Why is the fastest growing religious demographic in America the non-religious? Why is my generation one of the most godless generations in American history? Is it because the outspoken atheists tend to be eloquent speakers? Possibly. Is it because the secular community is far more organized that the religious community? Hardly. I believe one of the main reasons that atheism/secularism/non-religion is on the rise is because of the traditional intolerance of the mainstream religious right.
The American religious right has never really been a big supporter of tolerance and equality (especially in the southern U.S. and Texas). Whether it be African Americans in the Reconstruction South, immigrants in the early 1900s, to homosexuals and Muslims today, the right has always found some group to blame for America’s problems and its “moral decline”. Now I am not saying that ALL Christians are racist homophobes, but unfortunately the most outspoken in their community have been, and the tolerant ones do nothing to counter their hate speech. Let’s take for example Oklahoma Rep. Sally Kern. This woman embodies why many young people are becoming disenchanted with religion. She is a homophobe and a bigot, calling homosexuals more dangerous to America than terrorists and implying also that all Muslims are terrorists (both of which are patently false). The college and recently post college crowds tend to be very tolerant of other religions and lifestyle choices. They fortunately realize that it’s okay if you’re not a Christian or not straight because you’re still an American and can contribute to society. What the right needs to realize if they hope to remain relevant in society is they need to let the general public know that these crazy, hateful views are not the views of the majority just a Muslims need to do the same with their fringe.
Now as an atheist, I am all for churches losing members to the light of reason, but unfortunately the godless have a certain stereotype attached to themselves too. People tend to think of us as terrible, amoral people who just want to “sin” all the time with no consequences, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. We tend to be the most progressive area of society. We elevate reason and logic to a much higher place than most religions do because it is what should govern our lives. We are the most tolerant because we don’t see homosexuality as bad because it does not hurt anyone, so why shouldn’t these people have the same rights as heterosexual couples. Tolerance and acceptance is why younger people are drawn to secular society. This is the 21st century, we need to leave the old ways of hatred right where they belong, in the history books.
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Atheism is racking up the celebrities. The cool ones, you can keep Kirk Cameron and Mel Gibson.
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I am going to preface this blog post by saying that this is totally my opinion and I’m well aware that many people will not agree with me, but I can live with that.
Recently Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum published a book call Unscientific America. In their book they cover the war on reason that is occurring in America and how we seem to be allowing pseudoscience to have the same standing as actual hard science. I have read Mooney’s last book The Republican War on Science, which I thought was a very good book (though half the book was a big middle finger to Sen. Jim Inhofe) despite the fact that Mooney is a journalist, not a scientist. However, his most recent publication is not doing too well in the science blogosphere. PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, and others have been quite critical of the book because of its pandering to the religious right and its harsh criticism of the “New Atheists” and their effect on the fight against anti-science and pseudoscience. Needless to say the crap has hit the fan.
It has lead to quite the blog war between Mooney and PZ Myers (read here, here, here, here, and here). Now I have not read the book, though it is on the list, and may be slightly biased to agree with the real scientist, but Professor Myers arguments are quite persuasive and Mooney’s rebuttals tend to be quite adolescent. Mooney’s argument is that the New Atheists are hurting the pro-science camp’s efforts to get science back into a prominent place in America. He insists that people like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers should not be attacking religion because it is dividing society into a science camp, and a religious one that views science as the enemy (see his article in Newsweek). What I have gathered from all that I have read is that criticizing religion on scientific grounds should be considered taboo in the scientific community and that the New Atheists are bad. On this point Mr. Mooney and I disagree.
I would say that there is definitely a place for figures like Coyne, Dawkins, Dennet, Myers, Hitchens, etc. Religion is NOT off limits to science. Most major religions claim that their deity in some way interacts with the physical world; this automatically enters he/she/it into the realm of science. If there is interaction between a deity and nature, then it should be observable using the scientific method. Yet whenever such a claim is made, there ends up being a plausible naturalistic explanation for the event. For example, the prayer study that was done recently showed no correlation between the recovery time of sick individuals and whether or not they are prayed for.
The New Atheist has filled a niche that has been left void for some time. They are not scared to challenge religion on the claims that they make and pull no punches when criticizing the ridiculousness of these claims. Some people just need to be shocked in to actually questioning what they believe and why they believe it. I was one of those people. When I picked up Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion I still considered myself an evangelical. But, upon reading the book I began to realize that I had not studied in depth really anything that I believe, so I began to and it took me in a completely different direction. I have heard other stories similar to mine. Some people do not respond to a tap on the shoulder, so they need a punch in the face.
As a bit of a side note. I did read an excerpt chapter from Unscientific America about the reaction to Pluto no longer being a planet. This is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read. So now science is supposed to consult the public on matters of science to make sure they’re okay with it? Science is not a democracy, it is governed by the evidence. Pluto no longer fit the criteria to be considered a full planet, therefore it was taken off the list of planets and given the classification “plutoid”. Science should not care if people get really angry because something is declassified as something. It should only be concerned with communicating to the public why such a change was made. It should NEVER cave to public opinion when it is fully supported by the evidence.
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I figured that I owe most of the people that read this a little bit of background information on me. So I’m going to write a little three blog series of my story, similar to what Dan Barker does at the beginning of his book Godless (which is really good).
I spent the first 18 years of my life living in Little Rock, Arkansas. I lived a fairly normal life. I did not grow up in a single parent home, I had friends, and I was very active in my church for the majority of my life. I was one of those people who was at the church pretty much every time there was something going on at the building. I always went to Sunday school when I was a child. I believed whole heartedly that the bible was the inspired word of god and the entire thing was 100% true and all of the events in it actually happened at some point in history. I always knew my memory verse every week in class. I participated in bible bowl for a few years and memorized the answers to all of the questions, and could probably still answer most of those questions years later.
In junior high through high school I was always very active in my church’s youth group. I was one of the few people my age that remained active during the last couple years of high school. I went on mission trips to Mexico and Jamaica and helped out with service projects in inner city Little Rock every summer. My Christian resume was padded quite well.
I guess where I’m going with this is to answer the possible question that I was never a real Christian. I was a real Christian in every sense of the word. I truly believed everything that the bible and the ministers told me. My view of atheists during this time was that they were some of the worst people in the world. They probably did not believe in god because they wanted to live their lives without rules and without consequences to their actions. I was sure that they knew that there was a god but they must have become angry with him at some point or thought they were better than him, so they were telling themselves that he did not exist.
My worldview was completely different in those days than it is now. I’m ashamed to say that I was a Bush supporter and a staunch Republican, though this was probably because I wasn’t thinking for myself. I was able to somehow rationalize the inherent irrationality of religion and the Christian God. It wasn’t until I went to Oklahoma Christian University that I started to actually delve into rationally studying the claims of Christianity. I still find it a bit ironic that I had to go to a Christian university to become an atheist.
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The term “atheist” seem to still be quite taboo in our modern American society. Surveys show that more people are willing to vote for a homosexual or a Muslim than an atheist. It seems the majority of Americans still think that atheists are incapable of being good people and citizens because of their lack of belief in a god or a religion, which is of course ridiculous. We are your doctors, teachers, businessmen, accountants, scientists, economists, bus drivers, clergy (gasp), scholars, and pretty much any profession you can think of there is probably an atheist among them.
Many of the greatest minds in history were atheists or humanists. Atheists have contributed much to American and world culture, thought, science, and technology. The most obvious group that would have many atheists in it would be scientists. Watson and Crick, Albert Einstein, Freud, Stephen Jay Gould, Ivan Pavlov (and, I assume, his dog), Charles Darwin, and Carl Sagan just to name a few, were all atheists who lead lives of service to mankind.
It is also often said that there are no atheists in foxholes. Yet the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) has a rather large list of past and current military personal who identify themselves as atheists or freethinkers. A person who I believe would surprise most people as non-religious is former NFL player and slain Army Ranger Pat Tillman. Tillman himself said that he was not a religious person, and this sentiment is echoed by his brother. So the next time you think that all atheists are cowardly pacifists know that there are many brave men and women atheists and freethinkers defending your right to vilify them.
Some of our greatest authors in history have been atheists. I would have to say that my favorite is Mark Twain due to his ability to be humorous about being non-religious.
“Go to heaven for the climate, hell for the company.”
He also sums up how most atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and humanists feel about faith:
“Faith is believing something you know ain’t true.”
Twain is just one of many famous godless authors. People like Ernest Hemingway, David Hume, George Orwell, Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw, Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, and Bertrand Russell just to name a few. Some of the greatest literary minds in history have been godless heathens.
One thing that bothers me quite a bit is the recent resurgence of the Christian Nation idea. While it is true that the majority of Americans identify with the Christian faith (though polls show the non-religious are the fastest growing demographic in America), the American government was established as a secular one. The founding fathers realized the dangers of establishing a theocracy because they had escaped one in Europe and were also children of the Enlightenment. They wanted Americans to have the freedom to practice whatever religion they wanted to as long as it did not hurt anyone else. Many of the founding fathers were deists, which means they believed in a god that did not interfere in reality, and freethinkers, and many of them were not big fans of religion:
“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every
“This world would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in
“Religions are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies.”
“Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.”
“All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish,
appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave, and
monopolize power and profit.”
As president John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli to end the Barbary Wars in which Article 11 says:
“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded
upon the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the
laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (Muslims).”
–The Treaty of Tripoli, 1797
We are not a nation ruled by one religion, or any religions at all. This is the best way to maintain a stable state where everyone can be guaranteed equal freedoms and protection of the government because it does not have to hold to the ideals of any specific dogma. The founding fathers knew this, and I hope that America will realize the path we are currently going down will only lead to a theocracy if progressives do not do all they can to halt the process.
I also hope that America will move in a direction where atheists and secular humanists can gain more respect in our society. We are not terrible human beings who want nothing more than to rid the world of your religion, kill your babies, and make your children gay. We just want to maintain our secular government so that you can continue to practice your religion, whatever it may be, and that we remain free to practice our non-belief without fear of losing any of our rights and privileges.
Hell is the most unjust punishment ever conceived. Our time on this planet is finite in length, so therefore, our “crimes” against god are finite in nature. Then why does our punishment last forever for bruising god’s fragile ego? I consider myself to be a good person, and I think many of my friends would agree, though maybe not as many now that I am out as an atheist. I do not hate anyone, even the overly religious, because that is their choice, and as long as they are not thumping bibles in my face, trying to legislate their religion, or hurting anyone, then I’m okay with that. Just don’t try to force me to follow your god or gods. So then why do I, even as a good person, deserve to be tortured for eternity because I did not bow to down to a deity who lends no evidence of his existence? God is in no way a just god if we are to be punished for eternity for a finite crime. We may punish some criminals in the real world by giving them life in prison or ending their lives (though I am very against the death penalty), but these punishments still end at death, it is not an eternal torture.
I also find being told that I am going to hell for my beliefs (or non-beliefs) very offensive. What gives someone else the right to tell me that I deserve eternal torture for now sucking up to the big man in the sky? Especially when I find myself to be a better person than many of the hypocrites I have known who profess to be bible believing Christians. I am not required to dislike and condemn anyone for their lifestyle (homosexuals, etc.), religion (Muslims, Hindus, etc.), or career (abortion doctor, etc.). I find that I have a much more fulfilling, happy life as a humanist.
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I was asked by a friend to write out some reason why I am an agnostic, humanist, skeptic, or whatever you want to call it. I actually can’t believe I had not already done it. I was asked for ten but so many of them run together so I may not make it to that many, but you’ll get an idea. And these are in no particular order.
Reason number one I would have to say would be that there is no proof of the supernatural. It is an inherently untestable hypothesis. Every time someone claims to have evidence of the supernatural, such as ESP, miracle claims, etc, it fails to stand up to even the simplest scientific testing. I will agree that there is a possibility that the supernatural may exist, but if it interacts with reality then there has to be a way of testing its effects. I will concede the supernatural if an event occurs that defies the laws of nature. But it is inherently illogical. Supernatural explanations for phenomenon have historically been used to explain things that do not yet have a rational real explanation. We know now that stories such as the creation myth and Noah’s flood (or Gilgamesh’s flood for that matter) are just that, stories. Simply attempts by the ancients to explain why our world is the way it is, but they have no place in a rational universe.
The bible is also clearly not a historical document, at all. If anything in the Jewish texts actually happened would there not be evidence of it recorded by contemporary civilizations. The Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians kept meticulous records of their civilizations. There is a minute amount of historicity to the bible do to mentions of later kings like Hezekiah, but there is nothing before the Divided Kingdom and nothing at all from the patriarchs, exodus, and judges. If there was a group of millions of people wandering in the Sinai for forty years, they would have left at least some trash. There is also no record of Saul, David, or Solomon. The global flood is clearly a myth because there would be evidence in the strata, and there isn’t. And if the entire planet to the top of Mt. Everest were covered in water, then the atmospheric pressure would have increased so much that Noah and the animals on the ark would have died anyway. The evidence for Jesus is also lacking. The few mentions of him in first century historians like Josephus have been shown to be added in later by the church. If there was a historical Jesus then he was just one of many supposed Messiahs during the Roman period. It just happened that his martyr story was disseminated throughout the empire and survived.
The bible is not a moral compass. Let’s just start with the Jewish part of the bible. The Jewish law that was laid down in the first few books of the Old Testament is simply barbaric. It is completely okay to have slaves, beat those slaves, and to sell your children into slavery. Also many things that aren’t even illegal in civilized society are punishable by death under god’s law. Children who disobeyed their parents in Jewish society could be executed. Now how is that moral or just?
If you asked any typical person in America whether genocide was moral I would hope that the answer would be a strong “No”. Maybe someone should have informed god of that. When his people took over cities he commanded them to kill absolutely everyone in that city (except women, I mean, we need sex slaves) including the children and livestock. He hardened the heart of pharaoh it seems just to prolong the suffering of the Egyptians which just seemed completely unnecessary, and finished it off by killing the first born of every family in Egypt. He had the Israelites on a few occasions kill everyone that worshipped a different god. I’m so glad there aren’t large numbers of Christians that think this is still a command, the same can’t be said for Islam, and thankfully they don’t have quite the resources. Genocide and torture are NEVER moral or called for.
The New Testament is a bit better. But the good teachings in it are simply logical for maintaining a civilized society. The New Testament tends to be very misogynistic. Women are not allowed to speak in the church or teach men. Think of all the lawsuits there would be were this not under the guise of religious tradition now days. And how can we call Jesus one who brought peace when he himself said that he came not to bring peace, but the sword (Matthew 10:34). I just do not see how we can base our morality on the actions of god and the teachings of the bible.