Notable Quotable:

Notable Quotable:

Remember, folks: whenever a woman says "die for me because you are a man," just look her in the eye and say "my body, my choice."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What I Should Have Said

A few weeks back, Weer'd put up an interesting post about the 9/11 memorial. I chewed on it for a while, then I got sick, so I didn't write down my thoughts. His focus was on the cross-shaped bit of rebar from the rubble, and that the American Atheists organization was protesting its inclusion, because it's a religious symbol. There followed a discussion about the constitution and religion. Feel free to read it; Weer'd's pretty cool, and I identify with him as a former liberal and gun enthusiast.

I really like this point:
“Still as a former Atheist I gotta wonder what the big deal is. Sure I get upset if somebody gets up in my grill or actively judges me (I’m most impressed with the people who pray for me simply because I don’t subscribe to their theology) for not believing what they believe, or when I see them supporting bashing of other ideologies or lifestyles, or if they’re “praying away the gay” or forcing your kids in public school to Memorize the Ten Commandments in social studies, or study the Book of Genesis as an alternative to Darwinian Evolution.
Still thinking you can go through life not believing in a higher power and be insulated from religious icons, relics, or seeing religious ceremonies or practices isn’t very realistic.”

My first thought is about the Constitution. I don't know the history of case law on the topic, but logic tells me that acknowledging religion is not the same as establishing a state religion. And if it's a slippery slope, well, there's another slope on the other side of the same hill: refusing to acknowledge religion as banning religion. It's all a matter of degree, isn't it?

The thing that really got me though, Weer'd's last statement:

"...Grow up and get over yourself. Not believing in these things SHOULD mean they don’t have any power over you!”

Isn't rational thinking the hallmark of most Atheism? The Atheists I know are generally very intelligent and logical. So why are they bothered by the inclusion of religious symbols in a government-sponsored event? Especially in this case, where the “cross” is literally a found object, rubble, not a commissioned piece? I think there are some vocal Atheists who are being very subjective in their protests against something as subjective as religion.

Among the comments was this: “... there are a number of things people *don’t* believe in and don’t attach labels to them for doing so… If you want to believe that it is faith that unicorns don’t exist.. you are entitled to your opinion. Could I be wrong in thinking they don’t? Sure.. but I’ll keep not believing in unicorns.”

This was, of course in response to my insistence that technically, Atheism is a matter of faith, a belief without proof. ( And yes, I understand that Atheism is as broad as deism; there is no single “doctrine.”) Naturally, being me, trying to hold my own among some very smart people, it took me days to figure out the point I was trying to pursue. Hence, my title.

Here's the thing. If a “meaningful” symbol has no meaning for you, why would you object to it? A devout Christian chooses to give meaning and importance to his beliefs. Objectively however, his faith has no inherent meaning; it is a personal belief. Period. So why do many Atheists also choose to give meaning to the faith of Christians? I've heard a few Atheists say, “I don't believe in God the same way I don't believe in unicorns.” In many cases, I think that's untrue. I think many Atheists “don't believe in God,” with a great deal more emotion than they “don't believe in unicorns.” Where did their empirical objectivity go?

Some people DO believe in unicorns (and some of them are actually adults.) How many Atheists protest the unicorn in a sculpture at the Old State House in Boston? Some people believe that Pan is a real deity, and there is a sculpture of him in the Capitol building. Any protesters? There are fifty silhouettes of pentagrams on the United States flag. *crickets.* These are all, quite literally, religious symbols sponsored by the government. My theory: these are symbols of minor religions, unimportant ones. Unimportant to those who don't follow them, but very important to those who do. So groups like American Atheists object only to symbols of big powerful religions, religions followed (and led) by lots of folks who would be happy to rule others according to their beliefs.

It's not about religion, is it? It's not about personal beliefs regarding divinity. It's about politics. Truly rational Atheists would ignore the symbol, because the only power it has is the power given to it by each and every individual, believer or not. Violation of the Constitution comes not from objects, but from people who would use any tool to restrict the rights of others. The real issue isn't faith or religion, it's freedom.

So. What am I missing? This topic has been rolling around the edges of my brain for five weeks, and frankly, I'm feeling a bit smug about my conclusions here. That's a bad sign. I've learned that when I have the answer, I'm not always asking the whole question; my own biases usually blind me to something. Any glaring fallacies or assumptions here? In my quest to be "right," I welcome (rational and gentle, please) criticism of my logic. I hate to be wrong. When I am, I want to fix that. Insights?


  1. Great take on that post. Also very interesting observations about "Lesser religions".

    I don't think there's an Atheist out there who hasn't felt threatened by a major established religion. Sure you can hang out with other Atheists, but there is a very powerful unity that comes out of a religious community. So you have unity on one side, and solitude on the other, who wouldn't feel some threat from that.

    But in the end, unless you are thwarting direct attempts to be converted or "Saved", what harm does that do to you?

    I think most Atheists miss that point. Well maybe not, maybe its just the LOUD Atheists.

  2. I think there has to be something to do with feeling attacked. I am sure Atheists often feel attacked by (most likely fundamentalist) Christians. So, since these are the people who do the attacking, giving them any kind of recognition (like a cross) feels like another attack. The Wicca folks aren't running around attacking people, nor are the Pagans, so their symbols are not offensive. But rabid Christians are out there attacking and to see anything affirming those who attack is upsetting. (I hope that made sense.)

  3. Yep, I'm sure it's upsetting, and in a roundabout way, that's my point. It's an emotional reaction, and understandable, but it's not logical. Feeling attacked isn't the same as being attacked, and symbols don't attack anyone. If you're an atheist because you're a rational thinker, you should be rational about religion, shouldn't you?

  4. I don't know many self-professed athiests that I consider normal; in fact, most of them I know are quite deranged, and I separate them into their own category that I refer to as "Anti theists". My litmus test is pretty simple; atheists don't believe in a higher power, and don't give a damn what anyone else believes, but respect their right to believe it and demonstrate their beliefs openly; anti theists don't believe in a higher power, but are mostly invested in trying to prevent anyone else from believing in a higher power, or showing any sign that they do. THe very few legitimate atheists I know are decent folks, and I respect them and enjoy thier company; anti theism is a religion unto itself, and its adherents are more vocal, emotional, and litigative than the most annoying fundamentalist Christian.

  5. Very well written and intelligent.



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