Dear Religious People of the United States,
It's finally happened. I've actually become really angry, and that takes a lot.
I'm not angry about your beliefs. You are free to devote yourself to any faith you want. I realize that there are atheists who would like to dictate to you what you can believe, who would like to change your mind for you if you're unwilling to change it yourself, but I am not one of those. You will never get any quarrel out of me over how you spend your Sundays (or Saturdays, or whatever day you prefer to worship).
What I am angry about is the fact that the vast majority of you seem content to let narrow-minded bigots and blowhards be your spokespeople. Men and women make statements in public forums that would be (rightly) shouted down if they were generated by any other source than the majority religion; statements that marginalize those who don't share those beliefs, which question the intelligence, patriotism, and (even) the right to citizenship of those who dissent. And hardly a squeak of criticism is voiced.
Let's start with Sally Quinn's piece in the Washington Post, entitled "Romney Captures the God Vote at First Debate." Responding to Governor Romney's statement that all Americans are "children of the same God," Quinn writes, "This is a religious country. Part of claiming your citizenship is
claiming a belief in God, even if you are not Christian.. We’ve got the
Creator in our Declaration of Independence. We’ve got 'In God We Trust'
on our coins. We’ve got 'one nation under God' in our Pledge of
Allegiance. And we say prayers in the Senate and the House of
Representatives to God... Up until now, the idea of being American and believing in God were synonymous."
I beg your pardon?
For one thing, Ms. Quinn, you don't know your history. The addition of "... one nation, under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance occurred in 1954, "to acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon … the
Creator … [and] deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of communism." "In God We Trust" was added to coinage in 1955, and became the official motto of the United States a year later. Yes, the United States has been a majority Christian nation since its founding; but it has been only sixty years since the movement to make Christian belief a sine qua non for being a "real American" began.
Oh, and while we're quoting from US law, documents, and history, Ms.
Quinn, perhaps I should remind you of Article VI, paragraph 3 of the
United States Constitution, wherein it states, "No religious test shall
ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under
the United States."
The deeper problem here is that Quinn and others like her seem unwilling to acknowledge that the face of America is changing. Atheists and agnostics are making up an increasingly large slice of the American citizenry. A poll in 2004 found that 9% of respondents claimed "no religion;" a similar poll in 2008 saw the same demographic jump to 15%. You may not like it, but atheists and agnostics are increasing in strength, numbers, and willingness to speak up against the kind of bigoted nonsense Quinn and others have claimed.
My disavowal of a deity has nothing whatsoever to do with my devotion to my country, its people, or its laws. And it would be nice if some of the religious people in the United States would recognize that fact, and remind the officials they elected that the bully pulpit of American politics should never be used to ramrod religious beliefs (or disbelief, for that matter) down the throats of the American public. It would be damn near a miracle if some of you would tell people like Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) to shut up and sit down. Broun, you may have heard, is the politician who recently told a group of his constituents, "All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big
Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught
that from understanding that they need a savior... What I’ve come to learn is that (the bible) is the manufacturer’s handbook, is
what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives
individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it
teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society.
And that’s the reason as your congressman I hold the holy Bible as being
the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll
continue to do that." [Source]
You know what? I'd do that for you, religious people of America. If one of my fellow atheists started campaigning to have religion outlawed, to have freedom of belief suspended, to have churches closed, I would stand up on your behalf. If one of us said, "You can't be a true American unless you're an atheist," I would shout him down. A politician who stated that 'atheism teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society' would be, in my opinion, unfit for office. No one has the right to tell another person how to settle a matter of conscience, and that includes what higher power, if any, to believe in.
I'm issuing a challenge to you. We have enough divisive hate-speech in this country right now. Partisan politics has become the flavor-of-the-month, and the flames are being fanned by media. It's time for this to end. Religion has no place in government, just as government has no place in religion. Stand up for the commonalities that unite us all -- love of country, support of the rule of law, dedication to freedom of speech and freedom of belief.
Be willing to say, "You know what? The fact that I share your religious beliefs doesn't give you the right to question in my presence the morals, ethics, or patriotism of those who don't."
Be willing to challenge those who have already stopped listening to the likes of me, who have already decided that everything I say "is lies straight from the pit of Hell."
Be willing to stand up for the religious tolerance that the founders of this country wrote into law when they framed the Constitution.
Your silence just makes the fissures that divide this country wider. And it is time for that silence to end.
Gordon (your fellow American citizen)