There are none so blind
(VANCOUVER ISLAND) A question that outspoken atheists are often asked is why we are so concerned with religious matters: if we don’t believe in god, all well and good, but why engage in constant criticism of the belief systems of others? And frankly, that’s a reasonable question. I can’t, of course, speak for every vocal non-believer, but I would have to say that a large part of the answer is that it offends me to have absurdity thrust upon me and to be treated as though I am an aberration if I fail to join in lockstep with those who make ludicrous claims. Moreover, to have those nonsensical propositions treated as though they are the norm and self-evident statements of fact is particularly galling to anyone with the slightest experience in critical thinking. But when laws are being written that seek to enforce magical thinking on the people as a whole, that’s when all good men have to come to the aid of the party and voice their objections.
As we watch the United States try to pretend that what is masquerading as the run-up to a general election, some of us will occasionally take our eyes off the centre ring for a moment to take in a sideshow. The sideshow that is drawing a lot of attention in this election cycle is the religious right and its decision to choose this moment in history to push the legislative envelope on the state level and to enact a series of draconian and ridiculous discriminatory laws that are justified by their proponents’ Christian belief system.
Some Christians are upset because groups like the FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) are constantly filing lawsuits in US courts over things like civic monuments depicting the biblical 10 Commandments or teachers leading prayers in public schools. How can any of those things harm us? What possible objection could reasonable people have? And why are we Christians being persecuted? The simple answers are these: 1) By tacitly suggesting that a list of rules of behaviour written by and for some nomadic, late stone age, Middle Eastern goat herders is relevant to our lives today & 2) Those rules are not acknowledged as valid by a significant portion of the population and many reject them outright as just, well, stupid & 3) Oh, please!
But it’s that last one that seems to have become part of the coordinated effort to reverse centuries of progress in the sciences and to undo the separation of church and state that was so central to the intent of the founding fathers of the United States. For everyone out there who had missed it, according to televangelists and some state governors, we are in a period of time where the persecution of Christians has returned with a malevolence not seen since the time of Nero and this time it’s taking place in the USA. And just look at the form that persecution takes!
According to some of the persecuted, not being allowed to require non-Christians to repeat Christian prayers publicly is discriminatory against Christians and therefore amounts to persecution. Persecution of poor, beleaguered Christians also includes their not being permitted to discriminate against groups of their choosing (they seem to like to choose members of the LGBT community but also choose atheists and agnostics and other groups as well), since they have fervent religious beliefs that requires them to discriminate. That too, is apparently persecution.
These ludicrous claims actually manage to gain some traction, particularly in the southern states, perhaps because those legislatures can pull out and dust off a few of their old Jim Crow laws and rewrite them, substituting the word “gay” wherever it used to say ‘Negro”. However they come up with these genuinely discriminatory anti-discrimination bills, their philosophical justifications virtually always come down to some cherry-picked biblical injunction. |Oh, they’ll argue that these laws are urgently needed to protect children from perverts or some such nonsense, but when it’s pointed out that theirs is a solution without a problem, and when pressed even a little bit for some honest explanation, they’ll come back with a biblical quote.
And while this is going on some truly bizarre efforts are being made to persuade the persuadable that profoundly stupid notions need to be promulgated. Enter Ken Ham. Ham is young earth creationist and biblical literalist. While those credentials sound serious, the content of his claims is anything but. He preaches that the Earth is about 6000 years old and that it was created in 6 twenty-four hour days; he tells us that every word of the bible, New Testament and Old, is literally, factually true. To that end he built and operates “The Creation Museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky and founded “Answers in Genesis”, a Christian ministry that denies evolution and claims that all the science we need is contained right there in the first book of the Old Testament. Set to open on July 7 of this year is his latest exhibition at he museum: a life size replica of Noah’s Ark. Apparently it will be able to contain representative breeding pairs of every one of the 7 million plus species alive today as well as all the identified prehistoric species including dinosaurs – which Ham claims once co-existed with man on planet Earth just a few thousand years ago.
That the foregoing is simply harmless eccentricity on the part of a man and a few isolated nutjobs is what we ought to expect; unfortunately, it is far, far more than that. You see, the museum itself is largely government subsidised and the construction of the 14-million-dollar Ark was completed with state and federal grants as “educational” endeavours. And to add insult to injury, Ham and his AiG are allowed to discriminate in their hiring practices. Applicants to work in the museum or its associated parking lot and gift shops must sign a form asserting that they believe in the young earth proposition and that they renounce any belief in evolution; atheists or anyone other than Ham’s brand of Christian need not apply.
What seems not to occur to those members of the cult of Christianity is that atheism, not evangelical or any kind of Christianity, is the default position. The evidence for that is simple; Christians require bible studies, Sunday school, worship services, and Ken Ham’s teachings to churn out cult members, atheists need none of that. Just leave people alone and they won’t become Christian; if they are given any real education at all they’ll become atheists.
So the question of why atheists are so preoccupied with religion is answered by the observation that religion seems to be preoccupied with replacing science with fantasy, empiricism with doctrine, observation with “revelation”. We don’t want our legislatures relying on their individual members’ “faiths” to make laws for all of us. We don’t want our children taught in schools that the outrageous and the ignorant are true and science is all wrong; hell, we don’t even want them to be taught that fairy tales and science are alternatives to be chosen between as equally likely to be true.
Are atheists obsessed with religion? Perhaps. Obsessed to precisely the same degree that theists are obsessed with imposing their ridiculous and untestable assertions on those who don’t follow their brand of devotion.