August 28, 2014

Separation of Church and State is a Social Justice Issue

English: Rally for social justice, Beersheba, ...
Rally for social justice, Beersheba, Israel, Aug 13 2001 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We don't usually think of separation of church and state as a social justice issue or regard church-state activism as a form of social justice activism. I think this is because when most of us in the U.S. think about church-state activism, we think about efforts to remove nativity scenes and Ten Commandments monuments from government buildings, return the Pledge of Allegiance to the original pre-god language, remove the god references from our currency, persuade our elected officials to stop offering sectarian prayers to open government meetings, and the like. The connection between these efforts and social justice may not be immediately apparent. And yet, I think it makes sense to think of efforts to defend the separation of church and state as a social justice issue.

The cumulative impact of the sort of church-state violations I mentioned above is that they serve to alienate non-religious persons, assuring that we continue to be marginalized. These violations collectively foster an environment of anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination. When government is not neutral on matters of religion but instead opts to promote god belief in general or Christian beliefs in particular, the non-religious lose out. It isn't just a matter of our government no longer representing us; we receive the message that we are unwanted and even despised. Negative public attitudes toward us are normalized and become socially acceptable. It is bad enough that many of our neighbors hate us; when our government behaves like this, we must begin to worry about things as basic as our safety.

August 27, 2014

The Right to Believe

Nest of the flamingo according to old beliefs
Nest of the flamingo according to old beliefs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We hear quite a bit about one's right to believe certain things these days. I'm not sure why this is such a popular subject. It is almost as if many people are convinced that this right was somehow in jeopardy. But it is not in any jeopardy. None whatsoever. Nobody can take away your right to believe whatever you want. And as far as I can tell, nobody is trying to do so.

We all have the right to believe whatever we want, no matter how wrong we may be. Beliefs, just like all our other thoughts, are our own. They are private unless we decide to make them public. Nobody else can even know what we believe unless we choose to express it.

We do not have the right to express our beliefs without consequence, and we certainly do not have the right to act upon our beliefs without consequence. When someone wears a "god hates fags" t-shirt to a job interview with a politically progressive company, he or she is unlikely to get the job. If I list "atheist activist" under special skills on my resume, I won't get the job. When someone acts on his or her beliefs by shouting racial slurs at persons of color through a megaphone, he or she will probably face some negative consequences for his or her behavior. These consequences are about how one is expressing or acting on one's beliefs and not the beliefs themselves.

August 25, 2014

Is Separation of Church and State Still Relevant?

Mouzinho da Silveira, whose influence during t...
Mouzinho da Silveira, whose influence during the post-War era would result in changes to the economy, the separation of church and state and the reorganization of municipalities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The question contained in the title of this post seems like an odd one to ask, and perhaps it is. I've found myself wondering lately whether most atheists still consider the separation of church and state to be a relevant area for activism and how it ranks among all their other priorities for activism.

Why do I ask? From what I see on the Internet these days, many atheists would rather talk about Ferguson, ice buckets, Gaza, ISIS, transphobia and trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), whatever Richard Dawkins recently said on Twitter, who said what about various bloggers at the Slyme Pit, and a host of other subjects. To be clear, I'm not saying that there isn't still plenty of church-state content out there. Church-state violations are happening daily, and Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist), as just one example, continues to do an outstanding job of covering them. But it seems like I'm seeing less of this content being shared on social media than many of these other topics.

We can certainly have many interests and be involved in activism in multiple areas simultaneously. The fact that many seem captivated by these other topics does not mean that they are uninterested in church-state activism. But since it seems to receive less attention than it used to and less attention than these other subjects, I wonder whether separation of church and state is still as high a priority for most atheists as it once seemed to be.

August 24, 2014

Christians Disregard Jesus to Pray Publicly

Prayer. Conversations with God

 There are many parts of the Christian bible that are somewhat ambiguous, unclear, or inconsistent. This reality is accepted by many Christians. Other parts of the Christian bible seem quite clear. Take Matthew 6:5-7 for example:
5. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

7. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
This passage describes how hypocrites pray in public "that they may be seen" and admonishes the audience not to pray like this. Instead, the audience is encouraged to pray in private. Private prayer is good; public prayer is bad. Seems pretty clear, doesn't it? So why do so many Christians in the United States ignore it and engage in public prayer?

August 21, 2014

Confronting Our Own Hypocrisy and Repudiating Bad Behavior

Hypocrisy at Glasgow Cathouse
Hypocrisy at Glasgow Cathouse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The last of the four suggestions in my Four Things We Can Do To Make More Atheists post was the one that will probably be most controversial. I said that I thought we needed to take a look at ourselves, confront our own hypocrisy, and repudiate bad behavior we see coming from within our community. While I have been trying to do this for some time, I will not pretend that it has been easy or that I am not conflicted over how best to do it.

When we look at religious believers, I have no doubt that most of us find hypocrisy widespread, relevant, and off-putting. I cannot say that hypocrisy made me an atheist; skepticism and lack of evidence did that. I can say that religious hypocrisy helped to shape by attitudes toward religious belief. I have no reason to think that hypocrisy among atheists will not shape attitudes toward atheism. But I am not looking at this primarily as a public relations issue. My main concern is not with how religious believers may view us; I am more concerned with how our hypocrisy limits our effectiveness and our attractiveness to other atheists.

As I wrote previously,
In the last six months, I have met a few atheists online who went so far as to say that they no longer identify themselves as atheists because they do not want to be associated with the garbage they have seen coming from other atheists online.


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