spent all weekend not doing her homework (I know from reading other statuses regarding her weekend plans) and prayed for snow (that had already been predicted for days) to cancel classes. Then, when said predicted snow happens and classes are cancelled, she thanks God for the snow day and says this is why she is a Christian. This is also the same girl who, on Friday, posted about how many times she has dropped her phone over the course of the day (twice being in a toilet) but that God must be looking out for her because her phone still works…
I also do not know what is worse: the trivial prayer request or the number of people who liked the statuses (which I take to be agreement or approval).
While I cannot articulately express my frustration over the lack of thought by some Christians regarding the power of prayer, I can relate a great story I heard from another skeptic this past weekend at Reasonfest in Lawrence, KS.
While discussing the power of prayer with a friend who happen to be a preacher, the gentlemen gave the example of how prayer works in our lives by telling of how, a few weeks back, his wife lost her keys and was running late so she prayed for God to help her find her keys and, after a moment, peace surrounded her, she found them. My friend replied to this “touching story of prayer in action” by asking the question: So in order for prayer to work, you have to really mean it and pray really hard? Does that mean that all the families who pray for their family members of cancer did not pray hard enough? Does that mean all the starving children all over the world who prayed to God or had others praying for them did not really mean it? Or was it that God was too busy helping your wife find her car keys to help someone else who really needed his help for something more serious?
Take a moment to re-read that story to let it all sink in.
Scary enough on its own is how often, when I ask Christians why God will answer silly prayers or help people in trivial ways but does nothing about suffering the world, I get to hear these words: “God works in mysterious ways. As mere mortals, we can’t understand his reasoning or his plan but we have to trust in the Lord.”
I’m going to call BS on this. If there is a God and part of his plan includes pain, suffering, starving children, and people dying from horrible diseases, you can count me out. However, the more logical answer is that is either God is not real or, if he is real, is not all powerful or does not take an active hand in the world.
Tara Schlotzhauer is a graduate of the University of Central Missouri with a Bachelor of Science in Photography and her Master of Science in Technology. She is the Secretary of Central Skeptics at the University of Central Missouri and works with her boyfriend and fellow SASHA guest blogger Brandon Christen running the Warrensburg, MO chapter of Recovering from Religion.
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
This week’s posts
- RT @AmericanAtheist: .@todayshow @alroker @NMoralesNBC Atheists are citizens too. Leave your god out of journalism. Remember we don't all b… 1 week ago
- Buying CAFO products is bad, mmm-kay, Part 1: youtu.be/s8C9ajXYZOI?a via @YouTube 2 weeks ago
- Buying CAFO products is bad, mmm-kay, Part 2: youtu.be/NGrCwXW084U?a via @YouTube 2 weeks ago
- About to get started at Speaker's Circle. Come out and help us #DefendDissent 3 weeks ago
- Come to Speaker's Circle today at noon to #DefendDisssent facebook.com/events/1828297… 3 weeks ago