No god/know god. No difference.

I was moved to write this piece for Salon.com because of the recent surveys about attitudes toward nonbelievers. A brief look at the comments makes me realize that some folks can’t see the woods through the trees. They get stuck on one or two lines and run in a different direction. The point of this article was that we still face discrimination and that our kids are also vulnerable. The majority of Americans believe that atheist (or secularist or agnostic, etc) = immoral.

Religion causes people to feel certain. Most believers think that their stance is right, not just for them but for everyone. They use their faith as a club, as a weapon. They believe it makes them better people. Not different. Better.

Look. I get it that some folks are convinced god exists. Good for you. I won’t try to talk you out of it. I don’t want to argue. I just don’t give a damn. Go ahead and believe what you want. But for godssake, please don’t tie me or my kids to the bumper of your belief and drag us along in your religious parades. Leave us alone. Allow us not to believe. Accept us. Don’t try to change us or sell your religion to us. We all don’t have to be on Team God to get along.

I was recently talking with another reader about this. If you think, especially in the south, that people don’t discriminate, you’re wrong. I have friends and acquaintances that, once I was out publicly, put a huge distance between us. No more lunch. No more hanging out. A few unfriended me on social media sites. And that’s fine. If that’s who they are, I don’t want the friendship. There are millions of people in the U.S.

Other people–readers here–have family who have ostracized them. For what? For harming them? For stealing from them? No, for being different.

However I do mind if I—or others like me—face discrimination when we apply for jobs. No, businesses aren’t supposed to discriminate, but they can search the Internet. And I do mind that evangelical politicians infuse their religion into our laws. The Merry Christmas bill? Give me a break. Rick Perry’s anti-abortion bill? Please. Doesn’t his god tell him not to judge? These textbook fights in Texas? It makes us look ignorant. The references to god in the pledge and on our money and in our public buildings–ubiquitous, but not in a super-natural way.

Religion, whether it’s here in the US or in the Middle East, grabs us–all of us–whether we believe or not–and infects us in one way or another.  How can we inoculate ourselves?

 

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23 responses to “No god/know god. No difference.

  1. A friend of mine posted a picture the other day that said something basically along the lines of, “Without the fear of damnation or the promise of heaven, maybe we could start focusing on the world and people around us. Maybe we could put our faith in ourselves and one another.”

    The immediate responses were: “If there is nothing more than right now, why should one abide by moral and social conventions?” and “Any logic in this depends on a huge assumption…that there is no eternity and no God. And putting faith in men has historically been very bad, as mankind are flawed creatures.”

    So to me, that says that these two responders 1) would become base, carnal and evil if their religion was stripped away, because… why not? and 2) Have never picked up a history book (or maybe he’s just reading the “New History” as developed by the Texas Board of Education 😉

    Somehow I doubt that these two men would become the evil creatures they think everyone would become minus their religion. But it’s *so* *very* *ingrained* in their religious learning that without God, there is no way for them to possibly survive. It just kills me that people don’t think that one all the way through and ask the very obvious question, “Would I be an utter asshat if my religion were somehow just, gone? Or would I continue to be the decent, moral person I am currently? What would change?” But their religious upbringing has taught them that they are “right”… so they don’t even consider that what they are saying also self-applies… it only applies to those souls that have not yet been “saved.”

    As to “what can we do”… well… we keep leading moral, decent lives, and we let people know that we’re not followers of their faith. Eventually, the message will sink in, especially since more and more people are losing their religion.

  2. @Shanan I think we’ve been socialized to believe that all hell would break loose, that we cannot be moral or law-abiding with out “big brothers.” I hope you’re right–that people will change as they lose their religion. My fear is that, although they are “losing their religion” they have not lost their faith in god. Some still hold to the same stereotypes and misplaced beliefs as those that attend church.

    • Belief is definitely a long, sliding scale. I do think that there are plenty of people who have “beliefs” or “inklings” or “questionings” or whatever who end up being very much live-and-let-live.

      There is a lot of control that happens inside organized religion. Historically, it was the church that kept the locals in line. The problem is, we don’t need that control now. We have governing bodies and instant communication. It’s a giant ship to turn around, though.

  3. Great article, Debbie. I had to stop reading the comments, however. I think the answer to ‘Why can’t they leave us alone?’ is that atheism, by its very existence, is a challenge to certain theist systems. Jews have long suffered persecution at the hands of Christians who cannot abide the existence of a people who don’t believe that their guy is God. In that sense, Jews were atheist when it came to belief in Jesus’ divine status. Refusing to see the emperor’s clothes is risky for any of us who see the naked, bloated body for what it is.

    • “Jews were atheist when it came to belief in Jesus’ divine status…” Excellent point, Patti. Ideas are a threat, though, only when one feels insecure about their own ideas. Yes?

    • “Jews were atheist when it came to belief in Jesus’ divine status…” I love this. It’s so perfectly stated, and so incredibly true. “If you don’t believe like I believe, then you are the polar opposite, regardless of who you are.” It’s really where we’ve landed as a society, and it’s not just religion. People are polarized on everything… politics, religion, coke vs. pepsi… you name it. But instead of just knowing that not everyone sees things in the same way, as a society, those who are different are demonized. Like a friend of mine said, (quoting Mr. Rogers) “If we were all Purple Pandas from the Planet Purple, things would be extremely boring, and nothing would ever change.”

      • @Shanan I used to watch Mr. Rogers as a kid! And he’s still the best! That’s so true that everyone is polarized, especially about politics and religion. Everything is black or white. In some ways, it’s neater and easier that way….

  4. Bravo, and I’m amazed at your ability to put yourself out there. I feel like I can barely comment on blogs, and I’m hiding behind something of a pseudonym (ok, it *is* my name, but not my full name.)

    I didn’t wade too deep into the comments, as that’s just a recipe for a headache with no aspirin. I did guffaw at the one saying that they hope you sure don’t put up a Christmas tree and exchange gifts on Christmas, because that would be duplicitous. Gah!

    I do feel, however, that our kids do need to be bible-literate. They need to know the stories of Noah, Job, etc. at the very least to understand idioms like “patience of Job” and the like.

    • @Melissa M. Sometimes I think I’m foolish, but I kind of fell in and I’m already in deep doo-doo. I don’t blame you for not using your last name.

      I just saw that xmas comment. Funny because xmas is really a secular and a religion holy/holiday (with pagan roots).

      Absolutely. Kids need to be bible literate. As do adults. But they also need to be knowledgeable about other faiths. (I’ve included a whole page of educational religious links and books on my “resource” page.) My kids and I took every Sunday to either learn about other religions or talk about the history of religion.

  5. Labels are important but when given too much emphasis become a real problem. If we met and had coffee Deborah, how would we look at each other? Would I sit down and think I am having coffee with an atheist. Or possibly you would say I am with a theist. If we did this, then all the associations we have with these labels would impede communication. Atheist and theist can be loaded terms that hide the humanity and allow contempt to enter the picture.

    If as we talked we became aware of how much we share, how we struggle, and how our hopes and fears are pretty much the same, then the more that is experienced the less power the labels will have. Everyone has a strong opinion. No matter which group you come in contact with you will find the same kinds of groupings in each.

    Then there is fear. Even though I am a believer, I don’t know much, but seek to understand what my life is about and what I feel I am called to. Over the many decades that I have lived, I have come to understand that I have a tendency to judge ‘outsiders’ by their worst and conversely judge my own group by its best. Unfair, but I am not sure I am alone in this.

    Anger for anger, verbal abuse for verbal abuse, while understandable, really does nothing except make things worse, we know this, but continue. For an atheist to say that believers are insane or crazy only adds gasoline to the fire. I doubt any of us are prototypes of what it means to be sane, or for that matter, insane. Yet when we meet someone who actually is ‘over the top’, we know. There is a broad spectrum to what ‘normal’ means. So for atheist to decide to change that, only makes things worse for them, I believe. In any case none of what I say makes a difference anyway ;-).

    I am sorry that as a minority group, atheists in the United States have to experience outright prejudice for what they believe, or another way to express it, what they don’t believe in. It is what humans do, attack those who are different. I would like to say things will get better, but as the so called ‘cultural wars’ continue and both sides get further apart, I feel that things are going to get worse for both sides. It is a shame that each generation seems to have to learn the same lessons over and over again, and then forgotten by the next.

    • @Mark Dohle Thank you for your comment. When I sit down with people for coffee, they always assume I’m a theist–and a Christian! If I don’t know them well, I don’t tell them. It’s none of their business. I do not “come out” unless I have to, unless someone specifically asks. The longer someone gets to know me before they find out, the better. It’s much harder to judge. They know my strengths and my flaws, and they know that I am just like them…

      We will continue to speak out to pave the way for our kids.

  6. Can't tell people the truth

    Love this blog. Thank you for the great article, again!

  7. Maybe we could start some campaign that says “Please don’t discriminate against us cause we don’t believe in Santa Claus.” 🙂

    When I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, ‘elders’ loved to point out Witnesses who ‘left the truth’ and became drug addicts, cheaters, immoral no goods. But when I finally left the Witnesses, I found the majority of ex-Witnesses were just like me: still very morally conscious, just not a Watchtower supporter. It was indeed all a lie that without god/religion that our moral compass would disappear. Speaking of compass…. I think that’s the point in Philip Pullman’s “Golden Compass” children’s book trilogy.

    • @Trishia Who said they don’t believe in Santa? 😉 I still can’t believe you were a JW. I watched Golden Compass with my kids years ago….I remember the controversy.

  8. “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone,, Judge not, lest ye be judged,, Vengeance is mine, sayeth the lord. “They” mostly seem to live by the saying; “Do as I say, not as I do”. In the “god world” hypocrisy seems to rule supreme… Deborah thanks for keeping up the really good fight! Unfortunately, the “god gang” will never see, or admit the error in their thinking or in their ways…

  9. One element in the source of power yielded by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma to his pals) derived from his belief in the principle that ‘one is not a victim until one allows oneself to become a victim.’ No person of faith matters to me in the least IN THE EVENT that person feels compelled to render my existence less-important than his own, due to my lack of adherence to his beliefs. If his value scale allows for such
    ‘adjustment’ I would tell you that mine will as well in his case. And when people such as that, about whom I do not care, insult or disparage anything about me it’s the same as if a mocking bird, sitting on a branch, had said it as far as I’m concerned. Rob P.

    • @rpartridge2014 I like that Gandhi quote. I get your point, and I agree. I don’t really care what people think to themselves or say in private. But their actions and public communications should not result in any kind of discrimination. Of course, I realize that compared to some countries, we’re lucky, but we should continue to try to improve and be a role model. And we should look at what is working in other nations, too.

  10. It was somewhat amusing how those that identified themselves as believers had the most warped idea about you AND how they shied away from the uncomfortable fact that they are intolerant and irrational.

    It was also strange how wrong you could be understood – then again it tells a lot about the pious themselves.

    • @saab93f It seems that anytime there is a threat to one’s cherished values, most people just shut down or tune out the parts that are threatening.

  11. On the Texas schoolbooks, since Texas buys more school books than other states, it more makes more financial sense for states to buy the same textbooks. So, when Texas settles on a “science” textbook, chances are that book will be in most public schools in the United States. So goes Texas, so goes the nation.

    So, those outside of Texas need to take note of the shenanigans going on in Austin.

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