In yesterday’s episode, our heroine gassed on about how atheism — or naturalism — is a positive philosophy, more than just a lack of belief in God or the soul or the afterlife. In today’s startling revelation, she answers the second part of the question of why her atheist identity is so important to her — politics, and the place of religion and atheism in our society.
Second: Politics and society.
If religion weren’t so important and so prominent in our society, my atheism almost certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near as important to me as it is. As Eclectic said, I might be non-religious in the same way that I’m a non-butler, or that I’m not from Poughkeepsie, or that I don’t eat broccoli.
In fact, if religion weren’t so prominent, I might not even be an atheist. I might still be an agnostic, or a woo-woo Tarot reading hippie, or a vague believer in some sort of mystical animating spirit that connects all living things. The fact that religion is so much in my face has forced me to think about it carefully, to really consider what I believe — and how likely it is to be true.
But in America — and around the world — religion is unignorable, and getting increasingly so. Just as one example: According to a Gallup poll, almost half the people in this country believe in strict Creationism — that “God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.” And these people have become increasingly powerful politically in the last couple of decades, with some very real-world effects — fucking up our schools, our health care system, our environmental policies, etc. etc. (I could go on in this vein at some length, but that’s a subject for another post.)
So being an atheist is important to my identity for the same reasons being queer is important to my identity. My queer identity is important because of homophobia, and the assumption of heterosexuality, and the fact that queers have been stepped on and have to scream just to be heard. (And interestingly, as these things have diminished somewhat — at least in the little lefty paradise of San Francisco — my queer identity has become somewhat less important to me. The fact that I’m with Ingrid — very important. Crucial. The fact that I’m a bi-dykeâŠ not as important as it used to be.)
And similarly, my atheist identity is important because of the religious right. Because of laws restricting abortion rights. Because of abstinence-only sex education in the public schools. Because of the Christian right getting Wal-Mart to stop politely saying “Happy Holidays” to their customers instead of “Merry Christmas.” Because of children being terrorized with the prospect of burning and torture if they even question what they’re taught about God.
Because when my atheist father was admitted to a nursing home, my brother was asked, “Is he Baptist or Catholic?” (As if those were the only choices. That one didn’t just piss me off on behalf of atheists — it pissed me off on behalf of Jews, and Muslims, and Buddhists, and Wiccans, and Unitarians… and for that matter, Lutherans and Methodists and Presbyterians.)
And because according to a recent Gallup poll, only 49 percent of Americans would vote for an atheist for President, while 59 percent would vote for a homosexual, 92 percent would vote for a black person, and 95 percent would vote for a woman. Think about what homophobia, racism, and sexism are like in this country, and that’ll give you some context for this statistic.
Before you hit the Comment button — Yes, I know that that’s not the only way to be religious. But it’s a depressingly common one, especially in this country. And because of its “believe what you’re told” nature, it’s a way of being religious that wields a frightening amount of political power. If most religious believers in this country were moderate and tolerant, I’d still think they were mistaken in their beliefs… but I wouldn’t particularly care.
Again, I could go on about this at much greater length, and at some point I will. But that is a post for another day. The point is: If none of this crap were true, I might well be a non-believer in the same way that I’m a non-butler.
But it isn’t.