Tuesday, December 11, 2012

More on Atheism

To expand on some issues that came up on one of my posts advertising yesterday's post on Facebook, here is more.

I want to touch on two issues here.

First, there was a lot of doubt expressed about the attitudes of christians towards atheists and whether actual violence can happen towards them.

From Northern Louisiana:

On the eve of his graduation, the atheist student contacted the school superintendent to let him know that he opposed the inclusion of a prayer at the graduation ceremony. He pointed out that government-sponsored prayer in the public schools was unconstitutional and legally forbidden – and that he would be contacting the ACLU if it went ahead. The school agreed to substitute it with a moment of silent reflection, which was subsequently scuppered by a Christian student. 
Then Fowler’s name, and his role in this incident, was leaked. As a direct result:  
1) Fowler has been hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community. 
2) One of Fowler’s teachers has publicly demeaned him.
3) Fowler has been physically threatened. Students have threatened to “jump him” at graduation practice, and he has received multiple threats of bodily harm, and even death threats.
4) Fowler’s parents cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and threw his belongings onto the front porch.

Not because he said he was an atheist, but because he wanted the school to obey the law!  Imagine what might have happened if he'd actually come out as one.

Here's some stuff from this page at Secular Humanism's site:

Gray, Tennessee: Carletta Sims joined a financial firm in June 2001. Shortly afterward, two Baptist coworkers took offense upon learning that Sims was an atheist. Management granted the coworkers’ request to be assigned workspaces further from Sims. When Sims complained about a picture of Jesus left on her computer, management discharged her. Sims filed suit, seeking $250,000; U.S. District Judge Thomas Hull ruled that “religious discrimination (or preferential treatment of Christians) can be inferred.” In January 2004, the major bank that had since acquired the firm settled with Sims for an undisclosed amount. 
Ada, Oklahoma: A Baptist student told a local newspaper she wouldn’t take professor William Zellner’s classes because he was an atheist, triggering a flurry of abuse. Zellner received harassing notes and telephone calls, some threatening. His car was vandalized, for a time on a daily basis. A local church sold “I am praying for Dr. Zellner” buttons. 
His children experienced shunning and beatings from religious children. 
Minneapolis, Minnesota: First-grader Michael Bristor, an atheist, was denied an honor roll certificate when he refused to participate in an unconstitutional “prayer time” at a public school. For three years, administrators ignored the family’s complaints until a lawsuit was filed. 
Caro, Michigan: In December 2001, Anonka—an open atheist who maintains a museum of Christian religious atrocities—appeared before the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners to challenge a nativity scene placed on public land. Commissioners responded angrily, saying she had no right to be present and proceeding to ridicule her. Anonka and her family suffered repeated harassment including annoyance calls, threatening calls and letters, and vandalism. In February 2004, the county settled in U.S. District Court, agreeing to pay an undisclosed sum and to issue a “public expression of regret.” 
Pocopson, Pennsylvania: My own atheism came to prominence when I became involved in a legal challenge to a Ten Commandments plaque on the wall of the Chester County, Pennsylvania, courthouse. Neighbors organized a shunning campaign, some area merchants refused to do business with me, and I received hundreds of threatening letters and phone calls. (The depth of public animus against me became a subject of local news and magazine coverage.) I was forced to close my interior decorating business because of death threats that compelled me to stop visiting the homes of persons unknown to me. 
Calgary, Alberta: An eleven-year-old boy (name withheld) experienced daily physical attacks and threats against his life by schoolmatesnotably the sons of three local pastors—after protesting intercom readings of the Lord’s Prayer in a public school. He was repeatedly body-checked into hallway walls and attacked in the rest rooms. One pastor’s son stalked him with a butcher knife in an empty portable classroom. Despite the seriousness of this incident, no action was taken. The boy’s parents transferred him to another school for his own safety.
In short, the attitude is that as long as you keep your mouth shut and allow christians to continue on their merry way, enjoying the privilege they give themselves, you can still live among them, but as soon as you let it be known that you are unhappy with the status quo, look out.

Most Americans are not faced with this problem.  In Maryland, where I live, this is rare.   It is rare in much of the South for one simple reason:  incidents like those outlined above show clearly what will happen to you if you rock the boat.  Most people just don't have the courage to stand up to that, so it just doesn't happen much, because they tend to go along and let themselves be intimidated!

I could go to the Freethought blogs site and find case after case just like those above, much newer than those old cases.  Face it, folks, this may be America, but we are humans, just like Northern Ireland, and they killed each other for over EIGHTY YEARS!!  Bombings, drive by shootings, kneecappings, kidnappings, it ran the gamut of the nasty stuff humans can do to each other, and all because Catholics refused to submit to Protestant rule backed by the English.  Such sectarian violence is not uncommon.

Iraq's problems we dealt with were almost exclusively sectarian in nature.  One kind of muslim against another.  Strictly forbidden in the Koran, but, hey, people are people, right?  There is much sectarian violence in Africa, too.  We just don't hear much about it because, well, they're black.

Well, Americans are human too, and Americans can be as sectarian as the next nationality can!

The next is why I write about these things.

I am not in the business of converting people.  If you want to believe, fine.  This country was founded on the principle that you can do that without the interference of the government, either to stop you or to force you to worship in one particular way.  You can do that however you like, at church, at home or out in the boonies communing with nature.  (dressed or not!)

The reason I write about this is because there is a movement of Americans, who believe a particular kind of fundamentalist teaching, who believe that they are tasked by god with the job of taking dominion over this country - or even the world - to bring it to god.  THIER god, not yours.  They are not particularly trying to do that using democratic principles, but want to establish a theocracy, which is a religious based dictatorship.  No democracy.  The bible doesn't teach democracy.  It teaches feudalism.  The divine right of kings, whose authority is given by god, which was why French kings were anointed with oil upon their coronation.  That oil was consecrated "by god" for that specific purpose.

They are using the above attitudes by ordinary Americans against Atheists and even non believers of other stripes to foster that anger and intolerance you have seen on TV in this last campaign.

Come on, you don't think that stuff came from out of the blue?  That "war on women" thing?  Right out of the bible.  Read Paul.  That's where they get all that "women should be subservient" stuff, and how they shouldn't have the right to decide their own reproductive future.  That's for the man they married.  They'll enforce that by simply outlawing contraceptives.  And abortion.

Once that is accomplished, they can sit back and let economics take over - since then women will be forced out of the workplace when they get pregnant, and after Republicans dump all of the Union backed laws forbidding firing women for pregnancy, women will have no legal recourse.  It'll be back home, barefoot and pregnant!

My cause is the Separation of Church and State.  As long as atheists are seen as a tiny minority and christians see themselves as a "vast" majority, that separation is a myth.  They keep atheists as that "tiny minority" by intimidating us, threatening us, passing laws to punish us as a way of keeping us QUIET.

One of the ways they do this is to use organizations like Gallup to foster and spread the myth that atheists are a tiny minority of insignificant numbers and influence.

As I noted, the personal experience of one person, or even a few in a group, are not representative of the whole of the American population.  The term Gallup uses, non-religious, doesn't mean atheist, of course.  But it alludes to someone being a person to whom religion is unimportant.

Whether that means they are atheist or casually believe in god but don't care, what does it matter?  For the purposes of understanding the religiosity of America, it doesn't.  A person who says they are christian but never goes to church isn't really a christian.  They are a labeled christian, but do they really, if pressed, actually believe it deep down inside?

Their actions tell.

The most "religious" parts of this country have higher level of the indicators of social disfunction.  Divorce, adultery, teen pregnancy, murder, robbery, DUI, all are higher than in States with lower rates of religiosity.  All things directly opposed to the teachings of christianity.  On a national level, countries in Europe, denigrated by the Republicans as "ungodly" and "socialist", actually have much lower rates of those indicators, and often also have much higher rates of self-proffessed happiness.

I am not saying that atheism cause happiness, no. I am saying that places where people are supposed to "follow" imposed values and rules of behavior such as religious practices, people do not follow those rules and the populations in those areas suffer the consequences.  If more christians live there and actually lived their religion, one would think that the indicators of social unrest and discord would be lower, wouldn't you?

But they aren't lower.  This shows clearly to me that tons of people are unhappy.  Tons of people are showing the signs that they are not happy with the rules they are supposed to live under and are refusing to do so in ways that are frowned upon by that society.  That rebellion isn't against god, it is a rebellion against a society which forces them to live like they believe in something they don't.

These things lead me to believe that the numbers of real unbelievers are higher than people think.  Yes, a lot of folks will tell you, in an honest conversation, that they believe.  They will even sound earnest, and they may even convince themselves that they do.

But when it comes to living the life their religion dictates, they balk.  What good to christianity if they believe in god but refuse to follow his law?  Refuse to even attend church, thus refusing those churches the tithe their clerics tell them their holy book requires?  And often, fail to even teach their children their religion.

Demographics do not lie.  A much larger percentage of kids under 30 do not believe.  Most of them are not conservative.  The religious ones are dying off - that's our generation.  Something like 2% per year are moving away from christianity.  Christian clerics have known this for twenty years - since the early 90's, when church attendance and donations began dropping off dramatically.  This is partly what is fueling the religious backlash - they know that if the trend keeps up, not only will they eventually have trouble funding all those expansive christian TV shows, but even churches will start having trouble.  Some are already, as the numbers of believers shift from one type of church to another.

Go to this site for a surprising look at what Churches know and are trying to spread the word about!

As the numbers of real, attending believers is reduced, their apparent religiosity will increase.  Only the true believers will tend to remain.  Fundamentalism, which is the fastest growing segment of christianity (and one of the only growing segments), is a clear indication that we are approaching one of the end stages of widespread belief - or belief as a "majority value" of this country.

This is masked by the fact that the non-religious, in other words, those to whom religion is not a major, or even a minor, factor in their lives (whether or not a belief exists) are not organized as a block.  They are splintered into different social elements, based on other characteristics, such as race, politics or age.  Thus, their influence is reduced compared to the religious, who are represented by major religious organizations, well funded and staffed by political experts.  Note that the liberal denominations of christianity are NOT represented by those groups!  The fundies will even deny that they are even christian!

Now, today, our focus should be on keeping this country democratic.  Enforcing, advancing and promoting the separation of church and state to fight and limit the influence of the fanatics who would take our freedoms away from us in the name of their god is critical.  The advancing of a true look at the real state of American belief in religion is "fundamental" to this struggle - pardon the pun!  The more people see that it is ok to be non-religious, the more will admit to being so, and the less influence the Dominionists will have.

Mainly, I want people to be able to be happy, and to be able to be themselves.  To be able to admit to their real beliefs so they can stop being forced to live a lie, just to live a decent life.

Right now, that is, in many parts of the US, an impossibility.

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