by M. A. Melby
We all know that atheists can be just as horrid, just as wrong-headed and just as oppressive as a religious person. Sure, an atheist can be “Good without God” but there is no guarantee. We are human after all.
Atheism contends that religion is not an outgrowth of the supernatural, but a series of social institutions that were fundamentally created and devised by people. The contents of those religions are therefore created and devised by people. Often religious tenants were literally decided on by committee. People had the choice of what to write. People had the choice of how to interpret those writings. They, the people, are responsible for their actions, not some vague concept like religion or a god.
Further, the way in which a religion is internalized and acted upon appear disturbingly disconnected from religious texts and teachings – or even theological interpretations. The religion used as an excuse to go to war is cited as the basis for being a conscientious objector during war. The religion that gave rise to the Prosperity Doctrine is the same religion that formed a schism over whether Jesus owned his own clothes or not.
Religion is supposedly a unifying set of beliefs and values. It’s not. “Christian”, for example, is an identity that separates “us” and “them” and often has as much meaning as a star on the belly of a Sneetch. I can only imagine other major religions have met the same fate. There is no coincidence that those drawn to performative Christianity in “Christian Nations” are also drawn to Nationalism. For a great many in the U.S., national and religious identity have a similar purpose in service to the same psychological needs.
To fight “religion” is to fight against a vast religious community’s profound sense of belonging. To see religion as the root of evil is to give-in to the myth that religion is something that it’s not. It’s not the cause. Someone slapping the label of “Christian” or “Muslim” on themselves and building a community, church or identity around that label does not absolve them of the choices they make.
Islam does not cause grown men to take child brides. Christianity does not cause parents to beat their children to death. Don’t give into their excuses. Religion is not the problem. If religion disappeared tomorrow, a different justification would take its place.
Some folks beating the drum of anti-theism may argue that fighting against specific religious practices is fighting the symptoms of a disease. I think they have it completely backward. Religion is just an excuse, a post-rationalization, for the thoughts and actions of human beings for good or for ill.
To fight against practices and doctrines that are murderous, dishonest and unconscionable despite what excuses are used to justify them - those are the battles that need to be fought and won.
M. A. Melby lives in Minnesota where she teaches physics. She is a contributor to Atheist Voices of Minnesota.