First, I want to thank you religious/spiritual people who read this blog because, ironically, it has primarily been your emotional support that has enabled me to go ever deeper into what it is about religion—specifically Christianity—that has led me to hate it so much. In enabling me to do this, you have touched me more deeply than you can know. What little regard I have for your religion, I have because of you. I’ve long heard that the journey is just as important as the destination, and this is what I’m feeling right now because of my gratitude for the kindness of my readers.
I’m not looking to bite anyone’s head off—after all, only a very few of you have ever tried to bite my head off—but I have a question that I really would like your thoughts on. I’m going to refer you to two fairly common stories, those of: Jessica and Damon. Pick one or both, and tell me, where are the good religious people when nonbelievers are being abused for standing up for what they believe? By “good,” I mean the ones who: (a) obey the laws regarding religious observances and displays, (b) believe vicious behavior in the name of God is reprehensible, and (c) consider it their duty to defend their religion against those who use it as a weapon to attack science and violate human rights. I’ll tell you in advance what I think, and then you can let me know if I’m close.
I grew up white in Mississippi during the 50s and 60s. My area was notorious for its racial oppression, yet very few of us got up in the morning with a smile on our faces as we anticipated another day oppressing black people. When the Freedom Riders came, it took relatively few racists to burn the crosses, blow-up the churches, murder people, and so forth while the rest of us sat home watching banana-juggling monkeys on The Ed Sullivan Show. So, why didn’t we protest the violence? Two reasons. One was that the Klan scared us too (I mean, hell, they killed people), and the other was that we saw them at a gut level as our protectors against those who were trying to force change upon us—sort of like junkyard dogs, a bit over the top but good boys nonetheless. Because we could neither embrace the Klan nor reject it, we became a silent party to its evil. This is how I see the good people among Christians and Moslems, in particular, today.
Do I feel anger toward you silent believers? Yes, if I think about it, but I mostly think about other things, the things I see in you that I respect. I just wish you could find the courage to do something about the forces that have co-opted your religions. At the very least, you could speak out for people who are persecuted, even when you disagree with them. You could also oppose oppressive laws as well as the governmental neglect of laws that protect people from oppression, and you could write letters to the newspaper reminding other religious people that they claim to worship a God of love rather than a God of spit, threats, slanders, assaults, and vandalism. To outsiders, it appears that the only religious people who have any real influence in this country are the ones who, if they had their way, would swiftly enact punitive laws against all kinds of people, nonbelievers being just one of them.
As for those among you who have your heads so far in the sand as to consider religion a personal matter, I would say that as long as:
churches are harboring molestors;
nonbelievers are being run out of their homes;
children are being threatened with hellfire and disowned by their families;
school science classes are being supplemented with mythology under the pretense of presenting “all sides of the issues”;
school administrators are ignoring the law by distributing Gideon Bibles, putting religious plaques on walls, and holding prayers at ball games, graduations, and other school ceremonies;
and teachers are giving out religious tracts, leading prayers before tests, and assigning Christian specific projects, all in America, and all in the name of Christ, Christianity, at least, is not a personal matter. (In point of fact, I don’t think any religion that’s worth a damn is a personal matter. If your religion/spirituality doesn’t inspire you to act from an advanced level of enlightenment OUT IN THE WORLD, how is it anything more than an indulgence—or an evil?)
You and I are both under assault. You’re just further down the religious right’s hit list than I. Militant Christians interpret your mainstream Protestantism, your Buddhist meditation retreats, your seasonally-based Wiccanism, your New Age centers of spiritual power, your Kumbaya Catholic masses, and your Native American beliefs about animism, as a weakness if not the work of Satan. Your existence depends upon preventing them from obtaining ever more political power, so where are you, and why don’t you speak out? You know that the oppressors don’t represent you. At best, they represent your fear, and, atheist though I am, I must say that fear is most unworthy of you.
If none of what I’ve written rings a bell, and you’re not about to read articles from infidel magazines, then I pity you because your religion is but a comforting escape, and if this is the case, how can you have any confidence that Christ—or whomever—is going to prefer you to me at the Day of Judgment? Do you really think it’s as easy as crying out, “Oh, Lord, forgive me my sins for I accept you as my Savior,” and letting the rest of the Bible go? Is that what you read in II Timothy 3:12, and is that what those first Christians did; you know, the ones who were burned, boiled, stoned, flayed, crucified, mutilated, thrown over cliffs, and eaten by lions? Are you going to stand alongside them someday and tell Christ that you’re his follower too despite the fact that the only thing you ever did to show it was to go to church on Sunday and buy gifts for a poor family at Christmas?
P.S. I spoke the truth in the title of this post. Truly Westbrook knew me better than I knew myself, but he wouldn’t have guessed in a million years what it was that I would someday preach.
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