Sam Smith: Seventh Day Agnostics Arise
Seventh Day Agnostics Arise:
Nothing To Lose But Your Stereotype
By Prorev.com Editor Sam Smith
As far as the government and the media are concerned, the world's fourth largest belief system doesn't exist. In number of adherents it's behind Christianity, Islam and Buddhism but ahead of Hinduism. Globally it's 85% the size of Catholicism and in America just a little smaller than Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Lutherans put together. Perhaps most astoundingly, given today's politics, in the U.S. it is roughly the size of the Southern Baptist congregation.
Its leaders, however, are not invited to open Senate sessions. Our politicians do not quote them and our news shows do not interview them. And while it is a sin, if not a crime, to be anti-Catholic or anti-Semitic, disparaging this faith is not only permitted, it is publicly encouraged. The media acts as though it doesn't exist. You'd need an exceptional lawyer to sue your employer for ridiculing your belief in it. Its adherents are repeatedly and explicitly excluded from the category of "people of faith" even though they are among the most steadfast and well-grounded in their beliefs. Finally, if one of its major figures dies, you will probably not read about it, let alone find the president, two ex-presidents and Brian Williams flying off for the service.
So completely is this belief system excluded from our national consciousness that we do not even have a name for it. So let's give it one, at least for this article: shafarism - standing for secularism, humanism, atheism, free thought, agnosticism, and rationalism. Shafars are 850 million people around the globe and at least 20 million at home who are ignored, insulted, or commonly considered less worthy than those who adhere to faiths based on mythology and folklore rather than on logic, empiricism, verifiable history, and science.
This might be considered just another of the world's many injustices were it not for the fact that the globe is currently exceptionally endangered by a madness driven by false prophets of major traditional mythologies such as bin Laden, Bush and Sharon. Seldom has organized religion been so ubiquitously harmful. Even in our own country the dismantling of our republic and its constitution is being led by a extremist Christian cabal that not only is a political travesty but a mockery of its own professed faith.
In short, this is not a wise time for those of alternative beliefs to be banned from the airwaves and the public prints, especially since they have contributed so little to the current troubles.
Further, omnipresent evocations of American religiosity ignore some basic facts. Such as the Harris poll that shows about half of Americans go to church only a few times a year or never. In other words, they are at best what is known in some Latin American countries as navi-pascuas, attending only at Christmas and Easter. And among these, one reasonably suspects, are numerous closet shafars, silenced by the overwhelming suppression of skepticism and disbelief. In fact, the same poll found that 21% of Catholics and 52% of Jews either don't believe in God or are not certain that God exists.
Such facts are blatantly ignored by a media which happily assigns absurdly contradictory roles to God in stories such as the recent shootings in Atlanta. In that case one was led to believe that religious faith saved the hostage, even though the abductor professed belief in the same almighty, as presumably did at least some of those killed by the perpetrator. But who needs journalistic objectivity when such cliches are so handy?
None of which is to say that mythology and folklore are necessarily evil or that the non-religious necessarily earn morality by their skepticism. I'd take a progressive cardinal over Vladimir Putin any day. The thoughtfully religious, expressing their faith through works of decency and kindness, are far more useful, interesting and enjoyable than lazy, narcissistic rationalists. There have been times, such as the 1960s, when the church not only lived up to its gospel but proved to be one of the most desirable institutions around. And there are tens of millions of people who act as good Christians, even when their Pope or other leaders make it difficult.
But faith in religion is just one type of faith. Atheism can be called faith in evidence, agnosticism faith in doubt and science faith in logic. These are no less human faiths than those in an unseen God. Then there's deep ecology, a faith motivated, as one evangelist put it, by belief in creation rather than creator. Whether you call it God or Nature, argued Thor Heyerdahl, "the disagreement is about the spelling of a word." As far back as 1979, Vincent Rossi of an Eastern Orthodox holy order formed an Eleventh Commandment Fellowship to foster the biblical injunction that "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof; thou shalt not despoil the earth, nor destroy the life thereon."
Further, mythology and folklore serve the secular as well, picking up where knowledge falters. The wise recognize this as Dr. Einstein did when a friend noticed a horseshoe over his door and asked, "You don't believe in that do you?" "Of course not," Einstein is said to have replied, "but they tell me it works." At the other extreme was Spock who couldn't understand love because it wasn't logical. But then Spock was only half human.
Mythologies - religious and secular - have often made humans better and, at times, saved them in ways that rationality simply couldn't. They have prevented suicides, preserved families, rescued drunks, and helped others climb mountains.
But that is not the issue.
The issue is whether religious faith should be allowed to intrude with impunity in such secular areas as politics or science and still claim the protection of reverence and law. The answer, shafars should loudly proclaim, is no. Once Southern Baptists, Catholics, Jews or Muslims enter the political arena, they are no more entitled to special protection or regulated rhetoric than a Democrat or a Republican.
If the Pope wants to tell Africans not to use condoms, then he has left religion and deserves no more respect than George Bush or Bill Clinton. If Jews encourage Israel to suppress the Palestinians then they can't label as anti-Semitic those who note the parallels to South Africa. And if the Anglican church wants to perpetuate a second class status for gays, then we should give the Archbishop of Canterbury no more honor than Tom DeLay.
In other words, if you want to pray and believe, fine. But to put a folkloric account of our beginnings on the same plain as massive scientific research is not a sign of faith but of ignorance or delusion. And if you want to play politics you've got to fight by its rules and not hide under a sacred shield.
After all, is it worse to be anti-Catholic than anti-African? Is it worse to be anti-Semitic than to be anti-Arab? Is it worse to be anti-Anglican than anti-gay? Our culture encourages a hierarchy of antipathies which instead of eliminating prejudices merely divides them into the acceptable and the rejected. Part of the organization of some 'organized' religion has been to make itself sacred while the devil takes the rest of the world.
We need both faith and doubt, myth and science, but this ying and yang can not work if only faith and myth are allowed to sing in public places. We need to celebrate not just Christmas and Hanukah but the daily faith of the Seventh Day Agnostic and of the free thinker. The existentialist needs to be treated as respectfully as the evangelical, the skeptic as well as the fundamentalist. And we need to hear the wise words of secular philosophers as well as those of Jesus Christ.
Why are we so afraid of such voices? Why do we suppress them, keep them off the air, not mention them in public? Why - at a time when Southern Baptists, Catholics, Muslims and Jews are causing the world so much trouble with their misguided certainties - do we refuse to allow even a question mark?
Before unexamined religious faith causes more death and misery we should at least allow doubt, logic, and secular solutions to sit at the table and raise their voice.
Of course, given the vast cultural bias towards mythic certainties, it won't be a chair offered us by either the traditionally faithful or by an anti-secular media. Rather the secularists, humanists, atheists, free thinkers, agnostics, and rationalists - the shafars - are going to have to stand up and make themselves heard. While they don't have to go as far as to demand that anti-secularism become a hate crime, they do have to start beating on the doors of the media and politicians demanding a decent visibility, a fair hearing, and assurances that Brian Williams will come to some of their funerals, too.
A FREETHINKERS' BILL OF RIGHTS
[From Sacramento Free Thought]
The freedoms of thought and expression count among our most fundamental and cherished rights, and promote both individual welfare and the common good in a democratic state. Historically, however, unbelievers such as secular humanists, atheists, agnostics, rationalists, and freethinkers have faced prejudice, intolerance, and discrimination for their opinions and discoveries.
In the firm conviction that the principle of church-state separation guarantees the equal rights of the religious and non-religious, we the Campus Freethought Alliance, on this 12th Day of July, 1998, hereby present the following Bill of Rights for Unbelievers.
Unbelievers shall have the right to:
Think freely and autonomously, express their views forthrightly, and debate or criticize any and all ideas without fear of censure, recrimination, or public ostracism.
Be free from discrimination and persecution in the workplace, business transactions, and public accommodations.
Exercise freedom of conscience in any situation where the same right would be extended to believers on religious grounds alone.
Hold any public office, in accordance with the constitutional principle that there shall be no religious test for such office.
Abstain from religious oaths and pledges, including pledges of allegiance, oaths of office, and oaths administered in a court of law, until such time as these are secularized or replaced by non-discriminatory affirmations.
Empower members of their community to perform legally-binding ceremonies, such as marriage.
Raise and nurture their children in a secular environment, and not be disadvantaged in adoption or custody proceedings because of their unbelief.
Conduct business and commerce on any day of their choosing, without interference from laws or regulations recognizing religious days of prayer, rest, or celebration.
Enjoy freedom from taxation supporting the government employment of clergy, and access to secular counseling equivalent to that provided by chaplains.
Declare conscientious objection to serving in the armed forces under any circumstance in which the religious may do so.
Live as citizens of a democracy free from religious language and imagery in currency, public schools and buildings, and government documents and business.
FAITH OF OUR FOREFATHERS
[From the writings of Thomas Jefferson]
The whole history of [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful, evidence that parts have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds.
History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government.
In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own
I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.
[From the writings of James Madison]
Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise
During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution
What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries.
The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs. is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles. . . Religious proclamations by the Executive [branch] recommending thanksgivings & fasts are shoots from the same root. . . Altho' recommendations only, they imply a religious agency, making no part of the trust delegated to political rulers
WHAT'S A HUMANIST?
HUMANIST SOCIETY OF WESTERN NEW YORK - A joyous alternative to religions that believe in a supernatural god and life in a hereafter. Humanists believe that this is the only life of which we have certain knowledge and that we owe it to ourselves and others to make it the best life possible for ourselves and all with whom we share this fragile planet. A belief that when people are free to think for themselves, using reason and knowledge as their tools, they are best able to solve this world's problems. An appreciation of the art, literature, music and crafts that are our heritage from the past and of the creativity that, if nourished, can continuously enrich our lives. Humanism is, in sum, a philosophy of those in love with life. Humanists take responsibility for their own lives and relish the adventure of being part of new discoveries, seeking new knowledge, exploring new options. Instead of finding solace in prefabricated answers to the great questions of life, humanists enjoy the open-endedness of a quest and the freedom of discovery that this entails.
WHAT'S AN EXISTENTIALIST?
PHILOS0PHER, UK - [Jean Paul] Sartre was an atheist. As God does not exist, there are no 'essences.' By essence, Sartre is talking about a pre-defined human nature. What Sartre meant by the phrase 'existence precedes essence' is this: If there is no cosmic designer, then there is no design or essence of human nature. Human existence or being differs from the being of objects in that human being is self-conscious. This self-consciousness also gives the human subject the opportunity to define itself. The individual creates his/her self by making self-directed choices.
As human existence is self-conscious without being pre-defined, we, as autonomous beings are "condemned to be free": compelled to make future directed choices. These choices induce anxiety and uncertainty in to our psyches. If we, as individuals, simply follow custom or social expectations in order to escape this angst, we have escaped the responsibility of making our own choices, of creating our own essence. We have acted in bad faith.
To act authentically we must take responsibility for our future. We cannot choose what gender, class, or country we were born into, but we can choose what we make of them. We are free to create our own interpretation of ourselves in relation to the world, to create a project of possibilities, of authentic actions as the expression of freedom.
DAVID MORRIS, ALTERNET - It is long past time we stopped giving a free pass to organizations that refuse to be guided by reason and would force their unreason on the entire society. A first step would be to stop calling these "faith-based institutions" and start calling them by the synonymous and much more instructive term, "superstition-based institutions."
Organized superstitions might be more socially supportable if their creed included a provision accepting the organized superstitions of others. Unfortunately, modern religions do not practice tolerance. For example Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore gained widespread fame and even adulation when he refused to obey court orders to remove from the Alabama Courthouse a huge stone tablet on which was inscribed the Ten Commandments. When he was asked how he would react to the suggestion that a monument to the Koran or the Torah also be placed in the Courthouse he brusquely declared he would prohibit such an installation.
A few months later, Lt. Gen. William G. 'Jerry' Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence explained why he knew he would win his battle against Muslims in Somalia. "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."
The creationism vs. evolution debate also illuminates this intolerance. Christians insist that their creation myth represent the creationist side. But there are many creationist myths, many of which predated both Christianity and Judaism. If evidence is not needed, why exclude any superstitions? . . .
The impact of moving towards "superstition-based institutions" would be highly controversial, quite educational, and on the whole exceedingly salutary. Consider the impact on the audience if we switched the interchangeable terms in President George W. Bush's following statement, posted on a federal web site:
"I believe in the power of superstition in people's lives. Our government should not fear programs that exist because a church or a synagogue or a mosque has decided to start one. We should not discriminate against programs based upon superstition in America. We should enable them to access federal money, because superstition-based programs can change people's lives, and America will be better off for it.". . .
The central problem with organized, assertive religion, of course, is that it endows superstition with a moral and messianic fervor. God-directed superstition can be a lethal force. Indeed, one might argue that this type of force is behind much of the violence around the world. The conflicts in Palestine (Jews v. Muslims), the Balkans (Orthodox Serbians v. Muslims), Northern Ireland (Protestants v. Catholics), Kashmir (Muslims v. Hindus), Indonesia (Muslims v. Timorese Christians) and the Caucasus (Orthodox Russians v. Chechen Muslims) constitute only a few of the places where religion has been the explicit cause of million of deaths in the last ten years. . .
Monday, 11 April 2005
FROM THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW
EDITED BY SAM SMITH
Since 1964, Washington's most unofficial source
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