And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.… error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.… I deem the essential principles of our government.… Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; … freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected.
— Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801
“As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?” -John Adams, letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816
“The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole cartloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity.” -John Adams
“The Bible is not my book, nor Christianity my profession.”
-Spoken by Abraham Lincoln, quoted by Joseph Lewis
“Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by the difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be depreciated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.”
-George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, 1792
“. . . Some books against Deism fell into my hands. . . It happened that they wrought an effect on my quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.” Benjamin Franklin
Tolerance. For three years now I have been an atheist, after over 35 years of being a born again Christian. What have I had to learn like I never had to learn before? Tolerance.
When I was a Christian I thought nothing of not only proclaiming what I believed, but arguing about it, vehemently, sometimes even rudely. Everyone else’s beliefs were wrong and mine were right. And often I had other people back me up on it too, because mine was the acceptable, popular opinion. I was indignant if anyone disagreed. I couldn’t remotely entertain the thought that I might be wrong, or that my mother could be wrong, or her mother, or the church leaders I had grown up listening to and believing every word. And the BIBLE! The unblemished Word of God. His might–at my fingertips if only I believed hard enough. The “good book” that Christians arm themselves with in defense against Satan.
I remember as a child I had cards in a box and each card had a bible verse on it. I would memorize the card, and once I did, I’d put it aside and then memorize the next. Until I could say one verse after the next correctly, and in order. I did this because the church I went to preached that Satan is repelled by bible verses. So I learned them. And they sounded right to my young ears.
And of course they did. They were cherry picked for the impressionable young. There was none of the darker verses found throughout the bible. Nothing about burning witches or about women being forbidden to speak or ask questions in church, etc.
At bible camp we sang our songs over and over, both morning and night, celebrating, among other things, having been “washed in the blood” or being “under the blood”–(a hold-over from the blood baptisms of pagan Mithraism Christianity replaced–where followers stood under a grate while above them a bull was sacrificed.). To this day I can sing every song we sang then–I remember every single word. Because that is part of belief. It starts out as an idea. It is repeated in verse and in song. It is memorized. It takes root inside your head –becomes a way of thinking and habit…until you forget when it started or where it came from. That’s when you accept it’s always been, and it is true, absolutely true, so true that everyone should know! Or so I thought. Someone at some time must have done their research to prove it’s all true–so I didn’t have to–again, or so I presumed. I just…accepted that the bible was history, and the tales in it–about real people. But really, were they? Did people like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John… actually exist? Jesus too? No one seemed to question it in my little bible-camp world. I never heard anyone at my church or at that camp question if these characters in this book ever lived at all? No one asks this. No one asks WHO exactly wrote the bible, or why, or who hired them to write it? For what purpose? What was the agenda?
As a Christian the religious holidays were wonderful. Filled with fellowship and wonder and reverence and even hope of the promise the birth represents, and the sacrifice on the cross represents. I walked around with a cross around my neck. I was never a bible thumper but I was a Christian and I loved getting the warm and fuzzy Christian spam emails I got, and if anyone asked me oh sure, then I’d talk about my faith because then I knew it was safe. Here was someone who would agree with everything or most everything I did. I could talk and they’d nod their head and then they’d talk and further feed my belief, strengthen my delusion that this whole thing really is true.
If i ever came across a Jewish person, or atheist or anyone who was obviously not a believer, like someone wearing a turban or veil, oooh, I’d feel indignant inside. I wouldn’t want to start up a conversation with them because…well, two reasons. One, what did they know? They were the lost. The unsaved. The ignorant. And two…they might know more about their religion or beliefs than I knew about mine and I didn’t want my precious beliefs I hadn’t bothered to research, threatened in any way! I didn’t want to look foolish, or have to be put on the defensive or hear the painful words said that MY beliefs are not true! I didn’t want to be insulted by hearing someone say my Heavenly Father doesn’t exist or his Son who DIED for my sins…doesn’t exist! That kind of thing offended me, angered me, deeply upset me. So I avoided talking religion to these people–and in fact avoided people like this completely. I even avoided reading any books or articles by non-Christians which might challenge or put into doubt for me, my “faith.” I didn’t want to doubt, or question. I wanted to be like a little child as the bible commands, and blindly BELIEVE without question as good Christians do.
That was then. Fast forward to now and I am an atheist. Suddenly I notice how often people talk about their beliefs as if they think everyone agrees with them. Suddenly people are making a big deal about whether our current President is a Christian or not–while I’m thinking, what difference does THAT make when most of our founding fathers were not!
Learning to not defend my new non-beliefs has been difficult, because I grew up quick to get indignant and angry and upset any time anyone attacked my Christian beliefs. But to defend my new beliefs as a secular person who doesn’t believe…that’s wrong. That’s offensive to the majority–to all those Christians who, just like it once offended me, get angry and upset and take it personally when they hear anything contradictory or like an outright challenge to their beliefs. So really, it’s ok for Christians to broadcast what they think and believe and why. That’s called witnessing. It’s trying to spread the good news. It’s a wholesome, happy message of hope. A positive message. So it’s okay because since it’s so positive, how can it possibly offend anyone? Right?
Well, it does! I didn’t realize it’s a two way street, not just a one way street, until I found myself at an intersection and changing directions. It IS a two way street and believe it or not, people who don’t believe in Christianity or the Christian god do still feel all the same burning passions inside them for whatever it is they do believe, be it belief in another religion, or belief in science, in evolution, in preserving the balance of nature, of being humane to each other and to animals. Whatever the belief, it is close to the believer’s heart.
So when we have Conservative Republicans fighting to be nominated, and they’re busy vocalizing about how America is a Christian nation…which it isn’t and never has been…it basically says to all the rest of us who are not Christian, get the hell out, you aren’t wanted here.
There’s a Reason Rally on March 24th, 2012–a coming out celebration for Secularism. Why? Really, why? What do people who don’t believe in God have to defend? To cry foul over? To get indignant about?
How about the fact this is our country too? And we love our country too? And we aren’t deceived by the bullshit they’re feeding the mainstream that this country was founded by Christians–when we know perfectly well it was not. This is our country too, and yet can a secular person, someone who does not believe in god or gods, have any hope of running for President? No. And how come that is? Since when has the word “Christian” become the replacement word for words like wholesome, kind, compassionate, honest, ethical, caring, fair, gentle, forgiving, merciful, loving or good?
For a very long time people with no beliefs have felt no need to speak out. For a very long time atheists and agnostics and pagans and heathens or whatever else you want to call us–infidels–whatever, have held our tongues and allowed the religious to walk all over those of us who don’t believe. To silently smile and meekly try to change the subject rather than disagree and risk hurting someone’s feelings or upsetting someone. But now we have the Religious Right trying to tell all of us that we are all of us Christians, and their puritan ideas of what is right and wrong, should be accepted by us all! We’re back to that old song and dance again about how women should have babies if they get pregnant, whether or not they want to, and women should not have insurance coverage for birth control–which of course will mean so many more unwanted babies coming into the world with parents who can’t afford them.
I think it’s time to speak out. I think it’s time that the secular population join together and protest our right to not believe, our right to not have to be silent just because our opinion is the less accepted, minority one, our right to not be governed by doctrine that seeks to keep our society in the dark ages, women under the dominion of men, and further allow our planet’s overpopulation crisis to multiply.
In my view such religious doctrine that abortion is murder (which the bible does not say, by the way), and the people or organizations like the Religious Right who seek to make war against women and take away their rights over their own futures–their own bodies, are one of the main reasons why why our planet’s environment is so out of whack now–why we have too many people and not enough food–and why we have killer storms in parts of the world where they have never been before.
So it’s not just for the sake of our pride, and our desire to be counted as patriotic Americans too. Nor is it just for the purpose of defending/preserving our human rights. It’s for the sake of our planet, and for the sake of the advancement of science and understanding–the only weapons we have to defend ourselves, against ourselves.