On Native Ground
RELIGIOU.S. TYRANNY AND THE WAR AGAINST REASON
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The fundamentalists and their allies in the media are screeching again over the alleged "war on Christmas" by those evil liberal secular humanists who supposedly run the world.
If there is a problem with Christmas, it is that it has become the most secularized and commercialized religious holiday in America. It is a holiday that is all about out-of-control consumerism, not a celebration of the birth of Jesus. If Christmas is under attack, it's under attack by capitalism and the true American religion - making and spending money.
It would be nice if more people in the news media pointed out that the problem is not businesses wishing customers "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas." The problem is the tyranny of religion in American public life.
As someone who is post-religious, I see the problem with America as having too much religion. You want to worship your deity? Fine, do it in your own space. Don't inflict your superstitions and irrationality on the public sphere.
I believe in a world that should be guided by reason and logic. I don't believe there is an all-powerful, all-loving God watching over us, because there is no proof of either his existence or his benevolence.
There are many Americans who live by the words in a old gospel song: "God said it, and I believe it, and that's good enough for me." But what is it that they believe?
A few hundred thousand people die in an earthquake or a tsunami, and the religious say this is an example of the wrath of God. Some people avoid being killed in one of these disasters, and the religious say that God saved them.
So which is it? A God who is all-powerful and all-loving, or a God who is unable or unwilling to stop human suffering. Ask this question of a believer and listen to the dissembling that follows.
This is why, as Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith," writes, faith "is nothing more than the license religious people give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail."
It's estimated there are more than 850 million people around the world and about 20 million people in America who fall under the grouping of atheists, agnostics, humanists, free thinkers, secularists or rationalists. This doesn't include the people who are afraid to admit their belief in logic and reason for fear of being attacked by the majority that believes in mythology and folklore.
You'd never find out from the media that this group of people constitutes the fourth largest belief system. But this perhaps is a good thing. This way, non-believers can avoid the blame for the past and current problems in the world. Taken together, who's more harmful to the world? The religious, like President George Bush, Osama bin Laden and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, or the non-religious?
Religion in and of itself isn't a bad thing. The thinking believers, those who express their faith through works of decency and kindness and don't beat other people over the head with their beliefs, offer much to society. It's the people who don't think - the people so sure that what they believe is correct and that everyone else is damned - that cause the problems.
Unexamined religious faith can be rightly blamed for much of the death and misery in the world. So why are so many people afraid to consider other viewpoints? Are they afraid of the possibility that what they believe doesn't exist?
That's the debate that should be out there. Christians aren't persecuted in America. Christianity is the dominant religion and the dominant force in public life. But Christians insist upon seeing themselves as victims, persecuted by evil liberal secularists, because it helps with fundraising and makes for good copy for the right-wing echo chamber.
"When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world or each other," wrote Harris.
If, as Harris writes in his book, the most basic standard of intellectual honesty is that one's convictions should be proportional to one's evidence, it is impossible to be religious. Yet public life demands that one must believe in God and subscribe to dogmas and taboos as specious as those of the Greek gods of Olympus. Yet it is the religious that claim they are persecuted.
"Faith-based unreason," as Harris calls it, and the appeasement of religious extremists of all stripes, is the greatest threat in the world today.
In our nation, we have a president who sincerely believes he's been chosen by God to lead. We have people in public life who selectively quote from the Bible and believe not in the Jesus of compassion and mercy, but in a Jesus inflicting vengeance on non-believers. They intone "God Bless America," almost as a plea, especially since their acts would not please any God. The warped Christianity of the fundamentalists and evangelicals has merged with fascism almost seamlessly.
But these folks get a pass because they're "people of faith," while the atheists, agnostics, humanists, free thinkers, secularists and rationalists who insist on a little bit of evidence to back one's belief are attacked as evil.
Perhaps this should be the test - say what you want in your church, but once you enter the political arena, you are subject to the same rules of evidence as everyone else. You can't hide behind your Bible and try to pass off dogma as truth.
If this were applied fairly and honestly in the news media, we'd never hear from people like Jerry Falwell or Bill O'Reilly again.< Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.