I originally wrote this response in an e-mail to the opinion editor of that newspaper, but it’s been a couple of weeks now, and I haven’t heard back from them about whether or not it’d be published. So what the hell? Let’s publish it here.
If you haven’t seen the Showtime series Dexter… do. It’s about a forensic blood spatter expert working for Miami PD’s Homicide division who moonlights as a serial killer that tracks down other murderers. It’s a fantastic dramatic series, and it really makes you love a truly bad guy.
The new season has some seriously religious overtones to it. Dexter, who has never given a moment’s thought to religion, is trying to get his son into a good pre-school, which just happens to be a Catholic school, and has to deal with figuring out why people believe all this stuff. There’s also a ‘big bad’ serial killer going around using Biblical language and symbolism in his killings, apparently as a means of trying to bring about the Apocalypse in the book of Revelation.
Anyway… Eventually, at his high school reunion, Dexter tracks down a football player who killed his wife and made it look like a suicide, and plays with him in the usual Dexter style. Upon seeing that the killer has a tattoo of Jesus on his chest, the conversation turns to faith.
At Cranston West High School in Cranston, Rhode Island, a mostly innocuous banner has hung in the school gym for several decades. The banner, titled “School Prayer,” exhorts “Our Heavenly Father” to make students desire to improve themselves in a number of ways. In full, the banner reads:
Our Heavenly Father, Grant us each day the desire to do our best, To grow mentally and morally as well as physically, To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, To be honest with ourselves as well as with others, Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win, Teach us the value of true friendship, Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West. Amen.
Yes, I’m against organized religion. Yes, I think faith can be dangerous. Yes, I think churches tend to be flamboyant displays of silliness.
No, I don’t think a church should ever be defaced.
On April 24 – that is, on Easter – a bunch of unknown thugs took it upon themselves to spray graffiti and obscenities all over the local Christ the King Church and its statues. One of the messages reads “Your God Is Not My Salvation” … so I’m guessing that, unfortunately, it was an atheist that did this, or at the very least someone who wasn’t much impressed with what the church was preaching.
I’m all for freedom of speech. Disgusted with a church’s teachings? Make your voice heard. Go nuts. But remember: your rights end where someone else’s begin. And this is crossing that line in all kinds of bad ways.
Grow up, kids. You’re not helping. Every time an atheist does something like this, their actions outweigh much of the hard work we’ve done to promote our position.
If you’ve been active in the online atheist community for a few weeks or so, you’ve probably run into this kind of argument:
Atheist 1: Agnostics are just atheists without the balls to admit they’re atheists.
Atheist 2: That’s not true. Atheism is about what you believe; agnosticism is about what you know. You can be both.
<Repeat ad nauseum.>
I no longer see a point in making this kind of distinction. I also don’t think it’s useful to start using terms other than “atheist” to describe your position with regard to religion. Bright, Pearlist, Secular Humanist, and so on; these terms are all well and good, but when you’re trying to explain your ideas about religion, it’s best to keep the confusion to a minimum. Tell someone you’re a Bright, and it gets you nowhere. Pearlist? Almost nobody knows what that means. And no matter what, eventually you get back to the point where you say you don’t believe in God, and they say, “Oh, so you’re an atheist?” And right there, the whole slew of stereotypes and misconceptions come flooding in. What we call ourselves matters to absolutely nobody but ourselves.
Can we all just agree to cut this out? We’ve got much more important stuff to deal with, and engaging in this kind of bickering isn’t helpful.
For example… I’ve got no problem with the idea of atheism as an intellectually defensible position. If I didn’t think it was, I probably wouldn’t be an atheist. But let’s face the facts, here: for most people who are religious, it would be unthinkable for them to give up their beliefs without the emotional safety net they provide. Religion is very useful inasmuch as it provides a sort of emotional security, convincing people that the universe isn’t as scary and impersonal as it really is. If atheists really want to get people to give up their religions, we’re going to have to find ways to make our position more reassuring – something we can’t do if we spend so much time arguing over details that are utterly irrelevant to anyone outside of our peer group.
Every week, the Atheist Community of Austin puts out a great public access TV program called The Atheist Experience. The show broadcasts live online at Ustream at 5:30 ET pretty much every Sunday. Typically the show features a pair of hosts discussing a subject related to atheism, skepticism, critical thinking, separation of church and state, and so on, followed by a period where they take calls from the audience. This week, though, they featured famed Christian apologist Ray Comfort (he of Banana Man fame). Continue reading →