As non theists it is comforting when we are reminded that we are not alone in our frustration. For many of us, the only other atheists, skeptics or freethinkers we have contact with are on line. None of us, in our ‘daily lives’, can speak of a community or work-place that is not affected to some degree by the influence of religion or the adherents to a religion. Whether it’s a prayer imposed on a room full of people before a company dinner or the ban on alcohol sales on a Sunday morning, it’s there. Many people have become frustrated with the demanded tolerance and institutionalization of irrational superstitions.
A recent post I was reading at ‘Freethinkers’ on LinkedIn posed the question; “Are militant atheists giving the rest of us a bad name?” The comments and responses seemed to overwhelmingly reject this notion with the author of one comment making the astute observation that they were unable to recall any actions by atheists that could truly be considered ‘militant‘. Atheists have been willing to accept, and reuse, a term incorrectly imposed on us by the religious for the crime of stating our non-belief or unwillingness to adhere to archaic superstitions and customs. Several contributors encouraged a stronger voice and others considered the efficacy of more radical action or even actual militancy as a rational response to the tyranny of irrationality .
The apparent criteria for being called ‘militant’ by theists, particularly traditionalists or fundamentalists, is as simple as the act of polite non-compliance. This being the case; the requirements by which the religious feel they must be treated, their inappropriate reaction to anything less than accommodation, and their self serving sensitivity should be of no consideration to non-theists.
The historic and ongoing negative affects of religion on and within society are undeniable. Any acts of charity or community service, that they herald as their claim to righteous legitimacy, would be better administered by organizations that are not simultaneously advancing a social & political agenda dictated by irrational superstition and systemic discrimination against entire communities, populations and demographics.
With the challenges we face as a planet and as a people, it is becoming increasingly clear that it is our responsibility to end our silent tolerance of these dangerous and socially destructive paradigms that have been developed, practiced and promoted by religions and religious organizations. Fifteen percent (15%) of Americans identify themselves as atheist, agnostic or not adherents to any religion. Compare that to 1.2% identifying themselves as Jewish. We are not small in number and should no longer accept being denigrated by the media, politicians, or public institutions.
Many of us have been affected by societal conditioning that religion and its devout practitioners are to be treated with a sense of reverence or at least deference for their professed piety. Even once we have freed ourselves personally and intellectually, the stigma and social repercussions of blasphemy, heresy or irreverence can render silent or successfully ostracize ardent freethinkers. It is a difficult hurdle to clear and requires no small amount of courage. Often we accept the role of lone deserter, as we are often led to believe we are, obediently keeping our dissent to ourselves. As a result, we are a very large but disconnected and disempowered and disenfranchised community, convinced to keep our deviant skepticism to ourselves. Our lack of organization, social presence and relative silence allow and encourages religious organizations to increase in power and influence over politics, social policy, legislation and education.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (http://www.ffrf.org/
) is perhaps the best known voice for secularism, atheism or non-theism in America. Their education and public awareness campaigns, including their billboard and bus-stop signs, have garnered attention, raised awareness, stimulated debate and affected change. This is critically important work and they should be commended and actively supported. But, for all the hard work of this and many other organizations and individuals, our presence in society, our legitimacy and acceptance is no where near commensurate to that of the 15% of the population, second only to Christians.
It is time to denounce the tyranny of the irrational. Perhaps it’s time to learn from organizations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, as one LinkedIn contributor suggested. Perhaps the measured response, the equal and opposite reaction, the rational defense of reason, is to protect the masses by chaining the church doors closed or distributing secular or atheist tracts . Perhaps public demonstrations and bible burnings are the correct course of action. Perhaps. Certainly though, it is time to voice strong disapproval of the dictums posed daily such as deference, silence and respect for ceremonial public prayer, public funding for faith based programs and initiatives, creationism-as-alternate-science in our schools, tax exempt status for churches, banned alcohol sales on Sunday morning, or anything else that requires a rational person to deny, alter or otherwise curtail their legal behavior, choices or rights because of the irrational delusions of others or require a rational person to legitimize that delusion in order to receive assistance or service.
We have too many serious challenges. We’ve let this silliness go on unchallenged and unabated long enough. I chose to not even legitimize religion by listening to apologetics or wasting my time trying to debunk their beliefs. Theism and religion is flat-earth thinking and should not be encouraged by allowing it the status of being debatable. There are some great educators available, Dawkins and Hitchens are two excellent examples, and individuals seeking freedom from religion can be directed to their websites, YouTube videos or literature and it can then be shared as a process of discovery and insight.
As non-theists, secularists, atheists, we must start taking action in the personal, professional and public domains of our lives refusing to accept the dictates and influence of religion. Religion must be relegated to a position of ineffectual anonymity and neither acknowledged nor treated with legitimacy. We need to clearly identify it as the nonsense of codified ignorance wrapped in pomp and circumstance that it is and treat it with the appropriate contempt. Our continued survival depends on it.
In addition to personal responsibility and firm resolve against religion I encourage all free thinkers to search out community whether in your neighborhood, your town, your city or on the internet. You may be able to meet someone who lives down your street, or in your building or at your work place through one of the several on line communities. While searching ‘atheist’ or ‘secular’ on any social network will produce several opportunities I encourage people to visit both Freedom From Religion Foundation at http://www.ffrf.org
or Think Atheist at http://www.thinkatheist.com