It's a strange day when a believer like myself finds common cause with atheists, but in this polarized religious world, that strangeness is becoming typical.
These days, conservative believers are getting lots of media attention. They are pushing anti-abortion bills any which way they can. They are fighting gay marriage and the normalization of homosexuality. They are making a false equivalence between Christianity and a pro-American stance. They are working against the teaching of evolution. They are defending the biblical world's standard of male privilege.
But recently, a counter force is gathering strength. And it's not from mainline churches, liberal Christians or middle-of-the-road churchgoers. It's from out-and-out atheists, who are coming out of hiding and into the light of day. This was evident even at a recent college baccalaureate I attended. There were the de rigeur (and quite correct!) prayers aimed at Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus. But there was also an reading for atheists -- a passage from Carl Sagan basically lauding nature and actually saying, in so many words, that the preceding prayers were worthless. More on neo-atheistic overreach another time.
This burgeoning militancy of atheists does not worry me. These folks are not quite ready to be up in arms about a fight "For No-God and No-Country." But their very presence is a witness against those whose idea of piety is shoving unwelcome beliefs down our throats.
The latest salvo in the battle against those wishing to establish a Christian America happened in Starke, Florida in the northeast corner of the state. There, a marble copy of the Ten Commandments had been erected in a so-called "free speech one" outside the Bradford County courthouse. Atheist groups had fought the placement of that monument on the grounds of separation of church and state -- and went nowhere. Until someone had the bright idea of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." That's when the group American Atheists decided to erect their own monument, one dedicated to their own principles, Rather than to celebrate the myth of how the country's laws are supposedly based on the Ten Commandments, the new monument publicizes actual quotes from some of our founders, who held vastly different beliefs than those generally ascribed to them by our conservative brethren and sisthren:
From Ben Franklin: "“Where a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, ‘tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."
John Adams: “It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [writing the Constitution] had interviews with the gods or were in any degree under the inspiration of Heaven."
From the Treaty of Tripoli: "The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."
Tom Jefferson: “Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”
While each of these worthies had more complicated relationships with religion than the quotes might suggest, it's nice to see some of their actual words in public.
One of item of note: one of the local people commenting about the monument just about gave away his side's intentions when interviewed. "Christians are praying...that these folks will realize that eternity is too long to be wrong." Ooh. Wrong approach! Shouldn't let the heathen think that we are pushing the Ten Commandments a religious symbol!!
While I do fault atheists for denigrating a paper tiger theism -- one that is simple-minded, fundamentalist, anti-science and anti-people -- I celebrate that the battle has finally been joined. America must remain a place where all religions are welcome and no religion gets a free ride. The only way to protect all religion is to give none the upper hand. So while I disagree with their world view, I love what they are trying to accomplish by confront the way some Christians have tried to force their views on others. And so I say...
You go atheists! Push 'em back! Push 'em back! Push 'em WAAAAAAYYYY back!