cover of Culture Wars by Marie Castle


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

(This piece originally appeared in the July-August 2014 Moral Atheist, publication of  Atheists for Human Rights.)
For some time we have wondered why atheist organizations have focused so much on ritualistic violations of state-church separation and almost never on the moral issues that affect our personal lives. Strange, because there are no laws that say we must have government-sponsored prayers in schools or religious monuments on public property. Yet we have numerous laws that restrict our most basic freedoms such as those involving sexuality, reproductive issues, end-of-life decision making, healthcare, and so on. These are seldom if ever challenged as atheist issues, and are dismissed as best left to other cause groups.

Now some poll results from the American Secular Census are in that may help explain this. It’s not good. The sticking point is women. On the fundamental issue of bodily autonomy, 44.1% of nonbelievers are not buying it. They want restrictions on abortion in various stages and situations. 55.4% favor no restrictions at all, with 0.5% undecided. On other issues, there is closer agreement. For example, 76.6% oppose school prayer and 97.3% favor gay marriage.

The problem is that morality cannot be dealt with cafeteria style. Something as critical to women’s wellbeing as the right to reproductive control cannot be denied while less critical rights are supported. Better to say all these personal issues are not related to atheism, even though every one of them is based on harmful religious beliefs, with no valid secular justification that has ever been identified.

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, says abortion is not a clear-cut issue, but doesn’t say why or how. And so he wants to bargain away abortion rights to attract the libertarians in the religious right to atheism.

At some point, this matter of whether women in their childbearing capacity are to be controlled by society or are free to control their own bodily functions has to be settled. Religion has everywhere and always sought to maintain control of women’s childbearing. The Catholic Church has staked its future as a viable organization on maintaining laws that restrict or outlaw abortion, including even some contraceptives. Why is this control so important? Perhaps it’s an evolutionary development that has made reproduction at all costs life’s most basic function. Every living thing is programmed to reproduce at all costs. Females in most species are limited in how much of this they can do, so are a scarce reproductive commodity. Is the always-and-everywhere behavior aimed at controlling women nature’s way to ensure maximum reproduction?

At some point, can we think through this primitive urge to treat women as community property and get over the notion that their reproductive concerns are the business of everyone but themselves? One would think atheists would lead in creating a moral society free of religious dogma and its focus on controlling women, but so far they seem to prefer throwing them under the bus.

  1. thetruepooka, another wordpress site, deals a lot with this issue in the atheist community. I’d suggest checking his page out.


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