Contrary to what Pastor Duroe wrote (Dec. 18 Herald), atheists respect others’ beliefs. It’s believers that ridicule atheists because they find no need for a belief in a God or a hereafter life that no one can prove exists.

Why are believers so threatened by nonbelievers? Are they afraid of the truth, that their beliefs are false and have no merit? Why is it so threatening that someone doesn’t need to believe in the supernatural being?

Dan Barker (co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and author of an op-ed column in the Dec. 6 Herald) spent 17 years as a minister, then lost faith in faith after a five-year struggle to find the truth. He likes to say he threw out the bath water and there was no baby there.

Freedom From Religion does not “enact lawsuits on people and institutions of faith.” FFRF ends hundreds of violations of the separations between church and state every year without going to court, through education and persuasion. When FFRF litigates, it only sues the government, not “people or institutions of faith.”

FFRF has never sued a church, only religions that unite with churches to illegally endorse, prefer or favor religion over nonreligion or one religion over another.

Pew Forum has released a major new survey showing 1 in 5 adults are “nonreligious.” That consists with the definitive American Religious Identification Survey, which in 2008 put nonreligious at 15 percent and growing.

Many nonreligious people are afraid to admit they don’t believe because of the wrath they would face from believers.

(23) comments

Thundercloud

Sometimes comparable to the Taliban.

dans

I could do this with other sentences but I'll take this one "FFRF has never sued a church, only religions that unite with churches to illegally endorse, prefer or favor religion over nonreligion or one religion over another." and say "What?"

SRLaBelle

Char,
It is difficult to publish a letter exposing your skepticism to a society which is lubricated with the sheen of belief. I appreciate your attempt. Religion is messy, the church is fractured into thousands of small variations on the theme. Inside the tent are hundreds of millions of souls, attending for hundreds of millions of reasons, from convinced to cynical. The church is as likely to split into two or four or 5,000 pieces as it is to persecute a non-believer. Each sect sees all other sects and the non-religious as "not saved". Even "non-belief" takes on a fanaticism at times. The one thing we can all be assured of is that death is just around the corner. It's an overwhelming problem. I support your right to doubt. I defend your skepticism.
Great men have won our freedom of thought and speech but we are a child afraid of the dark. The church fills a need, how would you replace Heaven? Death is hard, disaster random, life too grim to crush this comfort for the many.

Thundercloud

I swear there ain't now heaven and I pray there ain't no hell.....

Chas_a_stephens
Chas_a_stephens

I agree that it takes a stern resolve to deny the comfort of a white lie to a child or friend that has just experienced the loss of a loved one. Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect the many to deny themselves this convenient approach to deal with the grimness of life.

But the price of this convenience is high. If only we could devise a way to provide the needed comfort based upon reason rather than devisive myths that result in unintended harm for so many.

SRLaBelle

Chas,
I consider myself reasonable and yet I purchase a lottery ticket each week and fall to sleep dreaming of ways to spend a million dollars. Let's face it, we are creatures of fear and wonder. How can you expect superstitious folks like me to search for truth and beauty when the first thing such an endeavor costs us is our community of superstitious fellow travelers? If you care to question the church you will find ample loose strings to pull. If there is a reason to defrock this or that "man of God" in order to protect his flock I would join you.
If you have nothing in your basket which will cause people to join together and sing once a week or so and no words of comfort for those facing death then what are you suggesting? Even where the church has been nearly removed by dictators the people still crave heaven for their loved ones. We may think freely but it is cruel to expect others to join on this path. Describe the culture you would prefer. How would it look, touch, feel?

Chas_a_stephens
Chas_a_stephens

You certainly seem reasonable and your points are not without merit. One could argue that religion, even if false, is a humane pain killer that only a cruel person would try to deny to the "terminally ill" as we all are in some respect. But I am unconvinced that the solace that religion provides is worth the misery caused by teaching people to believe beyond reason in irrational explanations and to worship a deity that - if he existed - is infinitely more cruel than anyone who ever existed. For every weary traveler comforted, there is any number of undesirable side effects from atrocities justified to simply poor decisions made regarding what would best promote human happiness. One may think it cruel to expect people to stop thinking like children because of the comfort that it denies them. I think it is far more cruel to teach them that faith is more virtuous than reason and hinder any other path to enlightenment because we fear they couldn't handle it.

SRLaBelle

Chas,
So what would your ideal society look like? What would a four old be told as her grandparent's life is snuffed out by cancer or a drunken driver? Where would human desire for heaven be channeled?
It seems to me that atrocities have been doled out on a regular basis no matter which deity is in charge. Even when there are no deities recognized man's inhumanity to man seems unfettered.
Could you point out a moment in human history when human misery was lessened due to the lack of religion? Could you give me any evidence that atrocities would be lease but for religion? I believe in freedom of religion, and of course the freedom to not believe, but I think there are few humans prepared to profit from a frank look at their mortality. Life is very short.
I think we need institutions beyond the state. Faith versus reason?
Chas, I think all but a very few humans survive on faith. Even those who swear by reason are usually just faithful to the concept rather than actually reasonable.

Chas_a_stephens
Chas_a_stephens

I think there are several superior alternatives to the afterlife myth. One would be to admit that people have lots of different ideas about what might happen after someone dies, but no one knows for sure. Explain that “before you were born, you didn’t exist – you didn’t feel anything at all. I think that’s what it’s like for Grandma now; she isn’t there anymore, so she can’t think or feel, and certainly nothing can hurt her. What do you think?” We now live in the most humane civilization that humanity has ever known. And it is directly correlated with the move toward secularism and away from superstition. It is almost entirely where superstition still dominates that we find misery at its apex (e.g. Muslim honor killings). If there is a role for religion in the “ideal” society, it would be small, like a vaccine, where a little bit of the virus is needed to inoculate and in which the complete elimination of religion may leave us exposed to an even more deadly outbreak of unreason.

SRLaBelle

"We now live in the most humane civilization that humanity has ever known. And it is directly correlated with the move toward secularism and away from superstition"
The 20th century was probably our most violent but our move toward secularism seems to gotten underway in the 18th century.
"Muslim honor killings" terrible events to be sure but fairly rare when compared to crimes of passion in the United States (our version of the honor killing)
Another thing which is provided by religion in our society, which would be sorely missed if it were gone, is the ability to say "no" to the state on religious grounds.
Without a counterparty to the domination of the state, what would become of conscientious objection?
Reason has had it moments in absolute power and oceans of blood have flowed as a result, think Stalin, think Khmer Rouge.
Such a simple promise, if you are a good person you will survive death, leaves us all better off whether we believe or not.
Chas, what's the problem?

SRLaBelle

Chas,
Another issue which arises is the question "what is reason?" From decade to decade the dictates of reason seem to be changing as it lurches from eugenics to abortion, from my perch here in the trees which cast shade on both the granite churches or religion and the marbled campuses in the kingdom of reason it seems that the religion of reason is more accepting when it comes to killing. Abortion, the neocons, the nuclear bomb, communism, each a fountain of death, seem to be squarely planted in the garden of reason. There is nothing so reasonable as "mutual assured destruction"
I think that reason is just a peer-reviewed version of religion. I bet that most of the supplicants before the alter of reason would have difficulty defending their faith in reason's dictates any more clearly than religion's folks. They believe because they believe, they have faith.
At least in church they sing.

Chas_a_stephens
Chas_a_stephens

People of faith often point to Stalin and Pol Pot (also Hitler and Moa) as examples of reason run amok. The problem was not that they rejected religion, but that they were too much like religion - dogmatic at the core. Nevertheless, the number of deaths by violence as a proportion of the total population has continued to decline over time and those of the 20th century were modest compared with the ferocious cruelties of the wars of religion in the 17th century. Steven Pinker makes a great case for this thesis in “The Better Angels of Our Nature”. Only the same wishful thinking that promotes the afterlife myth could conclude that it is the civilizing effect of religion that has accomplished this. It is free thought that has empower women and given us the concept of human rights and I would add that it has done so against a church that has fought against such progress at almost every step.

SRLaBelle

Chas,
So when reason runs amuck it's because the purveyors of that season's reason were simply religionists in disguise... Hummm?
When you call the wars of the 17th century "religious wars" are you confident in your acessment or are you simply faithful to a myth? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_war
I am open to suggestion but I think that Ww1,ww2, Stalins purges, the holodomor, The Armenian deaths, the Cambodian and African massacres and the millions of straight up murders around the world (200 million?) must nearly equal half the entire world population of 1600. Unless you consider nearly every death in 1600-1700 as "caused by religion" then I would think that things haven't improved much.
All of us are mother, brother, sister, father, son, daughter, all of us welcome advances in society but not every person who opposes abortion wishes ill upon women. Some would say that the practice hurts the women who agree to it, many reasonable sorts might consider it a violent death.

Chas_a_stephens
Chas_a_stephens

We have very different definitions of reason if you think that the atrocities of the 20th century are because people became too reasonable. Yes – in absolute numbers, violent deaths were highest in the 20th century. But that’s because there are exponentially more people now. What the Pinker research shows is that the murder rate (which is as a % of the population) has declined over time and gives credit for this progress (and if it isn’t progress I don’t know what is) to changes in sensibilities that began during the 18th century, the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/video/2012/jun/11/violence-steven-pinker-better-angels-nature

SRLaBelle

Chas,
I just watched the first 45% of Pinker's talk(well worth the time but I have to get up tomorrow morn) and I will agree that he makes a good case for the fall of per capita violence but I don't think he agrees with your assertion that religion is, or was, the cause of violence. He talks of a series of changes, including the enlightenment but he doesn't blame the church for violence. You seem to have overlayed his findings with your own prejudice. If anything, his description of the post ww2 situation seems to be an endorsement of the status quo rather than a call for a new dictatorship of "reason" (the sort of thing which too often seems to devolve into violence against the free yeomen) Why do you feel the need to alter society's peaceful trajectory? Why must you poke the religionists?
Go pack!

Chas_a_stephens
Chas_a_stephens

I’m glad you enjoyed Pinker as much as I did. I was simply drawing the conclusion to which Pinker’s research pointed - that the enlightenment (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Enlightenment) which was in essence movement away from superstition, is in large part responsible for the progress we have made. Perhaps my conclusions are in error. Favoring reason over faith does not guarantee that I get it right. But I believe favoring faith over reason all but eliminates the only shot at success you have. I am not calling for a dictatorship of reason. I am simply suggesting that peoples’ faith should have no special protected status from being challenged, especially when it is the basis of their opinions on things that matter like contraception, homosexual (human) rights, stem cell research, etc. I certainly wouldn’t admonish you to keep your contrary view of the basis of human progress to yourself because if conflicts with one that comforts me.

SRLaBelle

Chas,
I am definitely in the hunt for Pinker's book (not sold at Walmart) and enjoyed that link. On contraception we are probably in sync. but my view on abortion has been morphing away from choice. I think that a few months or 18 years or whatever time lost to a young mother's aspirations (and the father's, who has no choice in the matter) cannot measure up to the apparent barbarity of intentionally ending a human life. I have four children I understand the sacrifice of raising children but what is there in this life which is more important than our children. Which cynical cast of characters values a few rungs on the corporate ladder enough to commit an act of such momentous scale? This choice seems like a terrible thing to lay on our society's young women. It is as if we have so aggrandized our career paths that we have forgotten what's truly important on this short journey of life.
Thank you for your thoughtful replies

Kat
Kat

Thanks Charlotte,
So many Christians don't understand that FFRF is not attempting to deny anyone's right to practice his or her religion in their homes or churches or to pray privately anywhere. By enforcing the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, FFRF and other organizations that value the separation of church and state assure that no one religion will dominate the public square, thereby assuring that all persons of any religion or no religion will maintain their rights to practice as they choose; it is one of the extraordinary principles that has made our country uniquely free.

The only way to be certain that one can practice his or her preferred religion (or none) is to be certain that the public square is free from all religions. I fear that any extreme religionist, Christian or otherwise, is not interested in anyone's religious freedom or liberty except his or her own.

ChippewaFallsWisconsin

The separation of church and state is not intended to put down any single religion. The reason is that there are so many religions, it's not right to single one out in the schools. There don't sing Hebrew songs in school, they don't sing Muslim songs in school, they sing christian songs. Religion is a VERY personal thing in each ones life. It's not something that should be pushed in schools, when parents spend time with their children teaching a different faith to those. Religion is personal and should stay that way. This country is built by immigrants from all faiths, literally built from all faiths, and the Republicans want us all to believe in one faith, the christian faith. I know I will hear flack about that comment, but it's true. I didn't hear Romney say he wanted Muslim scripture cited in school, but he wanted christian scripture. An then there are those that don't believe in god at all. Why are they subjected to even worse because they don't believe in Santa?

ChippewaFallsWisconsin

People in this country seem to have the right to whatever faith they have, but what if they don't have a faith? They are put down worse than devil worshipers. Because I don't go to church and believe in a white man with a beard sitting in the clouds, I am somehow evil. People go to church to listen to a history lesson and taught to do good. I took history in college and have never intentionally inflicted harm on anyone. I don't need to give money in a passed around plate for someone to tell me to be good. The bible is all about interpretation. If someone wants to pray to a person in the sky so they can make sense of why something tragic happened, that's up to them. But on a side note, when a team wins the championship and says they won because god was on their side, what about the other team, did god not like them?

dans

I wonder if you, personally, could tell us when you were called "evil" because you don't go to Church or believe in that white man and who called you that. What I can see here on this forum is someone, if I understand the comment, saying "believers" are "comparable to the Taliban" and another person who says "believers" perpetuate "divisive myths" that "harm many." And, the author of the letter lays down blanket statement after blanket statement grouping all "believers" together in their ridiculing, threatening, wrathful, cowardice. On the other hand, "atheists" are, without exception, respectful, tolerant, and paragons of every other virtue, apparently.

ChippewaFallsWisconsin

I was told this by many, including my own family who attends a non-denominational church. There are many church's who say they are christian, but judge those who don't believe what they do. Have you ever been to a Catholic church? I was raised Catholic and mine wouldn't allow us to step into any other faith. My entire posts have been one idea, faith is personal and shouldn't be public. We all believe in different things, and just like politics, it shouldn't be discussed with others you don't know.

Chewbacca
Chewbacca

I want the last 5 minutes of my life back.

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