There’s something evangelical in the forthrightness with which some atheists disparage Christians. I’m an atheist, but I defend the right to have a religion. Many who call themselves atheists are probably more accurately described as antitheists, a term which suggests a more active aversion to believers. Yes, an evangelical Christian who wants to ram their faith down your throat is a pain in the arse and very likely a bit ditzy, but in reality you come across very few. Yes, those ancient religious texts are littered with outdated ideas, some of them abhorrent today, but literal or extremist followers are the exception, and universally good sentiment can also be found in them. Yes, there are people who identify as Christian who are blinkered and ignorant enough to assume you and I will see as self-evident that Muslims or new age spiritualists, for example, are some sort of problem. Yes religion is often in the mix when intolerance has led to travesty, but intolerance does not exist exclusively within religious paradigms, and to paint religious people or entities as innately intolerant is neither demonstrable nor rational. Intolerant Christians do exist, yet it’s been my observation that intolerance is more commonly expressed against those of faith by antitheists, or by pseudo-intellectual nouveau hippies, which is ironic, considering the proportion of society who identify as Christian. It’s probably due to the prevalence of Christianity in Western society that those who arrive at atheism or new-age spiritualism, have done so from a position of rejecting Christianity, and therefore feel the compulsion to denounce it. Christians are in reality a pretty diverse bunch (64% of Australians identify themselves as Christian) and represent the good and bad that can be found throughout all of humanity. Religiosity of itself is not responsible when individuals or collectives do evil.
Thankfully I can advocate this particular type of tolerance from reasonably solid ground. As far as I know freedom of religion is enshrined in the constitutions of every modern democracy including that of my own country (section 116). These documents are the product of the best minds of their time and while democracies do provide the facility to change them, religious freedom remains codified. That includes the freedom to identify with a majority just as much as any minority.
That said, I think it’s worth mentioning the plight of one of the most celebrated atheists of recent times, Stephen Hawking. The irony is that from everything I’ve read he is not the rabid anti-theist he’s made out to be. He is an atheist but also he’s a media darling and like most celebrities so much of what he says is extremetised by the media. I’m not bright enough or well read enough to comment on his science but with regard to his atheism, of the few quotes I see repeated from The Grand Design (obviously the media are paying more attention to reading each other than the book) the assertion that god is not required to explain the universe is hardly an attack on the faiths of the world as it is over and over portrayed. It’s an assertion of his faith in science, but not a dissing of other faiths. In fact when the media obsession with Hawking’s atheism broke some years back he practically had to be goaded by journalists to comment.
Even enthusiastic antitheists like Laurence Kalnin who do think it necessary to approach the debunking of god with greater than missionary zeal find they have to address the fact these mythologies stretch back into prehistory. It’s religion with a god or gods mostly in their sites but it’s theism in general they know people need to be led away from.
Until European settlement historically recently, indigenous Australians are now understood to have maintained extraordinary social and cultural continuity stretching back several tens of thousands of years – the literal remainder of Neolithic society and it survived in places up until less than a lifetime ago (which is not to say indigenous Australia does not survive to this day). Aboriginal Australia constitutes such cultural and social complexity and nuance that from some angles it makes Western society look underdeveloped. The last remaining Neolithic society had spirituality, mythology, faith and religion to explain the world and humanity’s place in it. In Europe archaeological evidence demonstrates that even older human societies including Neanderthals practiced ritual burial. Despite what anyone believes humanity could or should be, if we consider simply what humanity is – religion is definitive and I would argue demonstrably a fundamental human process. To think you can deny anybody their religion then is to deny their humanity. It simply won’t work. A cat is a cat, a bird is a bird, no matter if you call it a dog.
It’s a point that’s been done to death but in some ways science is not so different from religion. It’s motivated by a yearning to make sense of the world or to answer questions like ‘why are we here?’ or ‘where did we come from?’ I personally place great credence in science, but I’ve never felt compelled to set the others straight, and as far as those particular questions go I’ve never wasted a minute of my life. I am here, that is all.
That’s more than a preamble but I wrote about zealotry among atheists conscious of where this blog is heading next.
Some weeks ago a facebook friend posted a link to a story on same sex marriage which sparked conversation that went sort of like this (including the messy spelling, grammar and punctuation of facebook shorthand):
Fred marriage for me is a religious thing for me and god greated adam and eve not adam and steve this is what hes has said in the bible i,m sorry if there are people out there who are offended by this. god didn,t created same sex marriage and marriage is secreted thing
Wilma the great thing about facebook is that we can all express our opinions!!!!
Fred the last time i checked gay and lesbians were the minority group so why should they be allowed to get married i,m sorry but i don,t support it marriage is for men and women not man and man or women women
Betty W e dont all have to support everything,But I believe that each person has the right to their own choices and to whom they love and wish to spend their lives with,who are we to decide for them.and if they wish to make their choice legal then they should have that right,I also believe we have a loving and understanding God,who said love thy neighbour,he didnt say only if its of the opposite sex.Sorry Fred ,but I do believe this and I married the opposite sex,because I wanted to…
Barney God loves all unconditionally…though I do think that if a particular religion does not what to except gay people getting married…. then thats there choice I suppose…..If 2 people wish to commit to them selves (whether gay or not) by a civil union, then I believe the law should uphold this!
Betty I do agree,
Dino If you’re going to go down the bible path Fred, I trust that you will follow it completely? For instance, did you know that in the Old Testament Leviticus 19:28 forbids tattoos. I hope you don’t have any. I also hope you’ve never worked on the Sabbath, because Exodus 35:2 states that you must be put to death. I also trust that if you’ve played a game of football that you’ve made sure you’ve used a synthetic ball, because one made out of pigskin is considered unclean (Leviticus 11:7-8). Oh, and heaven forbid you’ve ever eaten a few prawns – you’re going straight to hell if you have (Leviticus 11:10). Besides Chapter V, section 116 of the Australian constitution says that we’re a secular state and the bible shouldn’t even come into it.
Rockette I think we all miss the point.as well,these loving couples that live together probably most of their lives want the marriage so they havethe same rights as any other married couple.to be next of kin./.and as a christian,we shouldnt be jud…geing any one.if you love the person,you live with the person,you share your worldly goods with the person,then they should be able to have the same rights as any one else.that share their lives,and be your next of kin legally if that is what they choose.does it matter what we want, should it not be what those indiviuals want.its their lives.If your hetrosexual it s not going to affect you anyway.your ok as it is. and how we each embrace christianity,is our own choice,people are they dont choose to be
Rocky When I was young a gay person meant that the person was a happy person. A persons sexuality is their own business so long as it doesn’t impinge on the rights of others, so having had gay people in the band, and having known so many lovely gay people, I don’t see why they should not have the rights of every other human being. I think homophobics have tendencies towards being gay, and lash out to prove the opposite.
Rockette I dont want to know what happens in the privacey of ones bedroom.male or female.but lets let everyone enjoy the same rights,God forbid theres enough things now stopping people from being altogether happy,let us please do something to add to… others happiness and contentment.is it going to hurt anyone,the only people this will really matter to is the people who want to do it.and all us heterosexuals can still marry the opposite sex,
Scribblehead I like your comment Rocky “I think homophobics have tendencies towards being gay, and lash out to prove the opposite.” it can also be out of a paranoia that someone might think they’re gay. if you’re confident in who you are then you don’t feel the need for this over the top demonstration of your ‘straightness’. you just are.
There was a lot more discussion but I think this is more than enough to get the drift. Looking past the obvious absence of logic in statements like – ‘gays are a minority so why should they be allowed to get married’, the problem with using Christianity to advocate the exclusion of anybody from marriage is that the state of marriage is not owned by Christianity. The majority of people in the world are not Christians and marriage is practiced by all of the peoples of the world of every faith and by the irreligious like me. Marriage is a universal social phenomenon which has developed in all societies. Though like religion it’s obviously not mandatory, it’s another thing which defines humanity, it’s a fundamental, and to deny people marriage is to deny them their humanity. In a literal sense it just can’t be done.
One thing I find noteworthy about the conversation is that it occurred between country music musicians and their fans. It’s a reminder of my own susceptibility to prejudice that I was surprised the overwhelming balance of opinion was in support of same sex marriage. Should I have been surprised? I think most would agree that country people are more likely to be socially conservative. So what should we make of the context? I think at the very least it demonstrates anecdotally that perhaps there is much broader support for same sex marriage across the community than some people imagine.