Two pieces in the last three days have opened my eyes to a new reality. Being opened to a new reality doesn’t happen every day, probably because as you get older there are fewer realities that are actually new. Just things you have forgotten that seem new when you rediscover them.
One article which was good enough to repost in its entirety came from Jacques Berlinerblau, who often says wise things and should be heeded when he does. Jacques has commented frequently on the need for secularists and even atheists to learn table manners and not rely simply on the assumed rectitude of their position while trying to influence people and win converts.
They could learn a lesson from that old time religion, Christianity, where instead of just shouting at people, like John the Baptist did (and look what happened to him), St Paul professed to become all things to all men in order to win souls to his cause. Eventually, that strategy made Christianity the majority faith of the Roman empire.
Of course, the atheists old and new don’t believe there are souls to be won. But there are political values at stake, and elections, and demographics which atheists and “seculars” do claim to care about. But so far Americn secularism hasn’t had the savvy to know how to preach its gospel in a way that (really) ups the numbers.
For Berlinerblau, this has something to do with an historical incompetence at every level of the secular movment: Without naming names that could be named, he cites
“…a colossal failure of leadership and strategic vision. Those who advocated on its behalf in the 1970s and ’80s had little understanding of who their irate, coalescing adversaries actually were. In the secular mindset these “Fundies” were just a bunch of yokels, sitting on their front porches, cleaning their guns to the musical accompaniment of Pa strumming the gutbucket. In reality, however, the movement had scads of charismatic and savvy, if not incendiary, leaders. …Secular leadership, by contrast, was static and moribund.
Which brings me to the second piece, by E J Dionne, a truly liberal soul. The always bluff Freedom from Religion Foundation, which sees itself as a “radical” conservator of First Amendment rights, has outed liberal Catholics for being hypocrites and challenged them to do the right thing: leave the Church. Writes Dionne:
Recently, a group called [the FFRF] ran a full-page ad in The Washington Post cast as an “open letter to ‘liberal’ and ‘nominal’ Catholics.” Its headline commanded: “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church.”
The ad included the usual criticism of Catholicism, but I was most struck by this paragraph: “If you think you can change the church from within — get it to lighten up on birth control, gay rights, marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research — you’re deluding yourself. By remaining a ‘good Catholic,’ you are doing ‘bad’ to women’s rights. You are an enabler. And it’s got to stop.”
Yes, it does sound just like the nun who told you to give up looking at dirty magazines during math class. Or maybe I have given away too much of my eighth grade year at St Joseph School.
But there is a pattern here that displays itself, as in neon lights, through the shouting. I have commented more than three times on this site about the ugliness of the American Atheists’ (and others’) billboard campaigns and the way atheism itself is promoted by using a strategy that depends, basically, on repeating one hundred times the mantra: “Wake Up Stupid: Nobody is at Home Up There.”
This is supported by the infinitely reasonable proposition that if there is no Santa Claus, no big bad wolf, and no such thing as ghosts, there is no Sky Fairy either. Anyone who says there is is just using up the oxygen that smart people need to grow brain cells.
But guess what? Many people who would call themselves religious–like E J Dionne, and even the resoundingly secular Jacques Berlinerblau–are not at all stupid. And they wonder why the advocates of freethought and secularism don’t get that. Why is a secularism that flows from principles of religious tolerance more suspect than a secularism that flows from atheist suppositions? It is a good question, because in those countries where a dogmatic atheism has been imposed from the top, tolerance has not fared well. Restrictive practices based on the godlike perfection of the state–witness Chen Guangcheng– have.
And that leads me to conclude: there is a troubling religiophobia going on here. The shouters and ultimatum-givers are not just in favor of separation of church and state, or freedom of (or from) religion, or secularism or the right not to believe in God and say so openly.
There is profound stress and anxiety about religion in these movements.
Is this a teenage anger pathology that comes from a passive fear of the gods? A bad church experience that stems from the awakening that Pastor Bob (or Sister Mary Therese) lied to you about…everything? The possibility that despite social approval of your atheism, your private doubts sometimes clash with that approval and put unreasonable and seductive thoughts in your head–a hankering for a ten o’lock sermon or a quick Mass at St Aloysius?
Probably none of the above. It’s probably more easily explained as your anxiety over the existence of what you have come to believe is SPS–Stupid People Syndrome: your feeling that the co-existence of atheists and believers has only been paralleled in human history by the brief co-existence of Neanderthal and modern humans. And it would, after all, be so much easier if social disapproval could be generalized and society were rid of religion once and for all–its lures and seductions driven from the world and the gods into the fiery pit. Maybe then you could get some sleep. And stop being so Angry.
Until the day that happens and the First Amendment is repealed, which is what the solution would require, reading Seneca and a little Marcus Aurelius or Lucretius on the gods would help: They had this phobia mastered long before Christian thinkers like Boethius took up the question. The gods are lazy blighters who don’t care about you. They only care about themselves. You are on your own.
The point is, religiophobia leads to aggression and aggression often manifests itself in stupidity and rash behavior. I am not certain, given the religious perspective that God takes care of everything, that religion exhibits fear in quite the same way–which is a poor way of saying that fear of the gods (theophobia) is different from fear that there are no gods (religiophobia).
Oh, I know: you atheists out there will tell me I am making things up and that every atheist has the courage of his convictions and isn’t afraid of the big bad wolf or the big old sky fairy or any of those things. And I say: Good for you, Pinocchio. Then stop worrying about what goes on in the heads of religious women and men, or their being hypocrites for believing some of the things you no longer believe.
–And read some Seneca.