Posted by: SteveInCO | 10 Feb 2013

Open Letter to Christians #3 Freedom From Religion? Yes.

Dear Christian,

Well, you’ve heard it said… and I imagine many of you have said it yourself, exasperated with some atheist complaint about prayer in school or a creche scene in front of a courthouse:  “It’s freedom of religion not freedom from religion.”

Well, actually it is both; you cannot have the one without the other.  But take heart, since freedom from religion might not mean what you think it means.

No, I am not saying they are both a part of the first amendment and you have to accept a “packaged deal,”  I am saying it is metaphysically impossible to have freedom of religion without freedom from religion.  With one specific exception (which proves the rule) which I will get to.
Let’s take an example many of your co-religionists like to cite.  In Saudi Arabia, apparently, it’s illegal to build a Christian church.  (That is the claim anyhow, and for purposes of this argument I will accept it as fact.  If it’s not true then please consider this a hypothetical case rather than a real one.)

It’s kind of difficult to practice your religion under those circumstances, isn’t it?  The Christians in Saudi Arabia do not have freedom of religion.  And why is that?  Because they are not free from that other religion, Islam.  Islam not only is the majority religion there, but the government helps enforce it, and tries its level best to crowd out other religions, to force Islam on the non-Islamic.

Now when I say that the Christians in Saudi Arabia would have to be free from Islam to have the freedom of their Christianity, am I saying that the Muslims must cease to be Muslims, must cease to pray five times daily and must not observe Ramadan and must tear down their mosques?

NO!!

What they’d have to do is stop forcing Islam on the non-Islamic by government fiat.  That is all it takes for those Christians to be free from Islam.  Get the government out of the job of pushing Islam.  (Isn’t it cowardly of them?  Can’t Islam withstand a fair exchange of ideas?)

And that is what we–atheists, and non Christians in general of every stripe–want too, over here.  For us to be free to be what we are, the government must not push Christianity.  (And vice versa.)  And for that matter, it must not push Islam either.  And for you to be free to be Baptists, or Presbyterians, or “non-denominational” the government should not push Catholicism, and vice versa.

But by the same token we do not… listen closely now… do not… and let me repeat it again because I know so many of you have trouble understanding this–I’ve read comments like this on every church-state news story…  We DO NOT want to deny you the freedom to practice Christianity outside of the government.  (Got that?)

The overwhelming majority of Christians in this country are willing to let other Christians be, even ones as different as Catholics and Baptists are from each other.  Many even recognize that it’s wrong to use the government to push their particular brand of Christianity on other Christians.  (Though admittedly some might change their minds if they thought the government would push their particular type of Christianity, most I think are more principled than this, at least when it’s other Christians involved.)  So you see… each and every one of you is enjoying the benefits of freedom from religion–freedom from the peculiar religion your next door neighbor professes.

[And now time for the exception I mentioned at the beginning:  The only way you can have freedom of religion without freedom from religion is if your religion is on top, in the driver’s seat, getting to use the government to push itself on others.  But then you’d better hope it stays that way or you will find it’s a double edged sword.  There’s an old joke that the Puritans thought so highly of religious freedom when they got here they decided to keep it all for themselves.]

Of course in many cases a carefully “generic” Christianity (that won’t actually contradict someone’s specific doctrine) is pushed.  “Non sectarian” prayers.  Creche scenes.  Ten commandments monuments (that start off with “thou shalt have no other god before me” but be careful, the Catholic list is different from the Protestant one).  This is wrong too.  And if you cannot see the principle, well maybe you’ll find it interesting if I hit you with something concrete.

Right now, today, in the United States of America, there are places where the majority religion is not Christianity.  (And it’s not Islam either.)  And in those places, the government is pushing the non Christian religion, the same way you so cavalierly use it here, with publicly funded prayer under the aegis of government.

So if you cannot see why it’s wrong to push Christianity on the non-Christian using government school prayers, creche scenes on government property, etc. then try this on for size:

http://www.wnd.com/2005/10/32839/

Yes I just approvingly cited a World Net Daily article.

Read it and understand.  The way you treat us is the way this man was treated by non Christians.

This is one Christian who will never unthinkingly give others the finger by telling them just to step outside or ignore the prayer, and I would be pleased to have him as a neighbor even though I don’t agree with him.

Because we can live with each other.

The separation of church and state benefits everyone.  Not just those cranky atheists, but everyone, including you.

I hope by now you see my point.  If you do then we’ve finished, the remainder of this letter is not addressed to you.

But if you don’t, keep on reading.

You believe that Christianity–your specific version of it, is the one true faith.  Yet you think it cannot prosper, it cannot win, without you forcing it on people.  Doesn’t that sound a bit familiar?  Here’s a clue to where you might have heard about this just recently: Isn’t it cowardly of you?  Can’t your faith withstand a fair exchange of ideas?

If after reading all of this, you take the attitude that it’s OK for you to do it, but not for others, because you are Christian and they aren’t, then I have this to say to you:

You–the intolerant–are unfit to live in modern society.  You probably hate it anyway, all that non-Christian stuff out there and god forbid even some queers (and horrors–even atheists) out there.  But the problem is not with society, it is with you.  You are unwilling to peaceably coexist and cooperate and trade with others–which is what society is all about–unless you can force them to be like you.  Well you don’t get to have your way, not in the United States, and not in any nation that isn’t a despotic toilet run by thugs pretending to be a legitimate government.  Our Founding Fathers got this right–yes, they’d be disgusted with you–and you are dead fucking wrong.  I can only hope that it is you, not your neighbors, who ultimately suffers the consequences of your mistake.

UPDATE (6 April 2013):

Someone I met online who lives in the area mentioned in the World Net Daily article has complained it’s factually inaccurate.  This allegation has been made in other places as well.  Here’s one of them that includes a response from the author of the WND piece.

Regardless of the truth in this specific instance, the author is correct in making the point that government sponsored and propagated religion is a double-edged sword.

 


Responses

  1. I hope they get to read it and understand. This is well written and only a daft person would not get it through their skulls!

  2. At first I wanted to simply agree with your statement.

    Then I remembered something.

    We can’t even convince them that atheism isn’t devil worship! So how on earth are they going to pick up on something that’s actually slightly more subtle than a thermonuclear detonation?

  3. Anyone who makes as many unfounded assumptions as yourself needs to take a critical look at your arguments. In particular, your comment that the Government is pushing religion appears to be a zealous over-statement. In addition, the latter part of your article is merely a rant unworthy of rational philosophy.

    • My statement that government is pushing religion is a zealous over-statement? You mean you think it isn’t doing so? Then what is up with references to god in the pledge of allegiance and on our money? What is up with the National Day of Prayer, which is the federal government ordering us to pray on a certain Thursday in May? (It is an order, politely phrased, and there language assumes that of course everyone prays.) And that is at the federal level, which is the best level of government for recognizing people’s right to not practice the predominant religion. At state and local levels you have tax money being given to favored churches (not just a tax break, but actual money handed over), prayer breakfasts paid for by tax money, attempts to inject prayer into government meetings, attempts to sneak ten commandments posters and plaques into schools that constitutionally should be religiously neutral, graduation prayers at those same schools, on and on, ad-freaking-nauseam. It’s enough to keep several attorneys busy at outfits like the “Freedom From Religion Foundation” and that’s just for situations where someone was brave enough to complain.

      There are a lot of people out there who relentlessly try to use government to push religion, and the cases where they have succeeded (for now) are legion. And you should hear them complain when someone has the audacity to point out the government should be neutral, and that maybe that creche scene should go in the church yard across the street from the courthouse. They couch their complaints in terms of “you are trampling on my right to express my religion” but they know damned well that what is really happening is we are refusing to let them use the prestige of the government to push it… and the heat of their complaint indicates that they damned well know how powerful that is. They are afraid that without that power, Christianity will lose influence.

      As for the last part of my post being a rant… You are damned right it is! (Thank you for noticing.) We have tried reasonable arguments on this issue and they have fallen again, and again on deaf ears. I did what you seem to think I should have done (laid out such a case) in the first part of this essay, taking a tack I don’t usually see in such writings in the hopes it might resonate with someone who hasn’t gotten the point before. But in far too many cases there are Christians who will ignore the argument because they feel entitled to make me pay for his views to be propagated or to make me sit by and watch while a government that belongs to all of us acts in a way that implicitly assumes that non-Christians aren’t real Americans. Or push the pseudo-history that this nation was founded on Christianity. This makes me angry, and I’ve tried being reasonable, and these people don’t get the point–sometimes willfully refuse to see it. At that point, you bet I am going to rant, out of sheer frustration, against those people, once I’ve made it clear the rant is only applied to such bigots.

      • And to think I believed America was a democracy where people are entitled to hold views however contrary to the majority or identifiable with the minority. As far as I know the Federal government can tell you to pray (and don’t forget there is more than one meaning to that word) but they cannot force you to pray. As far as I am aware if you don’t like what the state and local government does you can vote against them at elections.

        Ranting is no substitute for reasoned argument. Perhaps you should consider whether you need to critically re-assess your arguments. After all, from the point of view of your opponents you are willfully refusing to see their point and are seeking to ram your opinion down their throat.

        What is clear from your rant is that you attribute everything bad to those who do not share your views, including things for which there appears to be no objective evidence. Instead of getting angry you need to educate, starting with yourself.


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