The People Who Wouldn’t Grow Up

Mitt Romney’s speech in defense of his religious faith has stimulated a great deal of editorial angst. My favorite is the Washington Post‘s, which bravely reminds readers that atheists also believe in freedom. Joe Conason, writing in Salon, points out the egregious crimes against humanity committed by so-called Christian churches, and singles out Romney’s Mormon Church for special attention. The New York Times joins the fray, reminding us that the United States was not founded on Christian principles; but that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” (Article VI of the Constitution).

Still, the ill winds have blown some good. The Times quotes a question from a CNN-sponsored debate: “How you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?” The book, of course, was a Christian Bible. Is this person stupid? No, not in the usual sense of the word. The questioner obviously believes that a candidate who believes every word of the Bible (even, apparently, the contradictions) will receive divine consultations on foreign and domestic policy. Bush’s supporters among the Christian Right thought so. And how’s that been working out? Bush and his supporters say “time will tell.”

Some of us aren’t willing to wait for the lifeboats. Questions like that drive some people, like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to write their own books. Dawkins, Hitchens, and their cohorts have come not to praise religion, but to bury it.

Dawkins has been down on religion for a long time. Hitchens, who lost a lot of friends when he supported the Iraq War, is a relative newcomer to religion-bashing. Without the surge in religious fervor, in the Middle East as well as the Midwest, would we have all these rabidly atheist books? Would a stodgy, conservative newspaper like the Washington Post editorialize on behalf of atheists? I doubt it.

As I was leaving Halpatiokee Park yesterday, an unleashed dog named Casey trotted over to greet me. She was friendly enough, but her owner kept calling her back, in vain. His increasingly exasperated tone reminds me of the undercurrents of these books and editorials. Religious believers act like stubborn dogs. Unlike most human children, dogs, and religious believers, never really grow up. Religion is like Peter Pan’s Neverland: It exists only as long as people believe in it. It isn’t God who makes faithful Jews, Christians or Muslims. It is the believers who make God in their image. Believers don’t serve God, they create God to serve them.

Joe Conason, in Salon, reminds us that atheists and agnostics tend to be more tolerant of religious differences than are religious believers. Of course! We don’t have a horse in that race, so we don’t care whose god is the best or most powerful or whatever. Still, Pat Robertson, who has endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president, thinks we were largely responsible for the 9/11 attacks! Not, mind you, the religious zealots on the other side of Mohammed’s mountain!

Conason thinks we should push back, and I wholeheartedly agree. I know a lot of people who won’t speak out on behalf of packing off the fairy tales, for fear of offending otherwise harmless religious believers. But who is being offended here? The country is headed for a recession, the wars are going from bad to worse, oil prices are approaching $100 a barrel, and global warming seems certain to wreak devastation and suffering across the planet within the lifetimes of people living today. Yet all we hear about is religion, and for a brief respite we get to hear about immigration. It isn’t atheists who are asking the questions about religion, who are diverting the voters’ attention from what we should be asking the candidates. Enough!

There’s a Website called “Answers In Genesis,” and there you have at least 90-percent of our problems. The Book of Genesis is all right as creation myths go, but it has become rooted in our psyches. What an arrogant piece of work it is! If you want to ride roughshod over the whole planet and every species (or other race or creed) that lives on it, what better excuse than “God said it was okay.”

Religious beliefs lie at the very heart of much that’s wrong with this country. It’s time for atheists and agnostics to put aside their commendable tolerance and push back. If they can shove their religion in our faces at every turn, we have an obligation to shove our anti-religion back in theirs. If they say they are better than us, or more qualified to choose our next president, let them show us some real-world proof. We don’t live in a Neverland afterlife, we live in the here and now.

Mitt Romney is dead wrong. Liberty is neither a gift from god nor an indulgence of the government. Americans obtained their liberty by force of arms. Our government is not supposed to indulge us, it is supposed to represent us. If Casey won’t come when she’s called, it’s time we put her on the leash.

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