Freethought Today · Vol. 25 No. 10 December 2008

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Allow People To Worship - Or Not: Andrea McCormick

As I See It

This originally was published as an op-ed in the Harrisburg Patriot News on Oct. 1, 2008.

Andrea McCormick

By now, I’m sure the billboard “Imagine No Religion” at Second and Mulberry has been noticed. It is from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, of which I am a proud member. In this day, where political candidates find it more important to pander to people who think that women are second-class citizens because of an “apple” and where lawsuits must be filed to keep the opinions of one sect of one religion from being forced on everyone, the separation between church and state is more important than ever.

The United States was conceived as a secular state where any religion could be practiced freely, but not be forced on anyone who didn’t believe in it. This was quite a “revolutionary” idea in an age where the heads of state in Europe and Asia were considered to have been placed on their thrones by some deity and that the religion in power was beyond reproach.

Hand-in-hand with this is the idea found in the Bill of Rights that the majority is not always right. No one religion may attempt to control everyone. In that even Christian denominations do not often agree, the Founding Fathers found that neutrality in religious matters was the best policy.

This idea of religious neutrality has been eroded since the inception of our country. “In God We Trust” was only added to coins during the Civil War. “Under God” was not part of any official government pledge, motto or document until the 1950s, when a hysterical Congress decided to add it in a fit of anti-Communist fear. Both seem to have been attempts to curry divine favor in winning some war, be it hot or cold.

We also have seen attempts at forcing the Ten Commandments into public buildings. These commandments start with, “Thou Shalt Have No Other God Before Me,” and indeed this is seen as the greatest crime one can commit against this deity. What purpose does this have in judicial buildings where people are there to be treated fairly? Only three of these first ten have anything to do with U.S. law at all.

Recently, we had school board members try to sneak in their own version of Christianity and its origin myth into the public schools in Dover to supplant scientific theories that have strong support from independent evidence and which have provided everyone with tangible benefits, from medicine to food. These attempts are, at best, full of an ignorance that not all Americans believe in the Judeo/Islamic/Christian God or any deity at all. At worst, they are an attempt to create a theocracy.

This disregard of others’ beliefs or lack of them has never resulted in any good for humanity. Throughout history, we have Sunnis and Shia killing each other over who exactly was the “real” heir to Muhammad. Hindus and Muslims kill each other and Christians in India and Pakistan. The Taliban destroyed Buddhist monuments and killed women for daring to show their faces. Jews and Muslims still kill each other over who has the best divine claim over Jerusalem. Christians have killed Jews and Christians have killed each other over who was more “right” about their God.

Apologists will say that the religion didn’t cause the deaths, politics and humans did. However, if there is a benevolent deity of any stripe watching, it is hard to understand why it doesn’t do anything.

People also will say that atheism caused many millions of deaths, in the guise of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. They do not understand that any atheist only has one thing in common with those dictators, or often, even each other. This is simply a belief in no deities. Most of us do not harbor any megalomaniacal desires for the worship of ourselves. We simply want a country where all can worship or not as they please, where religion cannot present itself as the only “good” force in the universe and where any religious laws are not forced on anyone who does not agree.

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