There are a lot of Christian movies coming out: we had God is Not Dead and The Passion of the Christ, and now a remake of Left Behind with Nicholas Cage is hitting the theaters. A review of the trend points out how bad these movies are, and that rather than propping up Christianity they seem to be doing a better job of exposing its stupidities.
I agree with the review, and I’m sure most atheists wouldn’t find much cause to argue with it, either. But I’d like to point out one telling phrase that emerged when the author was explaining his background.
By way of background, I have lived both irrational religion and right-wing politics. To “find myself” and salvage a crumbling marriage, I converted to fundamentalist Christianity in my early twenties. Both my religion and marriage ended up failing, but I remained supportive of right-wing social politics for several years after, because “religious values” were part of my political identity. I opposed gay marriage long after I left the church (I am very, very sorry), even though without religious motives there is no logic behind such discrimination.
There. That one.
As years passed, I grew uncomfortable with the theocratic right and became a libertarian, but even that wasn’t far enough from the religious right for me. Today it is impossible to separate religion from right-wing politics, creating a community rooted in dueling fantasies of persecution and righteousness with a pasty, white Jesus at the helm. Christianity expressed in culture and in religious movies has nothing to do with faith, decency or alleviating suffering. It’s a bizarre American offshoot best expressed by second-amendment Jesus and cutting food stamps for hungry children.
I’ve been trying for years to hammer into the head of obstinate atheists an awareness of the fact that their ideas about god are more than just a flat statement about disbelief — they entail a whole body of values and ethics. It seems to be obvious to everyone else but the dictionary atheists.
As an atheist, you believe that superstitions about gods should not be used to set legal policy for you: you are almost certainly a strong proponent of governmental secularism. That one doesn’t seem to surprise anyone.
You’re probably also a fan of education, and particularly science education. It’s not in the dictionary definition, but the biggest names in atheism have been setting the trend, and you also find that explanations of natural causes reinforce your doubts about supernatural ones.
As the author above notes, stripping away those traditional religious motives also means you support LGBTQ rights — and it’s more than just a lack of authoritarian precepts, but appreciating the values of fairness and equality. Even Libertarian atheists find this to be a potent right to champion.
Yes, you can probably think of a few homophobic atheists. There are always exceptions. But in general, that you are godless means you don’t find your ethical rules in a holy book, but in the interactions of human beings and a desire to maximize general happiness and opportunity.
There are other things where the absence of gods makes a similar impact on our morality: there is no reason to revere a fetus over the woman carrying it, for instance. There are other consequences where the community is relatively bad and lazy about thinking through the issues, but once you apply human values to the situation, old dogmas dissolve. Race, for example: Biblical characterizations of black people as servile no longer apply, and most atheists on thinking about racism will see that it’s wrong and move away from it. One problem is that white American atheists live in such a segregated society that there’s not much opportunity for exposure, and the mainstream atheist movement has been largely indifferent and oblivious.
We’re wrestling with another significant topic, though, of sexism. We’re in such a mess because atheists have been soaking in the bigoted stew of Biblically-derived patriarchal notions for so long in our culture that many have internalized them — yet a rational atheism would recognize that those stereotyped distinctions are invalid. Like the whole issue of gay marriage, it is inevitable that the majority of atheists will (if not already) fully encompass a rejection of a Christian subservient ‘femininity’ and adopt a more realistic value of fully shared humanity.
First step, though, is that atheists have to wake up to the idea that atheism itself changes how we see the world — it’s more than just a statement about the nonexistence of a deity, but a deep-in-the-bone shift about the nature of the universe.