By Naima Cabelle
In 2010, activist and author Donald R. Wright of Houston, Texas proposed a Day of Solidarity in hope of unifying black atheists and getting them to become active in the secular community. This year, on Sunday, February 26th marks the third annual National Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers, however it is vital to focus beyond the 26th and to continue to celebrate and promote freethought, social justice, and universal human rights year round.
Everyone in the U.S. has the right to worship as they please; the government has no authority to dictate if or how its citizens engage in religious rituals or religious beliefs. Those who believe in god(s) may openly say so; openly attend a house of worship; and may freely join or leave a religious denomination. The rights of all believers are protected by the US Constitution, and although religious beliefs may be sacred to those who follow them, what is also protected is the right of others to openly challenge or reject any or all religious beliefs. Laws prohibiting blasphemy are nothing more than attempts to silence not only non-believers but to keep other theists from challenging religious beliefs as well. Laws designed to prohibit the critique of religious beliefs are in fact laws that are designed to prohibit free speech; and such laws in this country are unconstitutional.
Many believers, particularly those who are interested in recruiting atheists to their religious denomination, often avoid giving explanations about their beliefs by equating atheists with infamous figures such as Adolf Hitler; but not because the atheists are anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist, genocidal maniacs. By accusing atheists of being followers and/or the equals of Adolf Hitler, the believer seeks to avoid explaining as well as proving their incredible beliefs by focusing on the ethics, motivations, and behavior of the atheist.
Adolf Hitler was not an atheist, although he, like many leaders, used whatever was at hand to gain power and control. When he became Chancellor, he stated that Christianity belief was the “unshakable foundation of the moral and ethical life of our people.” The Vatican allowed its followers to join the Nazi party; the party enjoyed diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Hitler, who was raised as an Austrian Catholic, was never excommunicated although he orchestrated among other things the wholesale killing of millions of Jews whose ancestors are historically blamed for the killing of Christ. Of course, six million Jews along with non-compliant Catholics, Gypsies, homosexuals, union leaders, intellectuals, socialists, and communists; those with physical or mental defects, 20 million Russians as well as countless other non-Aryans all perished under Hitler’s regime. Two books, John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pope XII, and James Carroll’s The Sword of Constantine: The Church and the Jews, examine the Church’s legacy of secrecy, intolerance, corruption, and anti-Semitism which resulted in tribunals, torture, exile, and death for millions of human beings. When non-believers carry out either individual crimes or massive atrocities, their behavior is always attributed to the fact that they are godless; yet when the anti-human behavior is carried out by believers especially in the names of the gods, somehow their belief in the gods is never at fault!
The godless know that there are no supernatural beings to hold accountable for our behavior, and most of us wouldn’t have it any other way! Rather than assign blame to the devil when things go wrong or assign credit to the gods when things go right, we must continue look for ways to understand as well as positively influence human behavior. Rather than look to chance, fate or gods to solve societal problems human beings must continue to examine these problems and look for ways to cooperatively solve them. This has been the only way that humanity has been able to progress.
The ability to only view oneself as a favored child of the gods and a member of a select group of American patriots as opposed to a narrow-minded bigot is the reason why someone who claims to have respect for human life can persecute people based on their skin color; cowardly bomb a clinic, or ambush and murder a doctor. All human beings–theists and atheists–are much more about what they do, and often much less about what they claim to believe. Yet, there are countless theists in America who despite their religious convictions are convinced that in a democracy, being governed by a secular constitution is far more superior to being governed by any sacred text. Furthermore, the narrower a person’s beliefs the more they think of themselves as belonging to an elite group of true believers. Ironically, all other theists whose beliefs don’t correspond exactly to those beliefs held by the elite group are also considered as ‘non-believers’ whose fate in the afterlife will be the same as atheists!
Religious freedom includes the right to not only reject one religion for another but to reject all religions, be indifferent to as well as not practice or embrace religious dogma; it includes the right to openly challenge and disagree with any religious dogma. However, many theists simply cannot accept the fact that atheists have the constitutional right to challenge religious beliefs. Sometimes, the nicest and most confident believer can become angry and thin-skinned should someone take issue with their religious convictions. Yet, theists won’t hesitate to express their own disbelief when they are presented with incredible claims, and they certainly don’t automatically embrace the religious claims of those whose beliefs differ from their own, otherwise the world would have been spared of thousands of years of religious oppression, persecution, murders, and wars! Theists never feel any need to explain or apologize for voicing their religious beliefs. Believers don’t care if anyone is offended because they are Jewish, worship Allah, or Christ; yet they are offended whenever someone says they don’t believe in or worship any of the gods. For many believers, simply saying that you don’t have religious beliefs is highly offensive, disrespectful, etc., and yet the atheist is expected to explain why they don’t believe in the unbelievable; expected to remain silent when believers no longer wish to hear their views on religion; and are always expected to ‘show some respect’ for values which are often senseless as well as anti-human.
Some people set out to ‘experience’ numerous theological paths ranging from Anglicanism to Zoroastrianism as they pursue their quest for spiritual enlightenment—however that may be defined, and they readily sample an endless list of gods along with the endless and mindboggling religions that these gods represent. The reactions from family members and friends towards many of the spiritual nomads are sometimes the identical to those coming from the family members and friends of nonbelievers! Life certainly appears to be less complicated when everyone can be counted on to not stray from imposed expectations. The lesson seems simple enough: if you want an uncomplicated life don’t rock the boat even if it means drowning in a sea of ignorance and superstition! Don’t rock the boat even if it means becoming a person who cannot manage to speak a single honest word or engage in a single honest thought. The more that people speak out about anything, religion, politics, sex, etc., the clearer it becomes that the self-righteous, the intolerant, and those who have become used to dominating the public discourse are willing to go to any lengths to abort any opinions which challenge the status quo and which condemn the lopsided power structure in American society.
Many prominent people including lawmakers in America are very good at using religion to hijack public discussions by insisting that all issues, all public policy matters be filtered through religious belief. These discussions quickly turn into battles as one religious group after the next lines up to show why a public policy offends their religion. Ultimately, the bar is set so low that no discussion can take place, no solution to any serious problems can be proposed without it being proclaimed as offensive to someone’s religious beliefs.
Too many theists easily prove that they are incapable of respecting ethical people. They cannot bring themselves to respect anyone who is honest enough to refuse to pretend to believe in the gods; such believers are apparently much more comfortable being in the presence of liars. Moreover, those believers who embrace the notion of living in a paradise after death also somehow find comfort in the fact that heaven will be filled with murderers, rapists, and drug dealers along with many who caused others to suffer, but luckily, the criminals died as ‘believers!’ If people like that are destined for heaven then it stands to reason that only those non-believers who were honest enough to say so and tried to live a good life will end up in hell.
Many believers are fond of smugly stating that atheists believe ‘in nothing;’ in other words, we lack an ethical or moral compass although it has yet to be proven that a belief in the gods provides one with a sterling character. As an atheist, I have a very long list of things that I believe in; it’s just that none of the gods have ended up on my list. I believe people who are committed to doing so will continue to find the means for building communities which are wholesome and which are grounded in social justice and a respect for universal human rights. I believe in the rule of law; I believe in freedom of religion and the absolute right to be free from all religious imposition. I believe that any compassionate act towards another human being has more value than all of the prayers ever uttered and/or all of the religious rituals ever performed. But, theists, as we know, believe in many things as well: some believe in virgin births; that it is good for a nine-year-old girl to be ‘given’ in marriage to a grown man; that the dead (embalmed and buried) can come back to life; that HIV-AIDS is a punishment from the gods; that certain clothing determines if the wearer is pure of heart and religiously devote; that women must give birth to children against their will; that the earth was ‘created’ in six days; that sex education and birth control encourages sexual behavior; that a creator needs no creator; that ignorance is preferable to information. If theists aren’t embarrassed to embrace these beliefs why should I be embarrassed to reject them?
There are many people who are standing firm and resisting the restrictions on free speech and ultimately on free thought. The activism that is taking place in the public square in the name of freethought, free speech, and universal human rights is one that we can all be proud of, and the kind of activism that must be expanded and continued. I hope that all People of Conscience will celebrate our freedom on Sunday, February 26th on the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers. Please visit the Facebook page of the same name, send an e-mail to [email protected], and plan an event in your community to celebrate freedom from religion!