Atheists are often accused of being too outspoken, too militant, to strident. Our mere presence in society offends many people, all of them religious in one way or the other. Our existence is a reminder that the religious worldview is not the only one, that there is some possibility that they might be wrong about their beliefs in the supernatural, which beliefs forms a major component of how they deal with the day to day exigencies of life. We’re simply telling them that their beliefs, their vision of reality, could be wrong. Since there is an underlying current of insecurity in those beliefs, we make them nervous.
Say you strongly believed in leprechauns, but you had never actually seen one. All of your family believed too, and you were brought up from birth to believe that leprechauns could reward you, or make your life miserable as need be, as long as you kept a thriving patch of clover in the back yard. Your family started the clover patch before you were born, but taught you to care for it as you grew. Certain words, special to leprechauns, were to be recited when you tended to the patch, fertilizing and watering it to make sure it didn’t die, even in times of drought. A failed clover patch meant hard times for your family.
But, sometimes you forgot to water it, or feed it, and sometimes the clover got a little brown around the edges. Your family still seemed healthy, no problems there, and you wondered about whether the leprechaun is paying attention. You had doubts. What does he look like? Where does he live when he’s not enjoying your clover patch? Why doesn’t he make himself known to your faithful family?
You begin to understand the insecurity of unbelief. Reality, as you experience it every day, doesn’t seem to comport with your beliefs. At first, it’s easy to convince yourself that your leprechaun belief is true. Your grandfather had told many stories of seeing the leprechaun when he was younger, and some of the amazing things that happened to the family, in ages past, as a result of leprechaun intervention. But Grand-papa died years ago, the old stories are remembered less, and you find more and more inconsistencies between them as you think of them while reinforcing your faltering belief.
As you get older, you notice that a lot of your neighbors don’t have a similar patch in their back yards, and when asked, they scoff at the notion that leprechauns even exist. They seem to be doing OK without a patch like yours in their yard, and in fact, some of them actually seem wealthier and happier than your family. The existence of your unbelieving neighbors makes you uncomfortable, because you know they are wrong, yet way in the back recesses of your mind, you wonder. Could they be right? Why are they doing at least as good as you, yet don’t have to spend all that time tending to a patch of green in their yard?
The point of this somewhat lengthy analogy is that your belief in leprechauns, while having absolutely no grounding in reality, and somewhat delusional to boot, is relatively harmless. It’s a personal belief of yours, and your family, that results at worst in a green spot of nature, well cultivated in your back yard. It does not spill over into society, it causes no harm to your neighbors, and can be characterized as innocuous at its worst. It becomes a center of family unity, and a source of family identification and pride. These are all good things.
Christians say the same thing about their beliefs. To atheists they ask, “What’s it to you?” “Why do you care what I believe”? “Why do you have to make such a big deal about something that brings me comfort?” “My beliefs make me happy; shouldn’t that be enough?”. All good questions.
I would answer by pointing out some facts that perhaps many Christians, in their insular world of belief, don’t realize, or pay little attention to. Facts that have an impact way beyond their backyard patch of clover. Such as:
- A significant percentage of our elected members of Congress, at both the federal and state level, have clover patches in their back yards that they would like to replant in everyone’s back yard, forcing us to spend our time and money cultivating all that clover. Shedding the analogy, these Congress Critters of both parties, but primarily the Republicans, want to shove their religion down everyone’s throats. They consistently and constantly attribute much of the legislation they favor to the word of their god, or some sort of biblical authority. They would have us rewrite the Constitution as a document originally inspired and created in the churches of the Founding Fathers.
- There is a significant portion of the military, especially in the middle level commands, and significantly among the rank and file, that feel that the US armed forces are actually extensions of God’s Army. This is an insidious and threatening development for a military that is in existence to uphold a decidedly secular Constitution.
- There is a large contingent of anti-intellectualism, fueled by religious, primarily Christian, beliefs that butt up against science and technology. The Dover case in York County, PA. George W. Bush’s decision to limit stem cell research. Global warming denial. Humans riding dinosaurs. These all are based on religious beliefs, or are reactions to perceived opposition to those beliefs.
- Women are deemed second class citizens by religious thinking. It’s just not in Muslim societies, but in the US, that women can be called sluts and prostitutes by widely regarded talk show idiots, simply for insisting on equal access to medical insurance for contraception; funding for obstetric and gynecological medical service for the poor and needy are restricted and sometimes cut off, because of religious beliefs; women are forced to have children by people whose religious beliefs demand birth, but then abandon the life created immediately afterwards. Men have none of these problems, and in fact can get medical insurance to pay for their erections with no resulting religious outcry.
These are just a few examples of Creeping Christianity in the secular lives of Americans, and it’s the reason why atheists have become more outspoken and visible in recent years. It’s one thing to privately hold delusional and unsupportable beliefs. It’s another for those beliefs to be forced into public policy and culture over the objections of many Americans who find themselves under religious thumbs. This creeping institutionalization of Christian beliefs is not objected to by moderate Christians, because the beliefs they are based on are too similar to those they hold, and they won’t realize how much their lives have been affected and infected by the policies created by the extreme side of their co-believers, until it is too late. Not until their daughter gets pregnant, or their son is sent to war to kill a Muslim, or their child comes home from school proclaiming the age of the earth as only 6000 years, or that all homos should be killed, will they realize what they have wrought.
It would be irresponsible for anyone who sees what is happening to not speak out, to not become more visible, to not object and ridicule these religious beliefs wherever and whenever they rear their ugly heads in social and political discourse.
We need to keep those clover patches from spreading.