Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale
Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale

God Statements in Governement: Brief Debate with a religious relative

By K.R. Bellew

 

The following is a discussion between me and a religious relative who feels that its "militant atheists" who impose their views on society by suppressing the mention of God in public. The conversation began by my description of why I left my church's organization.

The discussion started after I pointed out that religion is one of the most divisive elements in our society. Therefore, I thought religion was evil for all of the harm it caused.

Religious relative:

I find militant atheism even more distasteful. It seems totally intolerant at worst and condescending at best. Among Christians there are still the Mother Theresas, William Boothes, David Wilkersons and many more reaching out to the needy and hurting in a way I have not seen generally on the part of militant non-believers.

 

At this point, I feel that I'm being called a "militant atheist," and I want to clarify what he means.

Me:

Perhaps you are confusing “militant atheism” with just "someone who tells you that you're wrong." Militant religious people fly planes into buildings. When has an atheist ever conducted violence for the sake of atheism? Never that I know of. However, I can point to hundreds of examples of religious people doing it in the name of their religion. And, if by "militant" you mean someone who enthusiastically tries to get others to believe what they believe, Christians have been doing that for centuries. It's called evangelism. So, please understand that I think it's hypocritical when you call it militant atheism.  Why is it okay for Christians to go door to door, but the minute an atheist speaks up to protect his rights, suddenly he's being "militant?" 

Atheists would be fine with leaving Christians alone to believe whatever they want, but Christians insist on forcing their views on us by voting against gay marriage, women's reproductive issues, wanting to promote their religion in government buildings, putting their sayings on our money, saying their prayers out loud in government meetings, forcing our teacher to teach their theology (in some states), attempting to dominate political representation and on and on. 

Atheists are in the minority, and if we don't speak loudly, we will be trampled. But don't confuse speaking loudly with being militant.  

And, as for Christians doing good things, atheist also do good things. We can be good without a god. The most giving philanthropists alive right now are Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates and George Soros, and guess what--They are all atheists. People can be good without religion, and I would argue they are more apt to be good without religion because they are deciding to do right—not to impress someone who promises future reward, but because they want to do the right thing.

 

Religious relative:

When I think of militant atheism I immediately think of communism. Atheism is at its core. They kept people from expressing God in public, just like atheists are doing in our society today.

 

Me:

I think it's a stretch to say atheism was the core of Communism. Have you ever read the Communist Manifesto? Atheism is never mentioned. If it was at its core, you'd think it would at least be mentioned. Although, I do agree with Marx about one thing, religion truly is the opium of society.

 

Religious relative:

The Communist Manifesto does not mention atheism, nor does it mention God. But to deny, for example, that it was not at the core of Soviet communism seems disingenuous to me. I have read what Richard Dawkins says about that, but I disagree. Lenin and others made it an integral part of Communism. War on religion in communist countries has resulted in the deaths of great numbers of believers.

Here by "militantly" I mean Communists sought to impose atheism on everyone. Enver Hoxha in Albania was ruthless in his efforts to impose his brand of atheism on every one. So, to deny that atheism was one of the important core components of Soviet, Chinese, Albanian and Cuban communism seems disingenuous. You are absolutely right in saying that in the name of religion horrible things have been done. But to say there have never been equally horrible things done in the name of atheism seems preposterous to me. Can you concede that? I am not saying you or your own belief system or would do those things. Just as "theism" has many meanings, so does "atheism".

 

Me:

Atheism cannot be the core of Communism is because atheism does not contain ideas. Atheism does not have a philosophy. Atheism does not have rules or creeds or articles of faith. Atheism is only a label that means a person does not believe in a god.

To say that atheism was the core of communist policy implies that the destruction of religious liberties is a tenant of atheism. It is not. If anything, an atheist would normally hold religious freedom in high regard for hope that he or she would not be persecuted for not believing in the god of his or her culture.

Do not confuse things an atheist did as being a philosophy of atheism. Atheists are not Marxist or Communist, nor are the views of Marx, Lenin, or Stalin atheist ideas. "Atheist" just means I don't believe in a god. Just because an atheist does an evil deed does not make that deed an ideal of atheism; any more than Hitler made genocide the core of Christianity when he said, "I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews, I'm fighting for the Lord's work."

So, is either of us close to committing this evil that Communism did by establishing a government view on theism? Atheists are fine with freedom of religion. We feel that everyone should be free to believe as they want. Most Christians want our government to establish a set view on the question of theism as if it represents all of its citizens. They support our motto being "In God We Trust" and our pledge being "under God."

Therefore, if you want the government to promote theism, you are closer to committing one of the evils that occurred with communism. You want the government to establish a public stance on the question of theism, which is a direct violation of a citizen's fundamental right to believe as he or she wants on issues of theism. A government stand on the issue is a public declaration that a belief in a god is the correct view on theism.

You keep referring to the "majority view." Non-religious people make up nearly 20% of the population. At what percentage does your morality-switch say it's okay for us to be represented?

Being in the majority view regarding religion is not like winning the right to pick a color to paint a room. We do not have a fundamental human right to picking paint colors for public buildings. We do, however, have a basic human right to believe what we want on the issue of theism. It's one of the five 1st amendment freedoms.

Religious relative:

If we take "In God we trust" off our currency because a minority object, does that mean we should always accommodate the objections of the minority? I am sure we could all find lots of things to do away with.

 

Me:

It does not properly represent the issue to say that we want the government to remove theistic statements simply because we find them objectionable. We want them removed because they violate our fundamental rights for freedom of religion.

Again, you felt it was unfair when Communism established a governmental stand on theism. Why can't you see that it's just as unfair for our government to establish a stand on theism? It has the same immoral effect—A large segment of societies' views on religion are not represented. If the government remains neutral, both of us have freedom of religion.

What if roles were reversed and America's motto was "There is no God, Only Americans?" Would you feel this was a threat to your freedom of religion?

Atheists don't want a religious government, nor do we want a secular government that forbids religious expression by its citizens. We want a government that is neutral on issues of theism, and a people who are free to believe and express whatever they want. How much more fair could that be?

We're not trying to piss people off by removing things they treasure. We are trying to get people to realize the injustice of lack of equal treatment.

 

Conversation stopped for now...