Monday, February 10, 2014

Why Do They Bother?

On a recent Facebook thread, someone asked:
"If one is to accept that atheism is non-belief and is not a religion, then why do many self-proclaimed atheists expend so much time, energy, and money in the attempt to ridicule, inhibit, and oppose persons who do wish to make a public display of their faith. As many of you profess there is no God online, in advertising, etc. you are making a statement of faith since none of you can prove your assertion....silent regret for the waste of the believers would be more appropriate expression for true non-belief. I believe in God, but regret for the choices others make is my only action, so long as no force is employed to coerce peoples beliefs. I do agree that religion and lawmaking have no place together. Theocracy is the absolutely worst form of government."
This is my response:

I have to object to your thesis statement. Atheists do not spend time, energy and money in the attempt to ridicule, inhibit and oppose persons who wish to make a public display of their faith. People can make any display of faith they like, *on their own property*.

When my tax dollars are involved--say, with a court house, a public school, or a city hall--then that property is *our shared* property. Using public (tax supported) property for religious displays is a de facto endorsement of what is being displayed, just like displays for DARE or the Red Cross are endorsement for those activities/organizations. Unlike DARE or the Red Cross, tax-supported endorsement of a specific religion is prohibited by law.

The public displays, like a nativity scene on the city hall lawn--like the battle currently waging in Oklahoma--may seem trivial, but they contribute to an environment that leads some to believe that legislating based on their Christian faith is okay because everyone is on board. Having the ten commandments at the courthouse perpetuates the false notion that many of our laws are already based on the Bible, so why not a few more?

The central point of misunderstanding on this point is the "a fish doesn't notice the water" effect. Because the majority are Christian, and Christian language and symbols are everywhere to be found, nobody blinks at the suggestion that schools should have mandatory prayer or the ten commandments posted in classrooms. That is why I always ask people to put the discussion in a Muslim context. Imagine that some group or legislator wanted to put verses from the Quran in public schools? Or above the entrance to the courthouse? That's usually when people start to see that, "No, this doesn't belong here."

You say that theocracy is the worst form of government. I couldn't agree more. Theocracy starts small; it creeps into government by inches. It starts with teaching creationism in schools, progresses to local and state "blue laws" like those in the article, and culminates with tremendous medical breakthroughs (like stem cell research) being impeded, political candidates having to profess some stripe of the Christian faith to get elected, and presidents having weekly conference calls with evangelists and going to war because God told them to.

Believe me, I would rather not burn the mental fuel to keep arguing this point. Frankly, it irritates me that I have to in 2014. I do not expend any energy arguing about astrology, numerology or alchemy. But astrologers, numerologists and alchemists are not trying to get their beliefs taught in public schools, nor are they trying to shape legislation. Some Christians are trying to do these things, and it must be opposed, not just for non-believers, but for all minorities. One day, Christians may be the minority, and then they will appreciate the efforts of non-believers who struggle to keep government separate from the majority religion.

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