The Respectability Of Belief by Catherine Fahringer (March 1998)

As an unbeliever, freethinker, nontheist, humanist, rationalist, atheist, agnostic, or whatever it pleases anyone to call me, I am constantly dismayed, annoyed, frightened and astonished when I see the constant usurpation of secular fields by believers in the Christian faith. Medical, psychological and legal, for three, have been invaded to recruit members for “special groups” of “Christian” doctors, psychologists and attorneys. These special Christian sub-groups offer newsletters addressing the integration of faith into healing, counseling and legal practice. Indeed!
These groups are growing in membership, so they announce, but I have no numbers or solid evidence. Still, it’s worrisome, especially since the media are constantly burbling about our quest for spirituality, and repeating the claim that prayer is efficacious in the healing process, even if the patient and the pray-er do not even know each other! If prayer is so successful, couldn’t we just abandon medical treatment which is often gross and painful? Prayer is painless–and you don’t even have to take off your clothes! Well, not really, say the prayer advocates (aware that such a belief would throw them in the same camp with Christian Scientists); it is the combination of the two that ensures success. This certainly doesn’t explain those of us who have recovered from all sorts of terrible things after resorting to medical treatment only.

It just occurred to me that, if prayer is so powerful, then there must be millions of people out there collectively praying for tornadoes, wars, disease, floods, blizzards, droughts, earthquakes, etc. If prayer works for good, especially when groups of people pray, then surely it is also a tool which can be used by any group for any nefarious purpose. We need to know who these people are because they are obviously larger and more powerful assemblages than the groups praying for peace and health.

Now the day a doctor, psychiatrist or attorney takes my hand in his and suggests we drop to our knees and pray, I am outta there! I go to those people for their special secular skills. I certainly wouldn’t go to a preacher for an operation or legal advice. There are people who go to the clergy for counseling, but I definitely wouldn’t. They’ve already proved they know less than I do since they hold faith in high regard and unbelief in disdain.

And, speaking of disdain, that is the permanent province of nonbelievers. I belong to several organizations which champion the separation of church and state but, because more of the members of these groups (other than FFRF) are believers, freethinkers do not feel comfortable disclosing their nonbelief. Because of my activism, my position is already known by staff members in those groups and, while I admire them greatly, I have the distinct feeling that they are not entirely comfortable in my presence. It’s as if they fear I might say something not-quite-nice about faith, thereby offending a well-heeled religious supporter of the organization who would then resign, taking his or her checkbook to another cause. It is the feeling of being regarded as the unwelcome, not-quite-dead, fly-in-the-punchbowl, or the not quite-socially-acceptable relative who drinks too much and doesn’t bathe very often. How sad it is to have thought and read one’s way out of superstition, only to be regarded as such a blight on social correctness!

I am no Madalyn Murray O’Hair (and certainly never aspired to be!), but the term atheist and the name O’Hair are welded together. If I call myself an atheist, I have instantly taken on the qualities of O’Hair, all bad, of course. Several people in San Antonio have remarked to my husband, “Catherine can’t be a real atheist; she’s too nice.” Well, I’m about as real as an atheist gets, which means there is no concept of God in my head, and I live a god-free life as a consequence. Living a god-free life is about as good as life can get. There’s no ring in my nose to be led around by, and no fear of someone “up there” keeping a constant and critical eye on me. I make my own decisions, and my basic instincts and choices have proven over the long haul to be good and caring ones. Fear of God and eternal damnation are not my road maps in life. I value my own self-respect which I cannot win without respecting and caring about my fellow beings. Now that I think it over, I’ve decided that I’m not too nice to be an atheist; I’m too nice to be a Christian!

I wonder why it is that the word Christian brings to mind all that is good and pure and loving, while the word atheist conjures up unspeakable evils. It is also associated with Satanism which would be laughable were it not so injurious to the freethought cause. Now just who invented Satan in the first place? I guarantee that no atheist did. The coin of Christianity has two sides: Jesus and Satan, and they work together in the suppression of rationality as well as quashing the fact that being kind, considerate and caring makes a person feel good, and certainly makes for a happier, more harmonious world. The fear of hell is a high card in the Christian faith, but it isn’t the ace it is supposed to be. It has failed to promote good behavior through fear. Instead, it has ruined lives and warped minds and, in my opinion, caused more crime, war and misery than it has been touted to prevent.

I expect the greatest example of how esteemed Christianity is, would be the Karla Fay Tucker case. Convicted of axing two people to death fifteen years ago, Karla Fay found Jesus while on death row. Even the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson reversed their thinking on capital punishment. Don’t forget, it is mostly the hard-core career Christians with their dichotomous “forgiving” God/eternal damnation message who wholeheartedly endorse and support capital punishment. This 180 degree turn by Jerry and Pat had eyeballs popping all over the place, and it was amusing to watch the religious leaders trying to butter both sides of their bread without getting their fingers greasy. Well, doubletalk is their stock in trade, and eyeballs retracted as listeners absorbed the illogical statements that issued from the lips of those God believers. Christian views are respectfully accepted by the media.

What if Karla Fay had spent fifteen years reading Ingersoll, Paine and Bertrand Russell and had converted to atheism? What if her newfound freethinking mind now grasped the reality and horror of her crime. What if she then realized there was no forgiving God and therefore she had this painful burden of her shocking criminal act to bear? What if she pleaded to have her life spared so that she could devote it to bringing others to freethought and to the knowledge that everyone must assume the burden of personal responsibility; must earn the ability to live happily with the consequences of one’s acts; and will find self-esteem and self-respect in direct proportion to those choices of behavior?

But an atheist-convert-Karla would hardly be defended by anyone, let alone those in high (this world) places. An ax murderer who finds Jesus is far more socially acceptable than any atheist of unblemished character.

Makes a thinker feel really good, doesn’t it?

Catherine Fahringer is an officer and long-time activist from Texas.

Freedom From Religion Foundation