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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Meditations on the ‘A’ word

    Religious tolerance is as strong as it has ever been in this country. But the next step, tolerance of the nonreligious, is a great leap waiting to be taken. Conservative and liberal religious folk alike, as well as some members of the “”spiritual, but not religious”” (whatever that means) camp, generally frown upon atheism.

    The first Muslim member of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Ill., has appeared relatively without incident, even going so far as to swear in on Thomas Jefferson’s Quran, and Christian groups seem to have grudgingly accepted his presence.

    The same can’t be said for Rep. Pete Stark. D-Calif., who recently emerged as the first openly nontheistic member of Congress, identifying himself as “”a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being.”” Groups like the Christian Seniors’ Association have banded together to denounce him as a man who wants to destroy religion and “”celebrate godlessness.””

    Let’s clear up one thing: I’m not interested in whether or not atheism is a religion, or what distinguishes it from agnosticism. No one should be. Those debates are doomed to devolve into pseudo-intellectualism and semantics. The irreligious all face similar difficulties, no matter what label they choose to describe their lack of faith.

    Simply put, discrimination against those of us who doubt God’s existence in some form or another is very real – and it often goes unnoticed and unreported.

    Don’t believe me? Fine. When President Bush Sr. allegedly stated during his campaign that he didn’t feel atheists “”should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots,”” where was the uproar? Where is it today? If a president was to denounce any other religious view, members of all faiths would raise hell about it.

    Yet an entire administration fell in line with Bush Sr.’s statement that despite his support for separation of church and state, he simply wasn’t “”very high on atheists.”” That’s equivalent to saying he opposes racism, but isn’t “”very high on black people.””

    Even Bush Jr. has declared his commitment to bringing “”faith in God”” to every American, interpreting the First Amendment’s guarantee not to prohibit the free exercise of religion so it excludes atheism. And he has done so, for the most part, without incident. After all, this is one nation under God, or at least it has been since the 1950s.

    Like it or not, this vitriol has its roots in our nation’s fledgling past. While some of the framers of the Constitution were Deists and subscribed to no particular faith, you can bet they all recognized the dark connotation of outright disbelief. Many were involved in Freemasonry, an organization that specifically forbids atheists from joining.

    Why the distrust for atheists? Some religious folks like to accuse us of being immoral; after all, what reason is there to behave morally without having the fear of God drilled into your head? This is a perfectly valid objection: It’s not as though philosophers for the past 3,000 years have attempted to obtain a justification for ethics beyond “”God says so.”” Oh, wait …
    Notwithstanding the many philosophical grounds upon which atheists can behave morally, there’s plenty of strong evidence to indicate that morality exists out of evolutionary necessity. Religion is merely an excuse to externalize the moral truths which most of us know instinctively.

    Others counter that belief in God is inherent, and atheists are simply in denial. You can ignore this argument, though. It’s stupid.

    And still more accuse us of wishing to spread our godlessness to the masses. Personally, I couldn’t care less about showing other people the light of atheism. However, plenty of other religions proselytize the same way militant atheists do – so what’s the difference?

    The bottom line is that we nonbelievers are an extraordinarily diverse group. We don’t have any kind of selection criteria or centralized dogma, and it’s incredibly difficult to pigeonhole us. We’re libertarians and communists, scientific and emotional, supportive and unsupportive of anything you can imagine, and – to paraphrase Barack Obama – some of us even coach Little League.

    If you’re one of the many who’s guilty of stereotyping us, it’s time to stop. We’re mostly the same as you are, except that we sleep in for a few hours on Sundays. Take that one last leap toward acceptance. Twenty million Americans will thank you for it.

    Taylor Kessinger is a sophomore majoring in physics, math and philosophy. Proselytization attempts will be deleted, but you can still send them to letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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