Monday, May 21, 2007

Militant Atheism?

I read a review of Christopher Hitchen's new book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. The author was a little put off by the militancy of this era's atheists: Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens were all mentioned by name. I'm almost convinced, though, that in today's climate, just being an atheist is considered militant.

I'm not a militant atheist. I consider myself a kinder, gentler atheist, something like Mother Theresa without the orphanage or the Roman catholic church, or Martin Luther King, Jr. without the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. By that, I mean I espouse worthy ideals, work for needed social change, but don't wrap it up in a religious blanket. I'm convinced we can be human without reflecting on the spiritual or religious failings of our fellow brothers and sisters.

Which brings me to the point that the real focus should be on the social failings of a society that accepts flawed religious thinking and teachings about poverty, sexuality, disease, education, guns, sex, minorities, relationships, military security - in short about nearly every public and private part of our lives. We are not served well by these teachings, nor by the politicians who slavishly cultivate the religious right and the religious middle.

The Founding Fathers had a reason for separating church and state. The movement of the religious into the body politic is dangerous. These are the real militants. Secularism is not the threat; it is religiosity that threatens our Constitution and our state.

If you are a calvinist, maybe you believe that poor people are stuck in their situation. God put them there, and there isn't a whole lot that the poor, or you can do about it. It's God's will.

If you are a Southern Baptist, you're probably appalled by homosexuality or transsexuality, and believe that laws should be on the books prohibiting sodomy, or preventing transgendered people from being protected from hate crimes. (Such legislation only encourages transsexuality, and it might interfere with a Christian's "free speech.")

Jerry Falwell once said that AIDS was God's punishment on Gay people. Of course if that argument were extended logically, you could say that birth defects are God's punishment on parents, or some equally offensive, unproven claim.

Of course, if you attend school in Kansas or Dover, PA, you know all about intelligent design cum creationism. Religion does intrude into the classroom, as Judge John E. Jones, III noted in his opinion.

I could go on. But what about the really big issues? Shouldn't we, as a nation, be questioning the morality and the execution of our nation's war in Iraq? Should our nation be supporting Israel because it is a Jewish state, or because it serves some important military and strategic interest in the Middle East? (I hope our support doesn't hinge on the breeding of a red heiffer.) Isn't fixing a broken health insurance system at least as important as the religious right stomping on the marriage rights of millions of gay and lesbian couples? Maybe establishing national priorities that focus on the causes of poverty should have as much room in the national debate as abortion.

The mistake of the poltically religious is that they wish to impose a moral vision on the rest of us, whether we are part of that vision or not. By grabbing and focusing the national debate on moral issues that rightly are for each citizen to decide for himself or herself, the Christian politicos have hijacked the legislative discourse, and have imperiled the traditional separation of church and state.

Militant atheism sounds like a downright healthy alternative.