cover of Culture Wars by Marie Castle

 

by Marie Alena Castle, author of Culture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom

(This is a lightly edited, slightly shorter version of the cover article of the May/June 2014 The Moral Atheist,  the magazine of Atheists for Human Rights.)

 

 

 

 

Defensible Interests

. . . [T]o fulfill our deepest interests in this life, both personally and collectively, we must first admit that some interests are more defensible than others. Indeed, some interests are so compelling that they need no defense at all. . . . For nearly a century the moral relativism of science has given faith-based religion—that great engine of ignorance and bigotry—a nearly uncontested claim to being the only universal framework for moral wisdom.

— Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. pp. 190-191.

 

Not So Defensible Interests

“There are secular reasons to oppose abortion.”

— David Silverman, President of American Atheists, communication with the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), seeking common ground.

 

It’s Not As Bad As It Looks

We are calling attention to a problem the atheist movement has inexplicably ignored, perhaps because we are so inundated with it we don’t see it. That is the problem of the essential immorality of religion. Instead of pointing to and challenging it, we tend to accept the myth of religion as a morality -based institution and even try to emulate it. They do food shelves? We do food shelves. They do blood donations? We do blood donations. They do clothing drives? We do clothing drives.

Nothing wrong with this. It’s all good civic virtue stuff any decent society does if it doesn’t want to fall apart into chaos. But it doesn’t deal with the basic problem—all the ways religion harms society. How do we counter this? With billboards that say some of us are happy to be atheists or that religion is based on myths or that we can be good without God—implying there is a goodness about religious belief, and we atheists can also have that goodness?

No. There is no goodness about religious belief, but when do we bring that to the public’s attention? Not often, if ever.

The Road to Secular Hell

The road to secular hell is indeed paved with good intentions, however poorly thought out. American Atheists went to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in March (keynote speaker Sarah Palin) to let the generally atheistic “libertarian” fiscal restraint contingent of the far right know they were welcome in the atheist community. Libertarians want government out of a good part of our lives, including the personal part, so why would Silverman offer up women’s personal autonomy as a bargaining chip in seeking common ground?

It doesn’t take much experience with the atheist movement to know the answer. There is a strong view running through it—as with all of society—that women in their reproductive function are something of a public utility to be regulated. The idea of a woman having autonomy over her own bodily reproductive processes seems unthinkable and contrary to what nature intended, however mindlessly. The adverse effects on a woman of a disastrous pregnancy are pretty much viewed as irrelevant. She is there to have children, regardless of the cost to her.

And atheist organizations wonder why there are relatively few women in atheist organizations. Why align with any group that thinks your childbearing function makes you public property? There are only two atheist organization I know of that, as a founding principle, refuse to demean women this way: One is our own Atheists For Human Rights and the other is the Humanist Association of Canada, founded by the late Dr. Henry Morgentaler as a result of his experiences providing abortions to women, because he saw how necessary that was to their wellbeing. He was a morally active, human-centered physician, ultimately willing to pay the price of imprisonment to save the victims of religious tyranny . . . victims Silverman seems willing to throw under the bus to attract a few more members to his organization.

Timidity as a Moral Blindfold

Then there’s’ Sally Chizek’s experience in San Antonio, Texas. She’s a long time member of the Freethought Association of Central Texas (FACT). Here’s what she says:

For the past 15 years, I have gone to City Hall to protest the National Day of Prayer held on the City Hall steps. When I learned that the protest was not to be advertised as a FACT event I asked why. I was informed that FACT does not prescreen the signs and if the protest goes badly and the FACT sign is there it will likely cause irreparable damage to our reputation and our relationship with the city. While it has never been problematic before, all it takes are a few new folks with aggressive/insulting messages that then speak for all. The FACT officers were not willing to take this on on behalf of the members at large.

That was two members at large. One had not heard any discussion of official FACT sponsorship and thought individuals can do what they wish but not speak for others. The other didn’t want FACT involved because ‘some people are looking for an excuse to shut us down . . . . This ain’t the hill we want to die on.’

Only one man noted our web site—in About Us—concerning our objectives: ‘Challenge the encroachment of religion into . . . local government and eliminate all discrimination and limitations placed on our civil liberties. . . . Does the National Day of Prayer appear as a violation of separation of church and state? It’s fine you do not agree and you decided to click ‘not attending.’

“The event was advertised by FACT, but they wanted everyone to know it was not a FACT event. Why not? It was dealing with church and state. The Christians use the front steps and lawn so citizens who have business to conduct have to use the back door.

So Sally held her own protest and lined up people to attend. She made extra signs in case someone showed up without one. The signs supported state-church separation but did not mention FACT. “But what concerns me,” Sally said, “was how gutless the board members appeared to be. I am 86 years old and could be knocked down with a feather, but I’ll take my chances. Otherwise no one will protest and the NDOPers will think they have all the rights and just get bigger.”

Tim Gorski, founder of the North Texas Church of Freethought, agreed with Sally. “FACT was founded by the late Catherine Fahringer [a well known, outspoken and feisty activist], he said, “which makes it sad that it is not getting out in front of a protest against NDOP when there are people who want to participate. They won’t be able to prescreen the signs? Are they afraid someone’s sign will say, ‘Godless Bitches’? Oh, that’s already on FACT’s website. . . . Some people may show up with obscene signs? Just say, ‘They’re not with us.’ Besides, NDOP is itself an obscenity.”

The Moral High Road Not Taken

“NDOP is itself an obscenity.” Yes, that’s the point. The moral point that’s been there all the time and we’ve ignored it. There is an inherent organizational timidity at work that fears to take religion on where it is most vulnerable and it leaves activists like Sally Chizek to do what they can on their own. Atheist organizations should challenge the obscenities of religion. Challenge their claim to the moral high ground. They don’t own it; they are squatters. Atheists are distrusted and demeaned precisely because there is a prejudice that, without religion, a person is unlikely to be reliably moral and therefore not to be trusted.

But what is morality? Most of our social problems are caused by religious beliefs that are an obscenity. They seek to deny women’s rights, gay rights, the right to make our own end-of-life decisions, the right of medical researchers to do what is necessary to find cures for diseases.

The list of religion-caused social problems goes on, and atheist organizations dismiss them with lip service at best, saying they “are not atheist issues.” All of these repressive religious obscenities are based on batshit crazy religious beliefs, including the most bizarre of them all—that a fertilized egg the size of the period at the end of this sentence is a full human being with more human rights than a disastrously pregnant disposable woman has. This is insanity in its purest form, yet we are supposed to respect it because it is a “deeply held religious belief.”

Decent people don’t need religion to be decent. Most of us behave decently because we are programmed by evolution to want to get along safely and peacefully with others. It’s a matter of survival. Religions are established almost always by those with no interest in religion—faithless people using the faith and belief of others to steal from them, and to control them for their own self-aggrandizing purposes.

Will Atheists Ever Learn How to Fight?

Why do atheists think state-church separation involves mainly ritual things such as government-sponsored prayer, religious monuments on public property, religious graffiti on our money, and teaching creation myths as science? Yes, those are all significant matters, but they do not affect the sacred “morality” aura that surrounds religion. Why not show where respect for batshit crazy religious beliefs leads?

Prayer: I saw a report of religionists setting up a “Prayer Station” in a courthouse somewhere. Sure, that’s a state-church violation, but it doesn’t get to the point, which is that prayers are useless incantations that are (or should be) as embarrassing in public as picking one’s nose.

In such a case, of course go file a First Amendment lawsuit, but also set up a complementary prayer station with placards quoting Bible verses such as “Whatever you ask in my name it shall be granted unto you.”

Turn it into a theatrical event. Invite the press, and then publicly gather and solemnly pray to Jesus to turn, say, a pear in your hand into a carrot. Onlookers will laugh and possibly think about the value of that religious Prayer Station.

Same with legislative prayers. Set up tables that track the ineffectiveness of those prayers as legislation is run through the meat grinder sausage-making process. Onlookers will laugh and possibly think about the foolishness of legislative prayers. And don’t forget to note the biblical prohibition against praying in public.

Ten Commandments: American Atheists won the right to put up an atheist monument next to the Ten Commandments on government property. Fine! But the religionists have thousands of places where they can afford to do that. We can’t. Why not, instead, show public outrage (as we should regardless) at every government display of such an unAmerican barbaric set of “commandments”? Challenge the denial of religious freedom, the lack of commandments against slavery and torture, the commandment (not to mention the entire Old Testament) that treats women as property, etc., and demand that such an obscene monument be removed. Don’t simply demand “equal time”–point out how obscene the Ten Commandments are.

Abortion: Stop this timid “well, I support Roe v. Wade” stuff and hand wringing about it being a “gray area” or somehow open for discussion. It is totally a medical matter between a woman and her doctor. All restrictions, beyond regulations that affect all medical procedures, are a state-church violation.

If not, let’s hear David Silverman explain what his “secular reasons” for opposing the right to abortion are, and why they are not patriarchal and misogynistic. Take an unequivocal stand for women’s rights that show atheists are with them. Do the same for gay rights: Both women and gay people might see atheists in a better light, as a moral voice opposed to their oppression by the religious right.

Stem Cell Research: Our lives and our health should not be held hostage to embryo “personhood” insanity. It’s insane! Say so. Very plainly
.
End-of-Life Decisions: We should not have to suffer needlessly simply because of others’ crazy religious beliefs. Say so. Loudly.

Bible Reading: So just why do atheists want to stop this? Everyone should read the Bible. Just make it mandatory that students read the whole thing with both religious and atheist instructors explaining it. All Bibles given out in school should include a copy of Awkward Moments Children’s Bible. Great illustrations. Takes the Bible seriously and quotes it exactly. Not what the religionists want, of course, but it’s their Bible and they’re stuck with it.

Some commentators are starting to get the message. Greta Christina is talking about engaging non-religious young people in areas in which their interests lie. By and large they are not interested in school prayer and nitpicky things like that. Young people are leaving religion because religion is messing with their lives by restricting birth control and abortion and abusing kids. Americans United for Separation of Church & State has started opposing religious assaults because of their basis in law with no secular justification. One commentator is starting to note that religion is founded by hucksters. At AFHR, we’ve been saying this all along. Maybe someone out there is finally listening.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta
Advertisements
Comments
  1. […] Organized Atheism’s Failed Moral Vision […]

    Like

  2. […] Organized Atheism’s Failed Moral Vision […]

    Like

  3. […] Organized Atheism’s Failed Moral Vision […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s