RR Excerpt #12: Political Implications of Atheism

This is excerpt #12 from The Reason Revolution: Atheism, Secular Humanism, and the Collapse of Religion, a short, FREE e-book available at Smashwords, Goodreads, and Amazon

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Politics matter. It is through instruments of government that politics impact people. If politics were not infused with religious ideology, it would matter little that one individual has a personal theology different from that of another. We could live and let live. You like red, I like blue, mox nix.

But when governments create laws that encode the religious tenets of one segment of the population into enforced policies that apply to all citizens, we have a problem. No longer are your beliefs of no concern to me. Government creates a problem by imposing, by enforced laws, precepts of your religion on me. American Christians, Iranian Muslims, and other religionists who currently enjoy majority status in their countries would appreciate these sensitivities if their creeds became the minority and a similarly bigoted majority dominated them politically.

I do not personally proselytize for secularism, nor attempt by oral argument to convince individual people of faith that their beliefs are wrong. I prefer nonadversarial conversations in search of mutual understanding, agreeing to respectfully disagree on our divergent views. On a macro scale, however, we secular humanists believe the world would be a safer, saner, less violent, more humane, and all-round better place if religion were to somehow disappear.

The United States is a highly religious country governed by highly religious political leaders, despite declared separation of church and state written as the First Amendment to the Constitution. (The pretense of) religious belief is a basic requirement for success in campaigning for elective office. Some political candidates and incumbents are devoted passionately to their faith, convinced of its eternal and exclusive truth above all others. Their fervent convictions propel these legislators and officials to promote policies that impose their beliefs on society as a whole. Their goal appears to be to remake America into a "Christian nation," if not an outright theocracy.

The globe is littered with examples of failed attempts to blend religion with governance to form a nation that serves the natural needs of its citizens. I shudder to think that America might one day be among them, and I do my civic duty as a voter to prevent that outcome.

Current public policy issues into which religious ideology has become infused include the following:

1. Property tax exemption for houses of worship, which shifts the cost of subsidizing religion to the tax-paying public.

2. Teaching the pseudoscience of creationism and its thinly disguised twin, intelligent design, in public (tax-supported) schools, which undermines legitimate science education.

3. Restricting access to early-term abortion, based on the religious notion that a fertilized egg is sacred and the moral equivalent of a sentient person. Advocates can engage in reasoned debate about the rubicon during pregnancy when a healthy fetus's rights overtake those of a host mother, but the idea that it occurs at conception is a purely religious artifact.

4. Opposition to birth control by the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, which has influenced public policy, notably by the enactment of spurious laws in some American states that obstruct access to women's health services. In the most religious populations in America and in many developing nations, restricting access to contraceptives and birth control information causes unmanaged population growth and its ensuing poverty, deprivation, and needless suffering.

5. Outlawing physician-assisted suicide and other methods of voluntary euthanasia, based on the idea that only god can decide when life should end. Secular humanists consider themselves the owners of their lives, not governments and churches. Therefore, authority for deciding end-of-life issues properly resides with the individual, not with government agencies whose policies are authored by religious policy-makers.

6. Legal discrimination against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) persons, an unfairness rooted in religion-based notions of sexual morality. No secular basis exists for objecting to sexual activities that occur between or among consenting adults.

7. Sex education based on religious ideology, such as abstinence-only and anti-masturbation teachings, rather than on medically sound knowledge about physical and emotional health.

8. Prayer in public (tax supported) schools, in the military, and at government meetings (including opening sessions of the U.S. Congress).

9. Language such as "under God" and "in God we trust" on currency, in the pledge of allegiance, and in other government documents and artifacts. Such phrases, which might appear harmless to some, imply government endorsement of religion and blur the boundary between church and state.

10. Efforts by some radical religionists to base civil and criminal law on the Christian Ten Commandments or Islamic sharia law.

11. Failure to protect animal rights, particularly as affected by the meat industry and sport-killing. Religion artificially bifurcates the animal world into human and non-human—humans have souls and are created in the image of god, whereas non-human animals are merely objects whose consciousness and capacity for pain and suffering are largely unrecognized and of little concern. Having surprisingly recent common ancestors—mammals appeared after over 95% of the period of life on earth had passed—we human animals are not-so-distant cousins of the non-human animals whose flesh we eat and whom we (not I) kill for sport. As known through biological science, animals experience not only physical pain as we do, but many of the same emotions as ours. With rare exceptions, governments do not regulate the pain and suffering we inflict on our animal cousins. Government protects human rights, but fails to protect animal rights due to religion's false categorization as two distinct forms of living beings. Secular humanists are concerned with the well-being of all sentient creatures, human and non-human. We are not necessarily vegetarian, but we care about the humane treatment of food animals up to the moment of their deaths.

Readers are invited to suggest additional religion-infused public policy issues, in the United States and elsewhere, which might be included in future editions of this book.

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