February 17, 2020

Riffs: 04:06:09: Nica Lalli: “No Religion? No Problem”

UPDATE: All Comments are in moderation.

UPDATE II: Readers might also enjoy “A God Shaped Void? Maybe Not.” From May ’06.

Nica Lalli is an unbeliever, and she’s feeling good about it. It seems that her team is growing. In fact, it’s the fastest growing “religion in town:” no religion.

(Lalli recently wrote on the challenge of being an atheist parent.)

Gone are the days when a high school or college atheist felt alone. Now close to 1 in 5 Americans are on the “godless” plan.

The ARIS study (see link in the post or this link at USA today) says that those with “no religion” have doubled in less than 20 years; growing by almost 10% a decade. Look at America in 2050 if that growth rate continues at even half that speed: a third of the country will be “godless.”

If evangelicals and other Christians had their heads about them, they would welcome this development. No religion beats meaningless adherence to religion every time. I see this every day. I work with dozens of students with a cultural adherence to a particular “Christian” religion. They overwhelmingly know almost nothing of Jesus, nothing of the Bible, nothing but a collection of cultural traditions, legends and superstitions about Christianity, but they consider themselves Christians.

When it comes to my job as a Christian communicator, give me the students who are “non-religious” over sorting through cultural adherence and dead superstition. (OK atheists, I can hear you snickering. Control yourselves. It’s still my blog.)

But evangelicals have spent a large part of the post-war era villianizing atheists and the non-religious. Sometimes out of manipulation. Sometimes out of ignorance. Sometimes out of fear. Always out of an abandonment of a Jesus shaped view of those who are not Christians.

We’ve been fed the kind of exaggerations and over-reactions about “the non-religious” that ought to make us ashamed. We’ve bought into all these grand fears that we are going to lose “our” country to “them.” Somehow, a lot of Christians agree with Lalli’s citation of former VP George H.W. Bush: “I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots.”

Lalli says that the atheist next door wants to live peacefully. They want to be accepted by their religious friends and families. They want to participate as full members of society and be part of the “common public good” we all want to achieve together.

Of course, some evangelicals won’t hear that, and Lalli has some idea why. She knows it’s a two way street when it comes to hostility toward one another:

Some atheists out there might wish to de-convert believers, pull them away from their faith or disprove their gods, and it is true that those are the atheists who write the books that make the best-seller lists. Indeed, Richard Dawkins and his The God Delusion ilk have made a pretty penny stirring this controversy. But many of us — dare I say most of us — would prefer coexisting over combat.

But is that really possible? To read the blogs that discuss such issues, you’d be tempted to say no. In fact, when I wrote a piece about raising my children without a specific religion — published in this newspaper — readers on the website responded with some support as well as some lacerating condemnation, such as “you are abdicating your role as a parent,” and worse, “without God, we are nothing.” In fact, whenever I have published anything about being an atheist, I have had to stop reading my e-mails from people of faith who — oh, the irony — say things that are very hateful.

I know the feeling. When I write reasonably about atheists, I get mail saying I’m about to become one. When atheists wrote me during my fifteen minutes of fame last month, they were divided between reasonable people commending me and hate-filled scary people talking about herding all religious people into camps and “getting rid” of us.

I’m concerned that the atheist community will find the temptation for “cultural revenge to be strong. I won’t be surprised at all if we’re about to enter a period where Christians will find a vocal, powerful minority of empowered atheists prepared to harass and even persecute.

Both sides have extremists whom the media love to get on the air to jack up ratings. Talk radio loves the extremists. But do they represent what most of us think?

I can accept that there are 60 million non-religious in America. I trust that they have no more desire to eliminate my religious faith than I do their unbelief, but I want to know if their claims of acceptance extent into the practice of my religion? Are Christians going to be viewed as brain washers and child abusers? Will religious communities be attacked by violent nut jobs? If so, what will the non-religious community have to say? Will my rights to oppose gay marriage remain part of my political rights as a citizen, or will it automatically make me a danger to society?

I think it’s fair for non-religious to ask if their kids can be free of harassment in public schools? Can an atheist openly speak of atheism without being lynched in the press or Christian media? Can unbelievers pursue their rights to avoid public demonstrations of religion for their children and themselves?

I hear Lalli’s experience, but I’m not sure any of us know what tolerance looks like.

I have some ideas:

1. Let’s stop getting together to debate and let’s get together to talk about what we have in common.

2. Let’s both clearly and consistently distance ourselves from the extremists and manipulators.

3. Let’s find a way to do things together that we both believe are important. Why can’t atheists and Christians feed the homeless and work on rights on conscience issues together?

4. Let’s go to the other team’s gatherings and describe our concerns and points of view in each other’s presence, without name calling.

5. Let’s treat one another like Jesus would. I think even atheists would sign on for that.

We need to make a start. Christians and non-religious are going to be two very large communities in American. Can we find a way to exist in the real world, with real mutual interests, or are we cauht in a cycle of hateful rhetoric and misrepresentation?

Comments

  1. >”Why can’t atheists and Christians feed the homeless and work on rights on conscience issues together?”

    While this sounds nice, I’ve never seen any physical evidence of these works by organized atheists. Where are the atheist men’s chainsaw crews after storms? Where is the atheist women’s society canteen truck?

    In the midst of mayhem, I find Catholics, Baptists, Salvation Army and others, but no atheist groups.

    Its just so much atheist rhetoric for now.

  2. >”Why can’t atheists and Christians feed the homeless and work on rights on conscience issues together?”

    Timothy
    While this sounds nice, I’ve never seen any physical evidence of these works by organized atheists. Where are the atheist men’s chainsaw crews after storms? Where is the atheist women’s society canteen truck?

    In the midst of mayhem, I find Catholics, Baptists, Salvation Army and others, but no atheist groups.

    Its just so much atheist rhetoric for now.

    I hope no one thinks I am just posting here to argue, but it is comments like this that show the prevalent attitude among Christians that atheists are a bunch of selfish and misanthropic bastards.

    Your biggest error is to think that atheism is an ideology at all. Atheism is a lack of belief in god(s). Period. It has no creeds, dogma, organizational structure or anything else.

    You might as well complain of a lack of charities started by those who don’t believe in ghosts.

    The reason there are few atheist charities might be related to the fact that, until recently, atheists consisted of less than 12% of the total population. However, to say that atheists do not care about helping others is ignorant.

    There are organizations that have no religious agenda that help others and do so without the ulterior motive of trying to “save” peoples souls.

    To name a few

    UNICEF
    Red Cross
    Bell and Melinda Gates Foundation
    Amnesty International
    United Way
    Doctors without Borders

    Believe it or not, there are people who think helping others is worthy in and of itself and don’t feel compelled to do so because some ancient book told them to do it.

    But don’t take my word for it, try doing a little research before making hasty generalizations about people who don’t share your beliefs.

    We all might get along much better if you attempt a bit of charity when speaking about us godless, baby eating heathens. 🙂

  3. To build on Brian’s point, many people are suspicious of Christian volunteers because they think the Christians are only doing it so they get the chance to evangelize.

    If a Christian only acts charitable because they’re commanded to do so, while an atheist does it because they feel it’s the right thing to do, who is the better person?

    I worked for a large Fortune 50 company whose employees did lots of work in crisis ares, out there with chainsaws and such, with the total support of the company.

    It’s a little demeaning to call that “atheist rhetoric” because it wasn’t driven by a religious organization. In fact, many of those working were not Christians at all.

  4. I am not sure where you inferred from anything I said that I think Marxism or stateism were a desirable thing, and I don’t think I insinuated that the killing fields or Stalin’s exploits were somehow less offensive because of the Crusades or Inquisition.”

    You didn’t; I brought it up to pre-empt any claim that religious people should have nothing to fear from non-religious people.

    “So really, in the context of the American experience, you don’t think my comments had any merit at all? Christians really are being or soon will be the object of persecution that the author was expressing fear of?”

    Oh, well yeah – in the “American experience” of today, I think you’re totally sensible. I don’t live in fear of persecution, and I think people that claim to are at least probably alarmist.

    “Persecution is being equivocated with offending certain sensibilities and I find it dishonest and laughable that certain Christians attempt to frame things this way.”

    I think that’s stupid too; in a religion that loves to remember people for being burned alive, it’s ridiculous that Christians want to get litigious over being told ‘no’ every once in awhile.

    But the “American experience” you’re thinking of, of political friendliness towards Christianity and general adherence, isn’t an internationally common phenomenon, not nationally long-standing, and isn’t even stable today.

    Research the state of American Christianity before the Baptists and the Methodists got ahold of it, or how politically welcomed the Catholic Christians were made to feel during their first hundred years here. Read up on church growth patterns in the 19th century; the political reality behind that overblown myth of a 1950’s apple-pie Christian piety took a hell of a long time to grow from nothing and has fallen apart more or less completely in a few decades.

    No Christian (and really, nobody) should be surprised when our religious landscape begins to resemble those of other secularizing countries and the Christian in the US begins to encounter the same hostility that our co-religionists in some other nations do today. In gaze of history, peaceful Christians being persecuted is a fairly common occurrence – we’ll be marginalized in the US eventually. It’s not because we’re special. How bad will it get for us depends not on any inherent reasonableness of the atheist position but on the political motives of whoever benefits by stirring or abeying sentiment against Christians. Same as any other group.

    And my point about Communist membership cards got lost in translation, but it’s simple: all it takes to get a genocide going is for people to agree that it’s for the best. Oppression doesn’t need a lot of people with strong beliefs to enact – it needs a few people who want it to make it impossible for a large group of people to coherently object to it. See: Gitmo. Oppression isn’t inherently ‘religious’ or ‘atheistic’ so much, just conspiratorial.

    In your mind, persecution is a rather remote and distasteful thing to have associated with your beliefs. Most of us feel the same way about the sins of our co-religionists. Nobody remembers a time in the US where atheists were openly discriminated against – but living in the US today are thousands of ex-pats who escaped countries that banned their religions and tried to kill them.

    When a Dawkins or a PZ Meyers tries to make a name for themselves by disrespecting religious people, they leave as bad an impression with us as the God Hates Fags people does with .. everybody.

    I’m not familiar with any ‘myriads’ of people who pathologically fear and distrust atheists; then again, I don’t know many Fundamentalists. But I will say that one Richard Dawkins wields more respect and influence than 10,000 scared hillbilly Americans holed up in their churches, which does translate to political influence – also, I don’t know if you know this, but the guy started an atheist movement. So, yeah, I would say that it’s likely that a few amplified objecting voices may come to outweigh the combined bleating of an American heartland full of sheep – they won’t be ‘few’ for long, in any case.

  5. Patrick Lynch
    No Christian (and really, nobody) should be surprised when our religious landscape begins to resemble those of other secularizing countries and the Christian in the US begins to encounter the same hostility that our co-religionists in some other nations do today. In gaze of history, peaceful Christians being persecuted is a fairly common occurrence – we’ll be marginalized in the US eventually. It’s not because we’re special. How bad will it get for us depends not on any inherent reasonableness of the atheist position but on the political motives of whoever benefits by stirring or abeying sentiment against Christians. Same as any other group.

    ME
    I wouldn’t suggest as you do that there is necessarily a correlation between secularization and persecution of Christians. Sweden, France, Britain, Australia, and other countries have quite large atheist populations and I don’t think believers are being persecuted in those countries.

    I guess I have trouble stepping into your shoes and seeing this future political oppression of Christians. I mean, in a country where every President has professed faith in the last 35 years and a Congress made up of predominantly believing men and women, I just don’t see it. Can’t forget those things called the Constitution and Bill of Rights either.

    Patrick Lynch
    “And my point about Communist membership cards got lost in translation, but it’s simple: all it takes to get a genocide going is for people to agree that it’s for the best. Oppression doesn’t need a lot of people with strong beliefs to enact – it needs a few people who want it to make it impossible for a large group of people to coherently object to it. See: Gitmo. Oppression isn’t inherently ‘religious’ or ‘atheistic’ so much, just conspiratorial.

    In your mind, persecution is a rather remote and distasteful thing to have associated with your beliefs. Most of us feel the same way about the sins of our co-religionists. Nobody remembers a time in the US where atheists were openly discriminated against – but living in the US today are thousands of ex-pats who escaped countries that banned their religions and tried to kill them.”

    Me
    I suppose when you can show me that the current atheist “movement” shares common political goals like abolishing the First Amendment I will become concerned about a coming scourge against people of faith.

    I am so glad you are privy to the contents of my mind, it is always so nice to be stereotyped based on the assumptions of an other. For the record, you have no inkling of my beliefs and what I feel about them. If I am not mistaken the only sure thing you know about me is that I don’t believe in gods, and I think the bloggers fear of an impending atheist revenge on believers is based more in fantasy than anything.

    The probable reason no one remembers an organized persecution of atheists is because McCarthyism has been regulated to the closet of forgetfulness in America.

    I will admit, it is harder to persecute a fraction of the population when they try to blend in among the faithful masses to avoid being jailed or worse. We might as well praise Christians for no longer burning witches while we are at it, since they now show enormous restraint to be tolerant of powers they no longer believe in (at least in America, Africa is another story). 😉

    I think we can both agree that persecution is distasteful and should be discouraged regardless of it’s association with belief or non-belief.

    Patrick Lynch
    “When a Dawkins or a PZ Meyers tries to make a name for themselves by disrespecting religious people, they leave as bad an impression with us as the God Hates Fags people does with .. everybody.

    I’m not familiar with any ‘myriads’ of people who pathologically fear and distrust atheists; then again, I don’t know many Fundamentalists. But I will say that one Richard Dawkins wields more respect and influence than 10,000 scared hillbilly Americans holed up in their churches, which does translate to political influence – also, I don’t know if you know this, but the guy started an atheist movement. So, yeah, I would say that it’s likely that a few amplified objecting voices may come to outweigh the combined bleating of an American heartland full of sheep – they won’t be ‘few’ for long, in any case.”

    ME

    Meyers, if we are referring to his requests for communion wafers, was being inflammatory. I would need examples on Dawkins because every time I have seen videos of him, he has been a most gracious and decent person.

    I agree that the inflammatory rhetoric is not helpful for any of us who would like to share the same country in a atmosphere of tolerance and peacefulness.

    As for your observation on fundamentalism being a weak political force, I highly recommend you search out a few, befriend them and educate yourself. You have obviously been living in another country than the one I inhabit if you really think Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris are even close to mustering anything like the political influence held by the likes of Liberty University, The American Family Association, John Hagee, and Pat Robertson. There is no comparison.

    Tell me you are joking when you say Dawkins outweighs the thousands of churches that home school their children using revisionist materials that say America was founded as a Christian nation and it is their duty to retake it from the evil liberal atheists who want separation of church and state.

    I would recommend the websight Talk2Action if you seriously don’t know about how the Christian right has been on a mission to make their version of Christianity the law of our land.

    Apart from the whole whether gods exist or not, I think we can both agree on the dangers of fanatics exercising power over our nation, whether they are believers or unbelievers. 🙂

  6. Donalbain says

    A fairly major difference between (some) Christians and PZ Myers is shown in the responses to cracker-gate.

    What PZ did was offensive to many people. Nobody has ever denied that. But he actually harmed nobody. Nobody had any rights taken away from them as a result of his actions. Nobody lost their job.

    However, he did recieve emails and mails from people who wanted him fired, who wanted him arrested, who even wanted him dead.

    Now, in that situation WHO was persecuted?

  7. I am a Christian. My best pal Dave is an atheist. (No kidding)But the one thing about it is, if he can’t get a hold of me by my cellphone, the one place he knows where to find me is at church. He’ll come into my church, see I’m there and sit down til service is over. After Church we hang out and we do our thing. I know he’s atheist, he knows I’m Christian. We’re comfy in our situation. If he’s going to be converted, it’s going to be the power of God. Not me.