An Atheist in America

One would think that an Atheist wouldn’t spend much time thinking about religion.

In fact, it’s something that many outside the community of religious faith, including myself, spend an inordinate amount of time pondering. Especially those living in the United States, where religion permeates our national discourse so pervasively. In this country, though we supposedly try to avoid this, our faith is heavily entwined in our politics, as well as the other way around. So much so that people of faith become unaware of its presence. This leads to the belief among many that their personal religious doctrine is responsible for all human good and happiness, since such values are central to their own beliefs.

But as I was raised in a home without any religious dogma being introduced into my young, impressionable and accepting mind, and living happily as a lifelong Atheist, I have a substantially different perspective.

Though I was never exposed to much religion around the house, I had every opportunity to join in religious exercises beginning in my Christian pre-school – I was raised in a small Protestant / Mormon / Jehovah’s Witness town where most of my classmates practiced faith of one of those varieties openly. I was invited by some, and tried various methods of practicing faith, but despite my efforts, I always came back to a simple truth: Whenever I prayed, I knew in every inch of my being that I was talking to myself. I never felt the presence of a higher power. I never heard the whisper of God. I was encouraged (by many, surprisingly) to ‘fake it’ until it happened. I found this disingenuous and frankly against what religions were supposedly trying to teach me in the first place. Any attempt at religious belief, to me I realized, was a lie. I didn’t feel it, and I had no desire to.

Then at age 7 I saw Cosmos and never prayed again.

But while my love of galaxies and fusion gave me a solid sense of wonder and awe at the vastness of the universe, it also left me, I was increasingly told, with a morality deficit. Without a moral foundation, rooted solidly in religion, I supposedly had no hope of functioning in a civilized society.

But I never thought this about myself. Frankly, the concept of basic human decency seemed much less of a mystery than black holes and dark matter. The idea that kindness given was, more often than not, returned, struck me as obvious and natural when my non-religious parents taught it to me by their own kind and generous examples. But as I grew older, I saw that this philosophy was regarded as the exclusive domain of religious law. Fast forward to the present day, and one needs only to turn on the nightly news, or talk to a church group, to see the fully-embedded Truth that all morality comes from the religious experience and faith in God.

But I reject the idea that human morality must come from dogmatic constructs which enforce such morality under threat of punishment. This, in my view, is a cheap and meaningless morality. If you can honestly tell me that you would walk into the next room and murder your child if it were not for the warnings and punishments in the Bible, it does not mean you are a good religious adherent. It means you are a sociopath. Compassion and empathy are hard-wired into every mammalian species (some more than others, granted) and it’s evident enough by our existence today that we could not have survived through the long eons of our evolution without a deeper moral compass than that of a few confusing, conflicting volumes written (we think) in the last couple of millennia.

Religious adherents co-opt these ideas as if we never would have thought of ‘be nice to one another’ if the son of God hand’t told us. This is ridiculous. Communities of humans have existed (and still do exist) in various degrees of harmony having no knowledge of the Ten Commandments or of Christ. Our country was founded by both religious, and non-religious people who wanted the freedom to be the way they were, and to ensure those freedoms were never jeopardized. They did not seek to have any one religious ideology regarded as ‘the default choice’. But in this country, that is exactly what has happened, as modern politicians, particularly those like Ken Buck and Christine O’Donnell, clearly demonstrate.

One detail of religious freedom in America that comes under periodic scrutiny are the words “In God We Trust”. This phrase has not, by any stretch of the imagination, been our motto since America’s birth. It appeared on our coinage in 1864, but was not the official US motto until 1956, due in part to a desire to separate our nation ideologically from Soviet Russia. Atheist Americans, however, find it to be a very plain and blatant affront to a true and meaningful “Freedom of Religion”, because if that freedom is to be absolute, it must include the freedom to choose no religion at all. I don’t trust in God. Not one bit. And I certainly don’t trust the institutions that promote the idea of God. My country’s acceptance of this motto allows my fellow Americans to use it as a cudgel to defend their own particular religious worldview as being superior not only to my own, but to those of their convenient choosing. At the moment, that choice is of course Islam.

One must live outside of religious communities in the country to appreciate their level of control and influence on daily life. Many on the right, and in the Tea Party in particular, complain that secular forces on the left want God to be declared illegal, but no one will try to stop them from going to church this Sunday. Yet I know that as an Atheist I have no hope of ever being elected to public office, and this is a fact. This religious persecution complex is almost comical from my perspective, as I see a government run by elected officials who trade heavily on their faith at every opportunity, and media outlets like Fox News who deride those they deem not Christian enough, as they have shamefully and incessantly done with our president. This is probably invisible to them because they see it as a natural part of their life. But remember how quickly we as Americans turn our righteous religious acceptance off when the religion in question is not Christianity or (to a slightly lesser extent) Judaism, but Islam. I’ll bet they didn’t stand up and defend the rights of Muslims when Muslims wanted to build a community center.

Freedom of religion in this country often means nothing of the sort – it means, foremost, freedom of Christ. So please, don’t ask me to fight for your right to express your faith the way you want, and then turn around and expect me to support your war against another faith. In my mind, there is no difference between the two.


~ by ChrissyOne on November 1, 2010.

8 Responses to “An Atheist in America”

  1. Exhibit A:

  2. Well put. I had a somewhat similar experience, except I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and I prefer to call myself an agnostic (purely for philosophical reasons).

  3. Interesting perspective. Not really a new one, but I love to hear you express this from your experiences. That is new and refreshing.

    I do think freedom of religion should be for everyone. Not just a Christians. If we claim it in this country, we should support it. Not for some, but for all. I am a Christian. I see no reason to force feed a belief on anyone.

    As far as morality is concerned. I don’t believe only Christians have a title to morals. As a matter of fact, the bible states otherwise at Romans 2:14-15. Show your Christian friends this text next time they claim to have own the title to morality. The message if very clear. People tend to be a law unto themselves.

    BTW, Christianity isn’t about learning morals anymore than saving the whales is about whales asking mankind for help in the name of morality. I think most people have an instinctive knowledge of what is right and wrong.

    When you see the loud talkers on TV making bold religious claims you must remember, they don’t represent all Christians anymore than the 9-11 terrorist represented all Muslims. Or the Klan represents all southerners, etc. Don’t fall for the backhanded slap.

    Later Chrissy.

  4. Excellent and true, Paul, and don’t take any of this to mean I confuse the real meaning of Christianity with its sometimes clumsy execution by those who want to use it as a weapon. I know the difference.
    But sadly, many don’t, and they are the people this brain-dump is about. You know as well as I do that no amount of biblical citation will sway the venom of some who will believe what they will. They’ll shoot back with Matthew 4: 5,6 where the Devil quotes scripture but misses the point.
    The only thing I’m on about is my right to NOT HAVE TO QUOTE SCRIPTURE. It’s a right that most Christians respect, but there is a significant number that don’t – and they are being used, as ever, as political weaponry in a very divided political season. The fact that Tea Party politicians are openly questioning, mocking, or flatly ignoring the principle of church/state separation is alarming to me, and bad for both us.

    You say “they don’t represent all Christians anymore than the 9-11 terrorist represented all Muslims.” – and this is *exactly* what I’m getting at. Freedom of religion is being weaponized, just like freedom of speech is being used to justify bullying and bigotry. I’m just trying to call this out, and I love to see intelligent and thoughtful people of faith raise the same alarms. Maybe my removal from that world makes me think it happens less than it does, but I still think it needs to happen more.

  5. Yeah, frankly… I’m offended by one of the Dino Rossi radio ads that says he is one of US. He has Christian values. Are you kidding me? When I listen to the ad, I know they are not talking about me. I’m excluded, even as a Christian. Yes, I’m tired of politicians pimping out religious votes. They do that based on race, gender, and any agenda or group they can find. Dems know they have the Black vote. Republicans know they have the Christian right vote and so on. It is offensive. Don’t get me on a political soap box… you may not be able to kick me off for your turn.

    We should grab drinks one of these days and talk.

  6. We use to have some good discussions. Let me know next time you are over here.

  7. Exhibit B:

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