April 03, 2006

The War is against Atheists, Not Christians



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For the past several years, there has been an especially fervent strain of protest from the American Christian community, with the rather outlandish claim that Christians are being persecuted and warred upon. Utterly untrue, of course--at least 80% of the country is Christian, Christian symbols and terminology have been seeping into the government for a long time, and the country currently is run by a party which is overwhelmingly Christian-friendly.

The pinnacle of this paranoid delusion rose to absurd heights in a congregation held last weekend titled "War on Christians and the Values Voters of 2006." At the event, Christians went on a breast-beating rampage, claiming they were under attack from all quarters, including liberals, Hollywood, the Internet, scientists, the court system, and even the Republican Party. Let me tell you, if you're a Christian and you believe that the Republican Party has declared "war" on you, then I'm sorry--even the most paranoid schizophrenic sufferer would edge away from you like you were giving off dangerous levels of bozo rays.

The "embattled" Christians at the congress maintained that "neo-pagans" and secularists expressed "Christophobia," in effect "an irrational fear of anything Christ-based," asserting that there was "a war on America, a war on God and a war on all believers."

As I have written before, this severely warped sense of persecution can be attributed to two chief causes. First, it may be a political strategy--paint yourself as oppressed, and people will give you more of what you want. Or second, it could be an earnest though completely wrong belief, stemming from the presumption that Christianity naturally deserves to be dominant instead of equal to other belief systems, and therefore any expression of equality of belief among Americans would be interpreted as an "attack" on Christians.

Now, you might say that these are the loony fringe--after all, they did ask Tom DeLay to speak. But if they are a fringe, they are a successfully vocal one; you have heard their point of view far more often than you hear the other side. They get tons of sympathetic or at least respectful media coverage, and they make up the Republican base and as such receive far more attention and action in today's government than is proportional to their actual constituency.

But the chief irony is not just that Christians think they are being persecuted when they're not. What's ironic is the fact that they are the ones doing the persecuting, and all too often, atheists and agnostics are the ones who are suffering. Think about it: could an atheist ever be elected President of the United States? Hell, no. In fact, it is an unspoken prerequisite that if you want to be president, you not only have to be a Christian, but a fairly mainstream one at that--Mormons need not apply, not in this day and age at least. Even if you are religious but don't attend church, that's still a big strike against you.

I think it would be pretty fair to say that it would be extremely difficult to claim that atheists are persecuting Christians in this society, and not the other way around. But it goes much deeper than that.

A recent study by the University of Minnesota’s department of sociology took a survey of 2000 American households and found that atheists were the most feared and distrusted. Almost half said that atheists are the least likely to "agree with your vision of American society." Only 54% agreed that atheists shared their vision, as opposed to Muslims, who scored 64%, Recent immigrants and homosexuals scoring in the 70s, and whites and blacks scoring highest, in the 90s. (PDF file.) The study reported that atheists were considered (PDF) "most dangerous or threatening."

This rather strong discriminatory bias permeates society, besides just the presidency. It is commonly reported that the Boy Scouts exclude gays, but less reported is that atheists are also banned from the group. If a widely popular social organization started excluding Catholics or Methodists, there'd be holy hell to pay; but apparently, excluding atheists is just fine.

Even more disturbing is a common trend, reported on by Andrew Sullivan among others, that child custody cases are being decided on the basis of the beliefs of the parents. Christian parents are being awarded custody over their atheist spouses, and atheists can even denied some visitation rights because of their beliefs.

The source of this information is a law article (PDF) written by Eugene Volokh, a Law professor at UCLA. Volokh reports on a large number of cases where a parent was denied custody--even in favor of the child's grandparents--because the parent was not sufficiently religious for the judge's tastes. Volokh also points out that half of Americans distrust atheists, but further notes that "half the public thinks that it’s necessary 'to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.'" [Emphasis Volokh's.] If you don't believe that, check out what this guy wrote. Apparently, a lot of people believe this, whether they'll admit it to you directly or not.

Ironically, it could be atheists who are in fact more moral: a recent survey asked about two thousand Americans if they believed that torture was an acceptable practice. 26% of Catholics said it was never acceptable, 31% of White Evangelicals said the same--but 41% of secular respondents said they would never approve of torture. Similarly, twice as many Catholics than Secularists approved of torture being used "often"--21% of Catholics as opposed to 10% of Secularists. While some religious people, as cited above, clearly believe religion brings greater morality, religious morality is perhaps more easily corrupted, as one can choose to believe that God wants you to do something that would normally be immoral, in His name. Since many religious people believe that whatever God approves of is not immoral, they can rationalize the "morality" of a clearly immoral act. Secularists, on the other hand, cannot make God give them a ethical rain check, as they themselves assume responsibility for their morality; they cannot pass the buck to God and claim piety. While I cannot prove that Secularists are more moral, I think I can safely exclude that religious people are intrinsically more moral.

What is most alarming in Volokh's writing is that atheism is held at the same level of respect as racism--a chilling and overt sign that atheism is either held in utter contempt, or is completely misunderstood, or both.

Even President Bush Sr. spoke in this fashion, reportedly saying in 1987, "I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God." Now, imagine if Bush were an atheist who had said that blacks or Mormons, let alone mainstream Christians, not be regarded as U.S. citizens because of those attributes. A political firestorm like none other would have erupted; he would have been branded a racist or religious bigot, and millions would be screaming for his immediate resignation. But instead, Bush said this about atheists--no one took serious notice, and Bush was elected president the following year. Still think that it's the Christians, and not the atheists, who are persecuted in America?

Still, one point needs to be addressed: What is an atheist? What is an agnostic? Different people have different definitions, and there are a large number of varieties, just as there are a wide variety of religions. That topic coming soon.

Posted by Luis at April 3, 2006 08:03 PM
Comments

Hi Luis,

Not to be a jerk, but what does this have to do with you life in Japan?

There are plenty of coutries (and throughout history) where one religion dominates and persecutes another. Why should you be surprised that it is happening again?

America as a city on a hill only looks that way from people on top of the hill. It has NEVER been what the propaganda has said it is.


Americans love to believe that America is special. A true success in the experiments of governments throughtout history.

But the older I get the more I disagree.

America is/was a great IDEA. The truth--very very different.

Now the crows are coming home to roost or feed.
mashu

Posted by: mashu at April 4, 2006 02:31 AM

Mashu:

Nothing here has to reflect on my life in Japan, the blog subtitle simply states where I'm located--it's not an overriding theme.

I know that this is a common theme in history, and I know that the practice never measures up to the theory. But it's a damned good theory, and America is a lot closer to doing it right than most other countries, and if my whining about it can bring it even one billionth of a millimeter closer to becoming The Way Things Are, then I'll whine till the cows come home.

So I'm an idealist. Sue me. But the fact is, America does strive to live up to the expectations, even though many within are trying just as hard to tear that down. That doesn't mean that striving isn't good or noble, or that we should just give up or not expect more. Nothing is ever perfect. But the whole point of life is to try to get there.

Posted by: Luis at April 4, 2006 03:01 AM


Actually, until 2000, you could say America had somehow found a way to balance separation of church and state and the creation of a tolerant, yet often observant society.

The problem is the emergence of Neoconservatives. Anyone who knows anything about Neoconservatives is that they embrace the use of religion, any religion - be it Catholic, Protestant, Religious or Islam, as the way to control the masses of society while it is ruled over by an athiestic elite of enlightened despot philosopher plutocrats.

Thus, under the neocon movement one finds fundementalist Protestants in bed with fundementalist Catholics and fundementalist Jews - a group never before associated with each other.

This is just a new version of fascism, call it NeoFascist government.

Fascism has many tried, true or favorite methods. The one Luis brings up here is called the "persecuted majority". The best example of this was Hitler's "Stab in the Back" meme used to ausage the shame of defeat after World War I. Hitler liked to imply that liberals and Jews were responsible for all of Germany's problems. Its really a mechanism of a community in decline or shame uses to augment the decline or shame and shift blame.

The problem with a persecuted majority is that after they vehicle that foments them gains power, they may take leave to "stab back" against the once persecuting minority. And Germans did to horrific effect.

None of this was ever a problem until the Neocons emerged. And Neocon-ism is a double alien to America: first its an alien ideology that has been adopted, and second ideology is alien to American political discourse.

Traditionally the issues of ideology were handled by Common Law courts. As Oliver Wendall Holmes taught, Common Law, especially Supreme Court decisions could and did select from the entire free market place of ideas a resolution to a question: thus every ideology stood a reasonable chance in a given situation with usually the best ideology being applied in the most narrow of circumstances being addressed by the question before the court. Call it "Enlighten Pragmatism" though more often refered to as American Legal Realism. This left American social life in the form of a patchwork quilt of a vast array of ideological ideas, each being employed where the functioned best and ignored where they failed to function well.

Because of Englightened Pragmatism, Common Law countries avoided the manic politics of Continental Europe where countless ideologues fought it out tooth and nail. Time and time again Continental ideologues in the late 19th century and the early 20th Century made their way to American after suffering expullsion from some place in Europe, all thinking they could strike it big in the United States, only to find that ideologicalism slid off America much like teflon. To the degree it didn't reflected the Supreme Courts intransigence to pragmatism, as in the lockner court in the 1930s which eventually gave way to pragmatism after 1937.

Ironically, the following year, the Nazi's exported from their shores to the University of Chicago one of their favorite political philosophers, Leo Strauss. They loved his philosophy, but the problem was, he was a Jew, so they sent him here, and he was implanted like a bad seed, a ticking time bomb.

The uber-conservative/republicans, reeling from the decisions eminating from the loss of the lockner court era only the year before must have welcomed him as a consolation and the hope of providing a way out of the New Deal that was sweeping America. He was welcomed into the University of Chicago, that university founded by the Rochefellers and the bastion of advanced conservative thought in both economics and politics. There he instructed the men who would become todays neoconservatives. These men then brought fourth into American politics, ramped ideologicalism, in order to advance neoconservativism.

Now suddenly in a turn away from our traditions, we have become an ideologocally driven society and a rogue one at that, and like rogue ideologies in Germany and Russia, their limits are stretched by massive propaganda necessary to deny reality and like those other examples, ideology being applied outside the core characteristics it is meant to serve, is an abject failure.

The question is, will we ever find our way home to the pragmatism of our past. An age where ideas, of which religion is only one type, was fully tolerated and employed only in limited doses. One can only hope that we find our way home. Let us remember our old traditions and or old instincts.

Posted by: Tim Kane at April 4, 2006 11:15 AM

Good post. I think that the whole "we're horribly oppressed" thing is being floated because it worked very well for the righties when it came to other matters- most notably the news media.

The success of Fox is, in large part, based on the poor, bedraggled righties repeating over and over "the media is biased, they're against us, they're a bunch of liberals running liberal stories slanted in favor of liberal viewpoints".

By repeating this often enough, they created an environment where a scarily large number of people: A) hate the traditional news media sources B) honestly think that Fox is "fair and balanced" C) put the other media on the defensive, so now they do an even worse job reporting.

The simple facts are plain- Christians run the nation. We have a national holiday on Christmas, but not Ramadan or Haunakkah. But why quibble with actual facts when distortions can get them what they want?

The other part of this is that Christianity *is* under attack, but not from the media, or the government, or other such institutions. It's under attack from the people and from sociological changes.

More and more people are choosing to be agnostic, atheist, or belong to another religion. Islam is very fast-growing in America. Buddhism is taking hold in some ways. Even Taoist ideas and memes are creeping into the society's viewpoint.

Modified versions of Christianity are also getting a toehold. More people are emphasizing Jesus's more individualistic ideas instead of the Old Testament, fierce vengeful God that would say "an eye for an eye".

Just plain common sense is taking hold, too. When a retailer like Target switches to "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas", that's a recognition that there's a significant percentage of people who are NOT necessarily Christians, but Target wants to reach those people and sell 'em stuff anyway. Until the wacko religious righties made a stink, it was a winning proposition for Target.

The people who're bleating "Christianity is under attack!" are playing to these feelings. They probably DO feel a vague sense of unease, because they believe they're "losing" something- if not losing ground, losing adherants, losing prestige, losing their hold on power they've had for so long.

Of course, their problem is two fold. First, and foremost, freedom of religion and religious thoughts is widely shared as a bedrock value of American people. If an atheist Buddhist like me is out there and getting thumped on for religious views, if I couch the debate in terms of religious freedom and the ability for each individual to choose for themselves, I'm probably going to win the debate.

Second, and more importantly, in the long run and in history's viewpoint it's obvious that the newer model- where there's many religious viewpoints and we have that freedom- is BETTER. Nations that have religious freedom are better places to live. Ironically enough, the more strict a nation is about enforcing its own singular religious viewpoint, the more likely that nation is to be a friggin armpit of a place to live, have a crappy economy, etc.

Ultimately, they're going to lose; the scary thing is what kinds of backlash we're going to have to put up with in the meanwhile.

All we can do, therefore, is to keep telling the truth- but to do it more effectively, more frequently, and more in-your-face. When people talked a bit about the whole "war on Christmas" thing last winter, I openly mocked the idea, pointing out our (paid) Christmas holiday from work, that everyone in the room knew damn well what Christmas was about (Jesus's birthday) but nobody knew what Ramadan signified and only a few knew what Haunakkah meant, etc.

People came, I think, to realize that they were being silly about it if they were buying into the "war on Christmas" idea as a fact. I hope so, anyway.

Paul
Seattle, WA

Posted by: Paul at April 4, 2006 12:43 PM

Christians may be 80%, but they are often ridiculed and presented in the media and in films as either buffoons or hypocrites. That is what is unfair to many Christians. If they are the majority religion they should be afforded some respect, at the least. Look at all the times someone has brought a lawsuit because someone doesn't want a Christian symbol next to a Jewish symbol and similar instances? My philosophy is, in public arenas it is ok to suggest that you include all or none, but there have been cases where people have insisted that Christian signs, songs or messages should be banned from schools and other such places, but not any other religious symbols. I suppose this is some form of affirmative action, where you make the minority religions feel more powerful by "standing up" to the majority, but that is not fair and it does not hold up to our Freedom of Speech that these same people argue is their reason for making these outrageous complaints.

Posted by: cc at April 9, 2006 06:38 AM

Christians may be 80%, but they are often ridiculed and presented in the media and in films as either buffoons or hypocrites. That is what is unfair to many Christians. Really? Where? In what proportion to other groups? Could you name some examples? Take The West Wing, for example--a few times you have right-wing Christians portrayed badly, but more often Christianity is portrayed quite favorably--with President Bartlet himself being deeply religious. Look at the episode "Shibboleth," or "Take This Sabbath Day" as two small examples. It's hard for me to think of a single TV show that presents Christians more negatively than positively, and if it does, that it defames Christians more than any other religion or group. Same with movies. How many of the movies released in 2005 portrayed Christians more negatively than positively? Here's a list. Point them out, please.

If they are the majority religion they should be afforded some respect, at the least.Why? And what makes you think it's not? Christianity, as far as I have observed, is afforded the most respect of all beliefs in this country. Most of our holidays are Christian holidays. All of our presidents and most of our legislators and judges are Christians. While some independent figures criticize the doings of the religion, most public figures--especially politicians--pay a great deal of respect and shy away from criticizing the religion, its icons, or its actions. Most criticisms come when high-level Christian figures like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson make hateful or bigoted remarks--and I don't think you can blame critics for pointing out instances such as these.

Look at all the times someone has brought a lawsuit because someone doesn't want a Christian symbol next to a Jewish symbol and similar instances?What? Lawsuits are brought by non-Christians to prevent a Christian cross being placed next to a Jewish Star of David? I've never heard of anything of the sort, nor "similar instances." Kindly point out specific examples.

My philosophy is, in public arenas it is ok to suggest that you include all or none, but there have been cases where people have insisted that Christian signs, songs or messages should be banned from schools and other such places, but not any other religious symbols.Again, I've never heard of anything like that. Name one case where someone suggested that other religious "signs, songs or messages" be allowed in public schools and that Christian signs, songs or messages be banned from the same location.

I think you present here an example of what I'm talking about--imagined persecution, not real.

Posted by: Luis at April 9, 2006 07:41 PM

HOLIDAY BLUES

Federal court backs public nativity scene

Town apologizes for allowing Jewish display, but not Christian
Posted: June 30, 2004 1:00 a.m. Eastern
© 2004 WorldNetDaily.com

In a federal-court consent judgment, the town of Palm Beach, Fla., paid $50,000 in attorney fees and apologized for not allowing the display of Christian nativity scenes while permitting Jewish menorahs. The Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, a public-interest law firm, brought the suit on behalf of Maureen Donnell and Fern deNarvaez.

Posted by: cc at April 10, 2006 01:08 PM

Fine. So here's this report:

West Windsor, NJ — With every Christmas tree we light — on public property, in an age of political correctness — come questions of freedom of speech and the separation of church and state.Going back on a preliminary legal opinion not to allow Rabbi Sholom Leverton and Chabad of the Windsors to erect a lighted menorah in the Ron Rogers Arboretum at Clarksville Road and Route 571, township attorney Michael Herbert said the group should not be barred from displaying a menorah near the township's Christmas tree display.For every lawsuit to end a ban on Christian symbols you can generate, I can quote stories of lawsuits to end a ban on Jewish, Muslim, or other symbols. Not to mention that most of the "ban the nativity" stories stem from the one you quoted and a New York school decision, two isolated incidents that are endlessly used by Christians to somehow demonstrate an anti-Christmas bias everywhere. This is patently untrue. You said, "Look at all the times someone has brought a lawsuit..." as if it happens all the time. That is patently untrue. You can only state a few cases, at best, and are probably hyper-aware of them because the web is saturated with these stories, spread relentlessly by right-wing and fundamentalist sites. As if the exception were somehow actually the rule.

Here's another story of where a Christian-nativity-only display was allowed, but an atheist display was rejected. In this case, the nativity scene was allowed because Santa and his reindeer--also Christian-associated images--were added, as if that somehow secularized the display. But a Winter Solstice display representing atheist beliefs was rejected on free speech grounds--not that free speech is allowed, but that it could be prohibited. In other words, the atheist display was rejected because the government refused to accept it as a belief system at all.

Other stories of "Christmas bans" stem from the attempt of cities to remove religious symbols, then later reverse themselves and add them--but add non-Christian symbols first, stoking the outrage of Christians who protest the "ban" and "attack" on their religion, when in fact, there was nothing of the sort--it was simple timing.

Not to mention that most places which display a menorah, star and crescent, or other non-Christian symbols, only do so as a token measure so they can maintain a Christian display.

Your argument certainly suggests that Christian displays are in the minority or are excluded more than non-Christian symbols, that Christian displays are not the dominant standard in the country, that symbols of other religions have preference or dominance.

If you're not claiming this, then the argument that Christianity is "under attack" or that the country on the whole is more "unfair" to Christians than any other belief system, is specious, as a dominant religion with the vast majority of displays (and don't try to claim that there aren't tons of cities, especially in the Bible Belt, that have Christian-only nativity displays that don't get challenged) cannot claim the mantle of being persecuted because they get excluded a few times (especially when non-Christian exclusions flourish).

Again, I believe the belief among Christians that they are being "excluded" and "attacked" is due to not being allowed the dominance they expect.

Posted by: Luis at April 10, 2006 02:23 PM

Well my position, as stated before, is that it should be ALL or NONE. This country was founded partly on religious freedom and I think that includes affording the majority religion some respect.

I have seen numerous movies where they have a Catholic character, only to present him or her as overzealous or hypocritical. As recently as V for Vendetta, they portray a creepy bishop who has a penchant for underage girls. Rare is it that a Catholic or other Christian character is seen as a down-to-Earth, good person. I'm not saying it never happens, but it is rare. And that sometimes makes it seem like people are gunning for people who believe in the Christian faith. This feeling is part of what led many Evangelical Christians to vote for George W. Bush in 2004, a man who they felt more comfortable with because he shares most of their values.

I am not an Evangelical. I am a Catholic, but I am not a Bible-thumping type. I believe in a more quiet affirmation of my faith. But I have heard of cases, such as the one where a man went to court against a school trying to change the Pledge of Allegience and used his daughter as an example. The court dismissed the case, because the girl was not complaining about the words "under God" nor was her mother. It was his own agenda, which is what I find happens a lot when people debate about religion in public places. Why, for example, should children not be allowed to affirm their faith in class? Does it really harm the other children if a child talks about his beliefs? Isn't school supposed to be a place for free thinking and learning? [There, another example for you]

I would feel just as passionately if a person was told he couldn't speak about the Muslim, Jewish (my father was Jewish) or yes, even Atheist beliefs he/she had. Different views are always good, particularly in the odd way they can help a person to figure out why they hold their own opinions.

Posted by: cc at April 11, 2006 10:35 AM