I Have My Own Religion And It Is Called “Stay Out Of Everyone’s Face”
Tuesday night, CNN aired a special on Atheism, called “Atheism: Inside The World Of Non-Believers.” I watched it, and, as a “non-believer,” I was not particularly amused. First of all, they called Richard Dawkins the “Father of Atheism,” which is 32 flavors of ridiculous, and second, the whole thing really seemed to portray atheists as having the same kind of factions as religious people — nice people who went to church (atheist church) and fiery demagogues. Atheists! They’re just like you!
On the one hand, they really tried to hammer home the point that Atheists were not baby eating devil worshipers. Personally, I haven’t ever met anyone who thought that, but OK. On the other, they spent quite a good deal of time with David Silverman, head of American Atheists, who is, for all intents and purposes, a giant fucking asshole who goes around putting up snide billboards like this:
I don’t really see much of a difference between him and Jerry Fallwell, if you want the truth.
Another problem was the fact that there was only one woman interviewed and zero people of color, making it look like somehow, not believing in God was a sport for white men only.
But that’s not really what I’m here to talk about right now. Within the last few days, in addition to that special, I’ve seen a variety of essays from other non-believers, essentially discussing whether or not it is cool for atheists to be jerks about religion. I’ve also seen all that weirdness from that “Duck Dynasty” asshole who thinks that belief in being judged after one’s death is the only thing preventing us all from becoming homicidal maniacs.
I firmly dislike all of this.
When I was in the third grade, someone asked me what my religion was. I didn’t know, and so I went home and asked my mother, and she said “Our religion is that you stay out of people’s faces.”
What she meant by this was not that you didn’t say something when you thought something was wrong, but that you didn’t go around trying to convert people. Although I wouldn’t say we were disdainful of religion in general, we were suspicious of organized religion–specifically of the variety that went around trying to convert people, like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, or groups that tried to inflict their beliefs on people who did not share those beliefs, like many Born Again Christians did. Though to be fair, we just weren’t big on clubs in general. I come from a long line of social floaters.
This isn’t totally surprising when you understand that my entire family is from Rhode Island, a state which was founded on the basis of not only freedom of religion, but liberty of conscience.
Recently, I’ve taken to describing myself as a Roger Williams-style atheist. Which probably sounds weird if you know that Roger Williams was not an atheist at all, but an extremely devout 17th century Baptist.
When Roger Williams first came to America, he had big plans to be a missionary to the Native Americans. However, after meeting with them, he realized that they had their own system of beliefs, which they were quite satisfied with. Williams then decided that it was not any of his business to go around telling other people what to believe.
The Puritans were, of course, not at all cool with that, and neither were the people who were all about the Church of England. Back in those days, it was considered a given that countries had official religions, and could basically force anyone who did not believe in those religions to follow them anyway. They did not like this dude, going around saying that people should only be baptized once they’re old enough to understand the decision they’re making, and saying that everyone’s religion should be their own business. He was soon booted right out of Massachusetts.
Unlike other settlers, Williams thought it was messed up of England to think they could just declare ownership of Native American lands–so, when he founded Rhode Island, he actually did it like a decent human being and bought the land from the Narragansetts, with whom he had formed a close relationship. Anyone who lived there could practice or not practice any damned religion they wanted, without worrying about being bothered by anyone. Which is why there were no witch trials in Rhode Island.
Throughout his life, Williams became a very strong advocate for freedom of belief and the separation of church and state, describing attempts to enforce belief as a “rape of the soul.” In fact, Thomas Jefferson got the whole idea for the “wall between church and state” from him.
“When they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the candlestick, and made His garden a wilderness, as at this day.”
Also cool is the fact that Williams was perhaps the first abolitionist in America, and openly advocated for the banning of slavery throughout the 13 colonies.
Personally, I am a lot more comfortable with Roger Williams than I am with David Silverman. If people believe in God and are not hurting anyone, then I cannot possibly imagine why it would be my business to tell them not to. If they are hurting people, then yes, I’ll say something–because for me, hurting people is a thing entirely separate from one’s personal beliefs about the supernatural. Sure, people blend these things pretty often, but let’s face it–an asshole is an asshole, and an asshole will find a way to use whatever they believe to be an asshole. If you’re a kind person, you’ll use whatever you believe as a way to be a kind person. That is how things work.
In an essay on Raw Story, Greta Christina suggests that atheists should not practice ecumenicalism because there are parts of certain religions that are definitely not kind and definitely not OK, and things that many followers themselves would disagree with.
But you know what? I think it is 100 percent fine for people to pick and choose what they want to believe in a religion. In fact, I think it’s preferable to just believing everything. It’s certainly not my business to tell them not to do that. And hell, someone could believe in a religion involving giant evil warmongering chicken that thinks all people with small ears should be put to death. If they don’t believe that part of it, and they’re nice (and especially if they are funny), I do not care. When they start trying to murder people with small ears, that is when I will care.
So here’s what I propose! We start a coalition of both religious and non-religious people who vow to not give a fuck what other people believe in regards to religion so long as they are nice people and not bothering anyone. I know we’re out there on both sides! In fact, I would say that we are the vast majority of people.
Sure. Those with the loudest mouths are going to be demanding bibles in schools, crying about gay people getting married and purchasing wedding cakes or claiming that religious people are stupid and deluded because the only way they can feel smart is to call someone else dumb. They can keep doing what they’re doing, I guess. Probably nothing is going to stop them, because they are jerks who are not secure enough in their own beliefs to believe them without a gang of people standing behind them giving them the thumbs up. But I’d like to think that most of us just want what Roger Williams wanted, which is simply to go about our own damn lives without anyone getting in our face.