Just when I was about to end my "war on religion"...

...I got the following email from my friend, Christine, regarding my last post, and knew I would have to fire a final salvo. I will first share her letter, and then I will share my comments, which, like my last post, primarily concern Christianity.

"You know, Snow, you take a rather cynical AND egotistical stance against those of us who practice spirituality. Yes, of course there are the loudmouth religious rights who preach fire and brimstone. But you don’t seem to consider that the problem isn't the religion(s), it's the people who have opinions on religion - for AND against. That’s all. Philosophers write about their philosophical views and how those views can guide your life, your actions. Perhaps you wouldn’t be as offended by religion if you could take the ‘god aspect’ out of it. Many feel that god-is-love / love-is-universal / we-are-the-universe. When I say to you, ‘I will pray for you,’ I mean that I’m extending my own positive energy toward you. You KNOW without a doubt that you get something from that, from moral support. That’s all prayer is.

"To paint god and believers with such a broad-brush stroke is arrogant and narrow, in my opinion. It’s not god I’m defending here. What I’m defending is the right of individuals to practice philosophy. You’re all for religious freedom, but when you criticize and condemn those beliefs, you’re no better than the embittered evangelicals who give organized religion such a bad name.

"Might you consider using your talent and energy on reading up about philosophies that are more suited to your situation/personality/etc? Might you consider letting go your debate and contention with god/religion, so that you can find a philosophical relationship that works FOR you?"

To begin, I don’t think Christine meant to insult me even though I found some of what she said insulting. Likewise, I have no desire to insult her. As far as I am aware, she and I are, and will remain, on the best of terms despite our differences.

I was struck by the fact that Christine didn’t address any of the points I raised; she simply labeled me as “arrogant and narrow” for making them. In fact, NONE of the supporters of religion who read my post addressed any of the points I made, so let me make myself clear: if you think I made a rational or factual error, show me my error. However, I cannot accept your personal experience of answered prayer as proof of anything.

If you think this is unfair, please consider how you would feel if I told you I had seen the Loch Ness monster. Would you believe that the Loch Ness monster existed based upon my testimony, or even the testimonies of a thousand other people? Why not? Because for a thousand people to see something that extraordinary is a different matter from a thousand people seeing something relatively commonplace. As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The corollary to this is that ordinary claims—like a report of a squirrel eating a nut—can be held to a lower standard of proof than claims about preternatural entities acting in defiance of scientific laws.

“... the problem isn’t the religion(s), it’s the people who have opinions on religion—for AND against.”

Show me the charred bodies of Christians who were murdered in the name of atheism; tell me of the Christians you know who were fired from their jobs, chased from their communities, expelled from their schools, threatened with violence, or otherwise persecuted in the name of non-belief. Then I will tell you of the times I have been cursed, threatened, ridiculed, stared at hatefully, subjected to obscene gestures, dismissed from jury duty, and even struck on the back of the head by Christians. Why? Because I wrote letters to newspapers, attended atheist conventions, rode with friends who had atheist bumper stickers on their cars, and refused to stand while a government employee led a Christian prayer inside a government building.

Thirty years ago, I was non-resident editor of American Atheist, and I had the honor of its president, Madalyn Murray O’Hair (see photo), asking that I call her Grandma. I mention this to demonstrate that I have been on the inside of the most militant atheist organization in America without ever once hearing any member of that organization—or any similar organization—propose that any law should be made that would limit the private exercise of religion, yet I have heard Christians say that atheists are “too dangerous to the American way of life to be permitted to spout their vile heresies,” and I have heard President George H. Bush say: “I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” So, I ask you again—when you equate those who criticize religion with those who support religion, show me the evidence.

“You’re all for religious freedom, but when you criticize and condemn those beliefs, you’re no better than the embittered evangelicals.”

You might as well compare a gnat to a cobra. Can you point to a single place or period in the history of Christianity (modern day evangelicals included) in which religious people hesitated to pass laws to oppress nonbelievers? By contrast, what oppressive laws do you see me promoting—or fear I will promote? My sole desire in writing my last post was to offer a rational critique of prayer. However, I must confess that I would also like to see churches taxed, and for any and all observances of religion to be removed from taxpayer funded schools, ceremonies, and institutions. This is ALL I would like to see happen. I would NEVER tear down a church, deny a believer a job, throw a person in jail for professing his faith, forbid a preacher access to the media, or give anyone a religious test for public office. I don’t even care if the Boy Scouts expel atheists just so long as the Boy Scouts are not endorsed or supported by the government.

I object to religion because it is an oppressive and irrational influence in society. Yet, I acknowledge the right of religious people to be religious just as I acknowledge the right of those who believe in UFOs to believe in UFOs. BUT, if people who believe in UFOs should attempt to legally force the recognition of UFOs—or the beliefs that stem from their belief in UFOs—on other people, I would oppose them. Religious people in general believe that God should be on our coins, in our Pledge of Allegiance, in our public ceremonies, on our public buildings, in our public schools (and even our public textbooks), at our public sporting events, and in our moral laws. Theirs is not a live and let live policy. Theirs is a policy of forcing their religion-based values on everyone else and then accusing anyone who objects of being intolerant and unpatriotic. As you will no doubt point out, I generalize, but I believe that mine is a fair characterization of the majority of American Christians.

“Might you consider letting go your debate and contention with god/religion…”

Aside from an occasional blogpost, I do not spend a moment of my time opposing religion, yet I see it as a force worthy of opposition. You believe Christianity, for the most part, is a harmless, if not a benevolent, “philosophy.” I would argue that the fact that Christians haven’t killed or imprisoned anybody lately (aside from an occasional abortion provider) in no way convinces me that millions of them wouldn’t gladly do so again. It is not Christianity’s innate goodness that is responsible for its relative innocuousness but its political weakness. And that could change. There was a time, after all, when Islam was known for its peaceful coexistence and Christianity for its intolerant cruelty. Having swung once, who can say that the pendulum won’t swing again?

Pat Robertson said of Haiti after last week’s earthquake that the country, “had been cursed by one thing after another” since they “swore a pact to the devil.” If America’s foremost religious leader can scarcely contain his glee following natural disasters, which he invariably sees as God’s punishment of sinners and nonbelievers (along with millions of innocent bystanders), is it inconceivable that he might entertain a desire to act as God’s right hand in meting out the torment? Now, multiply that one hate-monger by millions, and tell me that they are the moral equals of those who goal it is to minimize the impact of just such thinking in the political life of this country.