When both sides get silly

It’s no wonder that so many Americans dislike atheists when they have this sort of article to read in major newspapers. Unfortunately the author of the article, Jordan Sekulow, is justified in some of his remarks, which are made in response to some twit at American Atheists who’s living up to the strident, angry atheist stereotype. Here’s a detailed look at the article, since it’s a good demonstration of what happens when people from both sides go off the rails. Sekulow writes:

While a large majority of the electorate fully embraces the importance of the commander-in-chief’s faith, atheists [sic] groups continue to denigrate politicians – along with all religious people – who believe in God.

Atheists see the majority of the American people as “less educated but more abundant indoctrinated masses,” who are led by “superfundies [fundamentalists].” According to the group American Atheists, “superfundies” are people like, “Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, [and] George Bush.”

It may be true that the representative interviewed at the American Atheists feels this way, but Sekulow happily lumps all atheists in with this opinion. He is doing precisely what theists so often accuse us of doing: using the view of an extremist to represent the majority. You need to play by your own rules, Mr. Sekulow.

Next, here’s one of the quotes from the American Atheists that appears later in the article:

The activities of these few [“superfundies”], spurred on and supported by the less educated but more abundant indoctrinated masses are what generates all the lawsuits that are filed to challenge the abrogation of the civil rights of those who lack a belief in God and find the morality associated with religious belief to be immoral and reprehensible.”

Here, the American Atheist representative is overreaching. It is far from clear that the “indoctrinated masses” are less educated than atheists, and moves by believers to affect the law in favor of their religious beliefs are not, in all fairness, specifically directed at atheists. Rather, they are directed at whatever demographic is associated with the law in question. For instance, the rights of pregnant women to make decisions about their own bodies are threatened by the anti-abortion movement. Importantly, not all women who seek abortions are atheists.

Sekulow then continues:

Atheists are free to believe or disbelieve as they please, and no one is filing lawsuits to take away their constitutional rights. It is people like the members of the ACLJ [American Center for Law and Justice] and those of us whose families fled persecution who are fighting back to defend the heritage of our nation from atheist attacks.

Now it’s Sekulow’s turn to be silly. The heritage of our nation is under attack from atheists! The sky is falling!

Nonsense. While it is true that some atheist organizations (such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation) are trying to uphold the constitutionally based separation of church and state, this is a protection of national heritage, not an attack on it. Furthermore, no atheist organization is trying to attack the practice of religious belief as it is generally carried out in America. You don’t see atheists picketing outside churches on Sundays. Sekulow is simply twisting the facts to feed the persecution complex that many American Christians insist on maintaining, despite the fact that their government affords them a greater degree of religious freedom than almost any nation in history.

These angry atheists are losing in court because their interpretation of the Constitution is flawed, little more than an exercise in “mental gymnastics” attempting to make a “fantasy” godless America into a reality.

I’m not sure why Sekulow uses the link he does in “losing in court” because it doesn’t refer to any lost court battles. A list of court successes for the Freedom from Religion Foundation shows that, while there may be losses, there are plenty of victories also.  Sekulow’s point is therefore moot.

How can atheists “hold these illogical and irrational beliefs” about religious people when the vast majority of Americans consider them unfit to lead the country?

This is quite bizarre. Sekulow is suggesting that if religious people don’t trust atheists, then atheists have no right to call religious people illogical and irrational. Where is the logic in that? Because America is mostly a religious nation, everyone who isn’t religious ought to respect religious beliefs?

Atheists are perfectly within their rights, and frankly perfectly sane and reasonable, to make the claim that religious beliefs (not necessarily the believers themselves) are illogical and irrational, despite how popular such beliefs may be in this particular part of the world.

And let’s not forget that religious people fight their own battles on these issues too: many Muslims consider Christian beliefs to be illogical and irrational. Since Muslims, too, are in the minority, and also unpopular as potential presidential candidates, must they also kowtow to  Christian beliefs? Or can we all live together with the freedom to discuss and debate religious ideas without fear of being pressed into the majority view?

All in all, both Sekulow and the American Atheist representative ought to take a longer perspective. Atheists are simply trying to promote the separation of church and state, while Christians are simply lobbying for laws that are more in line with their beliefs. Both sides have a right to pursue their goals. And neither side is (in general) going about it using violence or illegal tactics, but through the appropriate legal channels. Pro-lifers aren’t storming into the Capitol building to take Democratic politicians hostage, nor are atheists stealing Ten Commandment monuments from government premises. So, let’s lay the hysterical rhetoric aside and settle these issues like adults.

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