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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately

Those words were spoken by Benjamin Franklin at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In certain situations they are as relevant now as they were when he first uttered them in 1776. If the insurgents hadn’t banded together and organized, England probably would have prosecuted them for treason or sedition and hanged them. I find it ironic looking back at this time in history, when a group of people left a country which was being run by an oppressive religious system and colonized a new land. Years later another group of people decided to cut ties with the country of their origin altogether and demand their independence. Look at the two countries now, England is much more tolerant of religious diversity and atheism than America. We are falling further and further under the boot-heel of religious subjugation. That may sound over-blown but if you think about the laws that we have to live under that were written because of religious dogma it will start to make sense.

I recently read a couple of statistics stating that atheists only account for a tiny fraction of the American population. One poll showed 8% and another one showed only 2%. I believe that there are many more atheists than that here, they just aren’t being represented in the statistics. There are a lot of problems with those statistics, the most obvious is the fear of "outing" yourself and being ostracized and suffering discrimination from family, friends, school, work and government. Many times atheists opinions are completely disregarded because they are such an unpopular minority. Politicians ignore them at best or, like George Bush, Sr., don’t even think we should be considered citizens at all, much less patriotic citizens. When Fox News had Blair Scott, Communications Director for American Atheists, on one of their news shows Fox’s Facebook page was flooded with comments ranging from seething hatred to death threats against all atheists. If this had been any other group that these threats were made against, I’m sure that more action would have been taken. It would have been demanded.

Where's the love?

The problem is that, by their very nature, atheists tend to be independent individualists who don’t engage in ‘group-think’, instead they tend to think for themselves and don’t follow any set doctrine that defines how they should think and act. Besides, when left alone atheists don’t really have much of an agenda to push. Organizing atheists is like herding cats. There are atheist organizations out there but think of how many there would be if the same percentage of atheists were joiners as religious followers are. In most of the cities I’ve lived in you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting some sort of place of worship (I am not condoning throwing rocks at places of worship).

When religious people set out to find a denomination or church to attend they want to find one that is comfortable to them and one that fits their style of worship. They wind up in congregations of like-minded people that form a frame-work of communal ideologies. Even though different Christian denominations don’t agree with each other about doctrine they still all consider themselves Christians. So they have a network of organized political clout which they use to lobby for their agendas. Not to mention the fact that they take in a huge amount of money; religion is big business and it’s pretty common knowledge that in business and politics money equals power. Does everyone know where to find a meeting of atheists in their hometown? I don’t, and besides, unless there was a specific issue that they were trying to address and possibly take action on, what would they talk about? They don’t take part in ceremonial abracadabra, they don’t eat symbolic wafers, they don’t feel the need to chant incantations at an archaic symbol, they don’t need to face Mecca five times a day, they don’t need a weekly affirmation of their faith (or lack of), they don’t believe that you can go and whisper to some guy in a closet so that he can administer a penance and absolve you of your sins, and most of them certainly don’t want some spokesman up there condemning whatever transgressions they may have commited and threatening them with eternal damnation.

Wait...what happened?

When groups of atheists do form any sort of support group or a coalition to address some issue they are met with derision and sometimes violence like the example mentioned above. So, where is the incentive to be outspoken about not believing in a god and subjecting yourself and your family to these real dangers? The incentive is that religious lobbyists go and whisper in the ears of lawmakers and promise them votes and money or threaten to withhold these same temptations to get their programs written into laws, laws which effect all of us, religious or not. Most of these programs seem to be benign, but consider the implications of outlawing stem cell research because of religious beliefs; Is it fair to everyone? Is it preventing what could very well be important advances in medicine? Politicians run like whipped dogs from the threat of losing the support of the religious majority and with good reason, the religious are a majority and they are a threat to individual rights. So what is to be done? It was through long and hard-fought battles that women won their rights (some of which are currently being threatened by the Religious Right), ethnic groups won their rights, homosexuals are still fighting to win their rights (more of which are currently being threatened by the Religious Right) and atheists are far below all those groups in the hierarchy and probably will be as long as they remain unorganized individuals who want nothing more than to be allowed to live a quiet life without being ram-fed someone’s religious beliefs. Any politician who shows enough backbone to come out as a progressive thinker on unpopular subjects like marijuana legalization, gay rights or religious pressure may as well stay home. America is a country made up mostly of people who follow some sort of religious dogma. They all seem to be somewhat tolerant of each other, which I find interesting. It probably comes from that old truckload of rubbish that we’ve all heard, “It’s all the same god. Different people just call him by different names.” But to show any tolerance towards an atheist seems to be a hard pill for them to swallow. They would rather share space with someone of a different religion whose beliefs are completely contrary to their own rather than share space with someone who doesn’t have a religion at all.


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