Recently, a prayer banner was taken down at a local high school in the state where I live. The girl who wanted it removed is an atheist, and invoked separation of church and state. Obviously this set a lot of people off. Rhode Island is a very religious state, which is the reason we've had so much trouble getting people on the same page about gay marriage, whereas in neighboring Massachusetts, there's been much more progress.
Every time I hear about a skirmish over religion, especially regarding separation of church and state, I always feel odd. Part of me thinks I should jump in the midst of the fight and defend my atheist brethren. The other part of me thinks, "Gee, why didn't they just leave well enough alone?"
The truth is--when it comes to church and state--I don't mind.
By which I mean, I don't mind that the separation is, let's face it, non-existent. The white elephant in the room is that our Founding Fathers were obviously hypocrites and religious extremists (blame historical circumstances, I'm not trying to take potshots at Jefferson) so when they set up that separation they left a lot of contradictions behind. The word "God" is everywhere--money, pledges, fast food joints, etc.
Perhaps the Founding Fathers meant separation of church and state to be a sort of "Don't talk about home at work" kind of thing. I'm sure they never anticipated that vast landscape that would one day become American spirituality.
When I say I don't mind that the separation doesn't exist, I don't mean that I'm happy about it. I wish it did exist, but it doesn't, and so I don't think about it all that much. I certainly don't bother invoking it unless religion is being thrust in my face. It seems to me most moderate religious followers of any belief system find bombastic proselytizing to be distasteful. (Why else would Tim Tebow be getting so much flack?)
I haven't been a lifelong atheist. It's something that I've adopted fairly recently, in fact. And when I did, it was something like coming out of the closet all over again. I accepted the fact that not everybody was going to take to it, and that I was going to face prejudice and ignorance. I had to keep reminding myself that my beliefs, just like my sexuality, is personal. I had to remember that I'm in a minority.
That doesn't mean I allow myself to be pushed around, it just means knowing when to fight your battles.
A prayer banner?
I probably wouldn't have fought that battle.
Battles like that do for atheists what fighting Eminem did for GLAAD when they went after him as a homophobe, clearly not understanding him at all. It made GLAAD look stringent, as if they took themselves too seriously and didn't understand art (two things, which, if you're gay, should never apply).
Now atheists seem the same way whenever they go after Christmas displays or the pledge of allegiance.
They're just not fights I want to have.
Maybe it's because, for me, religion is like a relationship that just didn't work out. It doesn't mean I don't love the person I used to date or wish them well, it just means that it wasn't for me. I do believe that most religions, at their core, mean well and promote kindness and generosity. The problem is they've become so warped that more and more people are fleeing towards something that even I, as an atheist, find disheartening--despair.
Being an atheist doesn't mean I don't see the good in people, or the beauty of art, or the fascinating cosmic threads that connect all of us as human beings. It just means I don't accept the idea of god or heaven or hell or--
Well, you get the picture.
I have a belief system. Organized religion just isn't a part of it.
Still, anything that promotes positive energy in the world is not something I'm going to take issue with. I tell everyone that when I did go to church, my favorite part of mass was shaking people's hands and saying "peace be with you." It was such a pure gesture, and to be honest, it's what I miss when I think about going to church. I wish I could do it in a secular way. Just walk up to people on the street and say "Peace be with you." It really is a lovely idea.
So no, I don't mind religion. I mind nutjobs, and extremists, and Bible beaters, and anyone who promotes hate and intolerance.
But religion I can live with. I doubt I'll ever practice it again, but it doesn't bother me that it exists.
As for bellowing about church and state, I'll do it if I feel compelled, but honestly, do we really need any extra arguments in the world?
The Broccoli Blog
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- July 19
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