People ask why atheists care about religion, why, if we don’t believe in god(s), can’t we just go away and leave those who do believe alone? Unfortunately, that question is exactly backward. It isn’t the atheists who are trying to force their views on the believers, it isn’t the atheists who are banging on your door on Sunday morning, trying to share the “rational word”. In fact, it is the believers who are trying to force their beliefs on everyone else.
As we all know, our beliefs inform our actions and when one’s beliefs are irrational and based on wishful thinking, their actions are going to be the same. As such, most atheists, and I must expand that to include skeptics and rationalists, are going to challenge anything which is not based on good, objective evidence, solid reasoning and critically evaluated facts and, whether theists like it or not, this includes religion.
Therefore, I’m going to give you some reasons, in no particular order, why atheists care about religion and why religionists are simply wrong.
Religion shapes the beliefs of adherents, making them much more likely to reject rational science in favor of theistic fantasies. In just one case, for example, US, Republican John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who is the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, maintained in 2009 that we do not have to worry about climate change or environmental disaster because God promised in the Bible not to destroy the world again after Noah’s flood. This is not uncommon amongst evangelical Christians, we see them suggest that not only should we not do anything to avoid ecological damage, but that we ought to purposely cause it because God is our safety system.
Religion, especially Christianity in the United States, causes many politicians to actively attack non-believers. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, just after he was elected, told a church-going crowd that anyone who didn’t accept Jesus as their savior wasn’t part of his family and he wouldn’t represent them. In the courts, judges decide for theists and against atheists regularly, such as the case where a religious teen shoots an atheist teen over a religious argument, yet the judge refuses to impose hate-crime penalties. The religious are automatically given better treatment than the non-religious.
In the same vein, religion advocates irresponsibility. Nothing is ever the fault of the believer. The devil made them do it. Man is inherently sinful. You can get away with almost anything if you ask for forgiveness. Besides, it’s all part of God’s plan anyhow, why bother trying to make things better, you aren’t in control, God is! Religion also encourages meaningless gestures like prayer to actually getting off your ass and helping your fellow man. Why bother making life better for anyone else, God’s in charge and you can’t do anything about it! This is blatantly plain when you look at religiously-oriented 12-step programs, designed to get addicts clean. Inherent in the 12 steps is the admission that the addict is powerless to overcome their own addiction, that only through prayer to some imaginary friend in the sky can sanity be restored. I wouldn’t say, but many courts still forcibly assign drunk drivers to attend such courses, even though studies have shown that they are not any more effective than non-religious, non-spiritual programs.
Atheists and gays cannot be members of the Boy Scouts. Now I wouldn’t say a word if it was a wholly private organization, they are certainly welcome to discriminate against anyone they don’t want to be a member, but the Boy Scouts is at least partially funded by the government, given preferential treatment by the government, they are given inordinate access to public lands for free or minimal fees that are not available to other private organizations. If the government of the United States, which purports to be secular, and by extension the taxpayers of the United States of which I am a member, is going to openly support a group that discriminates on the basis of religion and gender preference, that certainly sends a bad message.
Worse, perhaps, are the religious charities that actually only exist to garner new converts. Groups like the Salvation Army will only give you food or a place to sleep for the night if you listen to a fire-and-brimstone sermon or assert that you are a Christian. They have no interest in helping people, just in enlarging their numbers. Oh, but they want your money, unless you’re gay, then they don’t want a thing to do with you.
It is on the books in seven states that atheists cannot hold public office or testify in court. While in practice, these laws were declared unconstitutional by 1961 the Supreme Court case Torcaso v. Watkins, they have never been erased from the books.
Constitution Of The State Of Arkansas Of 1874.
Article 19. Miscellaneous Provisions. § 1. Atheists disqualified from holding office or testifying as witness.
No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.
Article 37 of the Declaration of Rights of the Maryland Constitution That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.
Massachusetts’ State Constitution PART IV. CRIMES, PUNISHMENTS AND PROCEEDINGS IN CRIMINAL CASES
TITLE I. CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS CHAPTER 272. CRIMES AGAINST CHASTITY, MORALITY, DECENCY AND GOOD ORDER Chapter 272: Section 36. Blasphemy Section 36. Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.
Massachusetts‘ State Constitution, Article 3 “Any every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law: and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law.”
Mississippi State Constitution. No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state. Article 14 (“General Provisions”), Section 265.
North Carolina State Constitution, Article VI, Section 8:
Sec. 8. Disqualifications for office. The following persons shall be disqualified for office:
First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God
Pennsylvania‘s State Constitution, Article 1 Section 4. “No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth.”
The Tennessee Constitution, Article IX, Section 2 No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.
The Texas Constitution, Article I, Section 4: No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.
There are many places in the United States where “blue laws” are still practiced, or have only recently been eliminated. It is unlawful in many areas to purchase alcohol, buy many products or engage in some activities on Sundays because of religious adherence. This affects those who are not religious and do not follow those traditions. A few examples:
Alcohol sales in retail stores was prohibited by the Georgia General Assembly up until April 28, 2011, when Governor Nathan Deal signed legislation which allowed local cities and townships to decide whether or not to allow alcohol sales. In large cities like Atlanta, it’s already been legal. In smaller towns, blue laws still exist.
In Mississippi, sales of alcohol are banned state-wide on Sunday and nearly half the state’s counties ban alcohol altogether.
In New Jersey, cars cannot be sold state-wide on the Sabbath. Paramus in Bergen County, where three of the state’s four major malls are located, has even more restrictive blue laws than the county itself, banning all type of work on Sundays except in grocery stores, restaurants, and other entertainment venues.
North Dakota has some of the most restrictive blue laws still in force. Most businesses are required to be closed between midnight and noon on Sunday. This is an improvement over the pre-1991 law which required all businesses except pharmacies, hospitals, and restaurants to be closed all day Sunday.
Texas car dealerships must be closed either Saturday or Sunday, at the option of the owner, allowing for differing religious beliefs. Alcohol cannot be purchased before noon on Sunday, beer and wine can be purchased through registered distributors thereafter, but spirits and hard liquor can only be sold in Texas through specialized stores which are required to be closed all day Sunday.
Theists seem to think that “Under God” is a part the founding of America. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Constitution does not contain any reference to gods or creators, although many theists seem to think it does. A reference to a creator does appear in the Declaration of Independence, but that document has no bearing on American law. Further, the founding fathers were very clear that the United States was not based on Christianity in any way. George Washington wrote the Treaty of Tripoli, which while mostly a general-purpose treaty, it begins with the following:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
Which brings us to our next point, the founding fathers simply were not Christians, as many theists would like to believe. Certainly some did believe but they were generally very critical of Christianity.
John Addams: “As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?” — Letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816 “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved– the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!” — Letter to Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson: “The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs.” — Letter to James Smith, December 8, 1822″And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. — Jefferson’s letter to John Adams, April 11 1823 “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced an inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.” — “Notes on Virginia” “Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear. — Letter to Peter Carr, Aug. 10, 1787 George Washington: Historian Barry Schwartz writes: “George Washington’s practice of Christianity was limited and superficial because he was not himself a Christian… He repeatedly declined the church’s sacraments. Never did he take communion, and when his wife, Martha, did, he waited for her outside the sanctuary… Even on his deathbed, Washington asked for no ritual, uttered no prayer to Christ, and expressed no wish to be attended by His representative.” [New York Press, 1987, pp. 174-175] Paul F. Boller states in is anthology on Washington: “There is no mention of Jesus Christ anywhere in his extensive correspondence.” [Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963, pp. 14-15] Benjamin Franklin: “If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. They found it wrong in Bishops, but fell into the practice themselves both here (England) and in New England.””The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”– Poor Richard’s Almanac “It is much to be lamented that a man of Franklin’s general good character and great influence should have been an unbeliever in Christianity, and also have done as much as he did to make others unbelievers” (Priestley’s Autobiography) Thomas Paine: “The New Testament, they tell us, is founded upon the prophecies of the Old; if so, it must follow the fate of its foundation.””What is it the New Testament teaches us? To believe that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married; and the belief of this debauchery is called faith.””I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any Church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.” “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”
Sticking with that train of thought, Christians seem to think that “In God We Trust” has always been on our money. Nothing could be further from the truth. The phrase was only added to our paper currency in 1957 at the height of the McCarthy era, when it was foolishly believed you could combat the evil commies because they wouldn’t touch money that mentioned God on it. At about the same time, in 1954, the phrase “under God” was forcibly added to the Pledge of Allegiance, under pressure by Eisenhower’s pastor, George MacPherson Docherty, although this idea had been going on for more than a decade in smaller venues, such as the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. It was first suggested for national change by the Knights of Columbus in 1951, for largely the same reasons as the change in the paper currency. You had religiously motivated groups which wanted to stand out from the “godless commies” by waving their religion around like a flag. This is, however, a secular nation, as we’ve already demonstrated, it has no place whatsoever in official United States sponsored currency or pledges.
Religion has been used, quite regularly in fact, as an excuse to commit horrendous murder and torture upon humanity. In fact, that’s why I write about the Religious Horror Show. These are cruelties that simply could not have been perpetuated except in the presence of the religious mindset. Take way religion, there is no reasonable justification for the crime. However, I could not possibly record all of the atrocities perpetuated in the name of religion if I wrote about nothing else, a dozen times a day, 365 times a year, there are too many horrors to be imagined, I can only touch on a minuscule sample. While Islam is perhaps the most visible and active butcher of the modern day, we can’t forget that Christianity is also well represented with churches, most notably the Catholic Church, openly allowing child molestation and protecting molesters from prosecution, fundamentalist groups refusing medical treatment for children, thus turning a simple ailment into a life-ending condition, etc. There really are no religions out there that are not guilty at some level for engaging in terrible crimes against humanity, even the Buddhists get into fights with other competing religious orders. I suppose I can let the Jainists off the hook, I have yet to see a news story where a Jainist screwed a little kid or flew a plane into a building.
Religion stifles scientific advancement and education. We can look throughout history to see that this isn’t a new thing, who knows where human civilization might be today if we didn’t have religion holding us back. Oh sure, you can say that religion founded libraries and universities, but these were not places for the common man to learn about the world around him, these were places for the pious to learn more about their religion. It was only once universities threw off the weight of religion that they became institutions of learning. Today, religion gets in the way of the most promising scientific advancements such as stem cell research. It tries to force itself into public school classrooms with the ignorant rejection of evolution. Large states like Texas, where religion is rampant and the school board is absurdly religious, try desperately to get textbook manufacturers to re-write the textbooks to reflect their religious beliefs. Because of the way textbooks are produced, a religious change in Texas can result in religious textbooks forced on children in all states. The Catholic Church, in particular, has been instrumental over the years in condemning poor people in Africa to death by demanding that Christians cannot use condoms, even to avoid disease. With AIDs rampant in Africa, this ridiculous religious doctrine has killed many, but the Catholics just don’t care.
Religion obstructs rational thought and critical evaluation of it’s premises, it demands a double standard for it’s own teachings and beliefs. Whereas believers might be perfectly rational with most elements of daily life, when it comes to their religion, they throw rationality out the window and embrace an emotionally-comforting belief system for which they can provide no objective evidence or critically evaluated justification. Whenever this is pointed out to them, they scream “you’re picking on me!” Or “you’re being intolerant!” In fact, we’re not, we’re just holding your beliefs to the same standards as we hold everything else and discovering that the beliefs of the theists simply do not hold up.
Religion encourages an “us vs. them” mentality, where “us” is the people who follow their particular creed as they see it and “them” is everyone else. Everyone who doesn’t fit within their particular religious paradigm is inherently inferior and needs to be “saved”. Historically, Christianity was at the forefront of supporting slavery, racism, sexism and inequality in all of it’s forms in America. In many examples with Muslims, they kill the infidels, they take their own personal offense, say over drawings of Mohammed, and turn it into violence, while claiming to be the religion of peace. It’s certainly not limited to Muslims though, fundamentalist Christians have murdered gays and abortion doctors as well as those of other religions, for no other reason than because they follow a different imaginary friend.
Honestly, it should come as no surprise why atheists speak out against religion when you consider how damaging religion is to our world, to our society and to ourselves. We have every right to speak out, in fact, reality demands that we must speak out if we value equality for all. We don’t limit our disagreement to religion, but to bad beliefs, absurd faith and ridiculous claims of all stripes. We want a better world, we live here, we should not have to put up with the constant attacks on our disbelief or the continual lopsided benefits given to religion, simply because they can point to a big bad mob boss in the sky.
It’s everyone’s world and if we’re all going to live together, we need to all make it a better place to be and the one way it is not going to get better is by allowing the religious, which have run rampant and killed millions, destroyed rational science, indoctrinated kids with lies and think God is going to save us all, to continue to run the show.