An Atheist Ad Campaign—a Holiday Tradition!

Atheist ad campaign asks does god exist

Today, Seattle Atheists launches an ad campaign on local buses.  Twelve buses will carry banner ads with photos of four people in average settings with the tag line, “1 in 4 is an Atheist.”  The campaign runs through early January.

One in four Seattle residents has no god belief—in other words, they are atheists.  Seattleites may not consider that the person who sold them their morning coffee might have been an atheist.  Or the person who drove their bus or repaired their car or did their taxes or treated their illness.  Atheists are their coworkers, their friends, their family.  Whether they realize it or not, they know plenty of atheists.

These are smart people who take pride in their work and love their families and appreciate the great things about America, just like religious people.

The Problem.  While atheists do their part within society, they don’t always get the same consideration in return.  They’re sometimes told, “This is a Christian nation and if you don’t like it, move to Europe.”  Some risk their jobs by revealing who they are, and some risk ostracism and the loss of their family or community.  Some are bullied or discriminated against within schools or by the military.  Seeing this, many atheists remain silent.  Many churchgoers are among these silent atheists.

The political season is a time when atheists are particularly reminded how out of step they are with much of America.  The U.S. House recently passed a resolution to reassure us that, yes, “In God We Trust” is still our national motto.  Governors appeal for prayer to solve problems rather than using the power of their office.  Political candidates often vie with each other to be the most Christian.  When it comes to people we wouldn’t vote for, atheists are at the bottom.

What Atheists Want (and What They Don’t Want).  Many of the fears Christians have about atheists are invented by clergy or politicians.  American already is a secular nation—the Constitution makes this clear—but that’s not a threat to Christians.  Indeed, it’s the best environment for Christians.

Christians can send their children to public school and know that they won’t hear a Bahá’í or Satanist prayer.  Christians can go to a city council meeting and not see “Allahu Akbar” in Arabic script on the wall.  Christians can go into a courtroom and not see a Shinto or Hindu god of jurisprudence glaring down at him.  But while government is constrained in its religious speech, citizens are not, and Christians can still preach or hand out flyers in the public square.  Everyone wins.

Atheists don’t want Christians denied their right to free speech.  When atheists object to preachers recommending political candidates or “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, they don’t want to limit the rights of Christians or get special privileges, they just want equality.

Next Steps.  If you’re an atheist, consider coming out.  Politely make your presence known.  The biggest factor in the American public becoming more tolerant of homosexuals was simply knowing one, and it works the same way for atheists.  But whether or not you feel comfortable making your atheism public, find local atheist or freethought groups and connect with your community.

If you’re a theist, be aware that there are atheists all around you.  These are people just like you, honest and hardworking.  Instead of praying before a meeting, evangelizing in the workplace, or putting a Jesus fish on your web site, consider if actions like these may offend others.  Encourage your friends to speak their mind and be who they are.

James Dobson Needs My Money (and an Education)

Big wad of US currencyJames Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, was good enough to send me a letter a few days ago.  Not a personal letter—he basically just wants me to give him some of my money—but a letter nonetheless.  He outlined some of his views about the Christian foundation our country was built on, reported how our country is going to hell in a jet-propelled handbasket, and made the irresistible swipe at homosexuality.

In case he forgot to send you one, I’ve highlighted a few interesting bits of his letter to reply to.

Our Founding Fathers clearly understood the relationship between Christian Truth and the stability of our (then) new nation. Here are just a few quotes that express that essential connection.

And he goes on to quote mine the founding fathers’ writings to find their most pro-Christian statements.

When pundits bring up quotes from the founders, you know that they’re out of arguments.  The U.S. Constitution is the law of the land, regardless of what the founders thought, wrote, or wanted.  They had their chance to define how the country should be run, and they seized it.  That document was revolutionary at the time and now, with a few amendments, effectively governs us more than two centuries later.  It supersedes the other writings of the founders.

Thomas Jefferson, … revisionists tell us, wanted a “wall of separation” to protect the government from people of faith.

No need for revisionists—Thomas Jefferson himself talked about “a wall of separation between church and state.”  And, to be precise, the First Amendment protects the people (whether or not of faith) from the government, not the other way around.

Dobson then goes on to give a long quote by Abraham Lincoln.  Well, not really by Lincoln.  This was a Senate resolution for a National Fast Day signed by Lincoln.  And this was the same Lincoln who said, “When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad.  That’s my religion.”

This was the same Lincoln who said, “The Bible is not my book, and Christianity is not my religion.”

This was the same Lincoln who said, “My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.”

The private Lincoln wasn’t the strong Christian that Dobson imagines.  (And it wouldn’t change the Constitution if he were.)

We are witnessing an unprecedented campaign to secularize our society and “de-moralize” our institutions from the top down. …  Most forms of prayer have been declared unconstitutional in the nation’s schools. The Ten Commandments have been prohibited on school bulletin boards. …  In this wonderful Land of the Free, we have gagged and bound all of our public officials, our teachers, our elected representatives, and our judges.

Again: read the Constitution.  Prayer should never have been allowed in schools.  Ten Commandments in courthouses or in schools?  Clearly out of step with the Constitution.

I don’t want to see Christian citizens gagged; I want them to have the same public speech rights that I do.  But when you’re acting as a public official, teacher, or elected representative, the rules are different.  The First Amendment demands that you create an unbiased environment.  Evangelism with prayer or religious documents is forbidden.  Dobson somehow finds this a shocking new realization, but the First Amendment was adopted in 1791.

As a secularist, I know when to stop.  I’m only asking that the First Amendment be followed.  I want no Christian preferences—such as “In God We Trust” as the motto, prayers before government meetings, Creationism in schools, crosses on public land, and so on—but when we have that situation, I will stop.  I’m not striving for a society where Christianity is illegal.  (See what a good friend a secular Constitution is for the Christian?)

But I see no stopping point on the other side, no fairly unambiguous standard that Christians are pushing for.  If they got prayer back in schools, what would be next?

Since we have effectively censored their expressions of faith in public life, the predictable is happening: a generation of young people is growing up with very little understanding of the spiritual principles on which our country was founded. And we wonder why so many of them can kill, steal, take drugs, and engage in promiscuous sex with no pangs of conscience.

I wonder what happens when Christianity fades away?  Does that society devolve into the post-apocalyptic Mad Max world that Dobson imagines?

Let’s compare other Western societies to find out.  Looking at quantifiable social metrics (homicides, incarceration, juvenile mortality, STDs, abortions, adolescent pregnancies, marriage duration, income disparity, and so on) in 17 Western countries, a 2009 study concluded: “Of the 25 socioeconomic and environmental indicators, the most theistic and procreationist western nation, the U.S., scores the worst in 14 and by a very large margin in 8, very poorly in 2, average in 4, well or very in 4, and the best in 1.”1

Ouch—religiosity is inversely correlated with social health.  Sorry, Dr. Dobson.

It is breathtaking to see how hostile our government has become to traditional marriage, and how both Democrats and Republicans are increasingly antagonistic to parental rights, Christian training, and the financial underpinnings of family life.

I assume that “hostile … to traditional marriage” refers to same-sex marriage.

Help me understand this.  At a time when Christian traditionalists like Dobson lament the high divorce rate and the acceptability of couples living together and even having children without the benefit of marriage, they dismiss a group that is actually embracing marriage.

Same-sex marriage is a celebration of marriage, not an attack.

The hope of the future is prayer and a spiritual renewal that will sweep the nation. It has happened before, and with concerted prayer, could occur again. …  If we continue down the road we are now traveling, I fear for us all.

Yeah, following the rise in Christian fundamentalism does sound like a worrisome future.  We’ve seen that secular, gay-loving Europe eclipses the U.S. in social metrics.

Candidly, this ministry continues to struggle financially, and our very survival will depend on the generosity of our constituents in the next two months.

Translated: “Give me some money.”

Please pray with us about the future of this ministry.

Translated: “Give me some money.”  (I’ve written before about how prayer requests of this sort admit that prayer is useless.)

I suppose that this kind of lashing out at other people brings in the money.  But it’d be nice to see more credible arguments.

1Gregory Paul, “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions,” Evolutionary Psychology, (2009).  7(3): 416.

Photo credit: 401K

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Do We Really Trust in God?

Do Christians really trust in God, like it says on the money?Is it really true that “In God we trust”?  With what do we trust him?  It might indeed make Christians feel warm and fuzzy to see that motto on U.S. currency, but do they actually believe it?

This was the question recently asked in an excellent article, “In God We (Do Not) Trust.”

Using prayer as a little extra insurance when times are tough is one thing.  But who would pray instead of using evidence-based means?  Who would pray for safe passage across a busy street rather than looking and using good judgment?  Who would pray to fix a car?  Who would pray for healing rather than use a cure proven effective by modern medicine?

That is, who would actually trust that God will take care of important things without some sort of safety net?

Indeed, the government has made clear that that’s not the way things work.  In response to preventable deaths among minors within the Followers of Christ church, a Christian denomination, Oregon recently removed laws protecting parents who rejected medical care for their children in favor of faith healing.

As the article says about faith healing,

It is tantamount to the state saying, “Sure, it looks great on a coin, but come on you idiot, it’s not as though this god stuff actually works.”

For atheists, “In God We Trust” on currency and as the official motto of the United States is one of those pick-your-battles things.  It’s in blatant violation of the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …”), but issues such as injury from faith healing are more important and deserve more attention.

But let’s look for a moment at what we discarded to make room for this motto.  E Pluribus Unum (Latin for “Out of many, one”) was the de facto motto before the adoption of “In God We Trust” in 1956.  That certainly showed those atheist commies which side of the theological fence we were on.  But this came at a price.

One trait that is special about America is that we’re composed of people who came from all over the world to pull in the same direction to make a great country.

Out of Many, One.  Which country would this motto fit better than America?  Out of Many, One—a custom-made inspirational reminder of who we are and where we came from.

And we flushed it down the toilet in favor of “In God We Trust,” a one-size-fits-all poncho that could be worn by a hundred countries.

Photo credit: kevindooley

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