If you don't believe in God, then "Sit Down and SHUT UP!!!"

Peggy’s cousin, Lynn, is a practicing Catholics and the mother of a serviceman who recently returned from Afghanistan. She often forwards ultra-conservative e-mails to me. I don’t like getting these emails because they argue from authority or pander to emotion, yet I don’t want to offend Lynn by asking her to not send them. Instead, I try to dialogue with her. Perhaps, my belief that I am her intellectual superior shows and discourages her from responding, or maybe she is like most people and simply wants to have her beliefs affirmed rather than challenged. In any event, my attempts at communication don’t appear useful.

I will only share the conclusion of Lynn’s last email. Preceding the conclusion was a list of public buildings on which the Ten Commandments are inscribed, quotations by three of the Founding Fathers in support of religion, a mention of religious references on money and in the Pledge of Allegiance, and a reference to the fact that Congress pays someone to open each session with prayer. Following Lynn’s conclusion is my response. Before I wrote it, I asked her if she would be willing to dialogue, and she implied that she would. A month has passed, and I haven’t heard from her.

…“It is said that 86% of Americans believe in God. Therefore, it is very hard to understand why there is such a mess about having the Ten Commandments on display or ‘In God We Trust’ on our money and having God in the Pledge of Allegiance. Why don't we just tell the other 14% to Sit Down and SHUT UP!!!”

Dear Lynn,

The conclusion of the argument you offer is that, on this issue at least, people who hold a minority opinion should “Sit Down and SHUT UP!!!” in deference to the majority. To begin with, did all those Americans who died for freedom of speech only die so that the majority could speak freely? Would not such a belief abolish any concept of equality before the law? And how about those Christians who were in the minority in their own eras and areas, do you believe they too should have kept silent in deference to the majority? If they had, how would you have Christianity?

Indeed, how could society advance if no one dared oppose the majority? The majority of Americans once supported slavery and the theft of Indian lands. More recently, the majority of Americans opposed equality for women and black people. By the free exchange of ideas, people can grow; without such freedom, society stagnates. Such was the situation in the Dark Ages, and such is it today in many Moslem lands.

You can pull out many quotes to support religion, but quotes can be pulled out to support pretty much any view. For instance, Jefferson also wrote, “In every country and every age, the priest had been hostile to Liberty.” What matters is not what any given individual said, but what the founding documents say. Even so, I would be astounded if you can point to any quotes by any of these men to support your belief that the minority should “Sit Down and SHUT UP!!!” Most of our forbearers opposed the American Revolution, and this can only mean that the war that won our independence was conducted by the minority.

Last, but certainly not least, what do you propose to do with those in the minority who insist on speaking after they’ve been told to “Sit Down and SHUT UP!!!”? It is only by the visible presence of dissent that we know our democracy is working.