Saturday, April 07, 2007

Blog against theocracy: Which religion?

This is my impromptu contribution to the blogswarm that is going on this Easter weekend. I'm obviously not doing this every day, since I missed posting yesterday, but I'm writing something today and perhaps tomorrow as well. I'd encourage my fellow AE posters to chime in with other posts, if they're so inclined.

Austin is a city full of living contradictions. We Austinites live in a city that is probably the most laid back, religiously liberal locale in a very, very southern Bible belt state. Or as I sometimes describe it, "An island of blue in a sea of red." On this island there live many people who have migrated from other states, so that I often go for several days without hearing a single Texas accent. On the other hand, there are plenty of "true Texans," and there are quite a few people who still manage to live their lives inside a religious bubble. You can hear these people call in regularly to the TV show, perplexed about what in the world and atheist is, or why we would dare to risk eternal hellfire by not believing something that they feel is obviously true. Many of these people they aggressively defend their right not to have to leave that bubble.

Earlier this week, I was listening to a local radio show as they talked about a recent news story, in which a Muslim was invited to say a prayer in the Texas Senate. Many people were calling the show, predictably seething with outrage that the Muslim would dare to defile their upcoming sacred weekend by saying the word "Allah" in a public building. There was a woman on the show, who is not a regular, but she was the sole voice calling for tolerance of religious diversity. She was also getting berated. The callers asked, without a trace of irony, how it's fair for this Muslim to come in our state buildings and pray to "Allah" when THEY (the callers) don't believe in Allah.

That is, of course, exactly what atheists think about Christian prayers. I'm not going to bother making a case here that there shouldn't be any prayers in public places (although I feel that's important). I just want to point out -- yet again -- the rank hypocrisy of insisting that Christian prayers be allowed in public places while getting bent out of shape that any other prayers are also allowed. When called on it, they'll repeat the Christian nation myth.

The fact that most people in America are Christian does not make this a Christian nation, any more than the fact that most people in America are white makes this a white nation. As the founding fathers wrote, and the supreme court has confirmed over and over again, the intent of our laws is to create a religion-neutral government. Islam has exactly the same right to our public forums as Christianity does. Either both belong, or neither does.

As atheists, we've begrudgingly gotten used to sucking it up most of the time when yet another effort to Christianize the government goes through, such as a giant "In God We Trust" sign gracing the lieutenant governor's podium. We complain about it, of course, and work to bring about change, but often those things do not change and there is a certain psychological requirement to deal with it and move on. That's why the enormous fuss about letting Muslims take up Senate time really doesn't register with me as a serious issue. It's not because I want Muslims to take over the government, obviously; it's because it seems to be in the same category as things that go on already. "Oh well, Christians were wasting our time last week and this week it's Muslims."

In another sense, however, the general topic of religious ceremony in government is a very serious issue. The issue is simply highlighted by this Muslim prayer. Usually when anyone complains about government observation of religion, they are accused of persecuting Christians by preventing them from freely exercising their own religion. Listen, for example, to this pitiful whine by talk show host Glenn Beck, who complains that it's really HARD to be a Christian because it's so unpopular to be part of an 85% majority. It's also apparently hard to be human, he says.

But as we can see, the same Christians who insist on their right to express themselves are not willing to afford the same "right" to Muslims, and that's the point where they fall back on declaring that only Christian prayers have a place at the table.

That's an example of theocracy. It's a minor one. It's not anywhere near the outrageousness of sharia law, and nobody should claim it is. But there are groups in the US that seek to install a religious government that is every bit as oppressive as fundamentalist Islamic societies. Christianity may not be unpopular but Dominionism is. However, fundamentalist Islam is also unpopular, but they still manage to take over small countries. So it's important not to underestimate the threat. If American fundamentalists have failed to install a theocracy here, it is because they are tempered by post-enlightenment culture and not for lack of trying.

That's why it's important not to be intimidated and distracted by claims that keeping religion out of government is somehow oppressive and an imposition on people's rights. People who want to put religion in government are either making this claim disingenuously, or they simply haven't thought it through. Anyone who has a problem with bringing up "Allah" in the Senate should have a problem with religious pandering in general. It shouldn't be solely the domain of atheists to point out that you can't make an exception for your own favorite religion... unless you somehow figure out a way to prove that your religion is true.


  1. >unless you somehow figure out a way to prove that your religion is true.

    This is extremely interesting. I posted to you in the "on meanness" blog comment section, before I read this latest entry. It's uncanny.

    I quoted Joseph Campbell who said, "All religions are true, none are literal." What you are obviously saying above, is "true" in a literal/factual way--and in agreement with Campbell's meaning.

    I was tossing the idea around that comparing Xianity more often to other religions might be a way to address the problem of the "superior" status we afford Xianity in our society. Certainly it's the religion of choice in this country; but our willingness to accept it as literally true is no different than the adherents of many of the majority religions in all regions--where there's is the "true" religion, and ours is the misconception or the half-truth or however it is viewed.

    The truth is none of them are literal, and all are mythology and symbol. I don't know what would happen if a Xian had to answer to why they reject all other religions? I do know they're belief that "there can be only one" (citation: Highlander). But unless they've investigated all with an open mind--they can't know that the claim of "only one" is actually true. I wonder what the response would be if, rather than having to argue "there is a god"--they were put in the position of having to address the point, "How do you know Allah is not the one true god?" or "How do you know Buddhists aren't right?" ad nauseum. Any argument they could give could easily be countered by an example from a competing religion.

    I'm currently reading (in addition to Golden Bough) the Quran. It has all the same quotes we get from fundies: anyone who doesn't believe this is a fool, anyone who disbelieves will pay in the hereafter, etc.) Have they read the Quran? Upanishads? Vedas? Gita? Toa Te Ching? I Ching? Buddhist writings--all the sects?

    They're likely to appeal to the resurrection as "proof" of their religion however. But there are other religions that offer resurrections. In fact, Campbell points out that the resurrection religions have something in common: They're an agricultural myth. You plant, you reap, you replant. It dies, it comes back, it dies, it comes back--and your religion reflects this.

    It's no coincidence that the Jews had no history of resurrection myths while they nomadically wandered the desert as herders. But plant them in Roman territory and expose them to Greek myths (where trips into and out of Hades were routine), and voila! A resurrection.

    Oh well. I'm running on. As I said, I thought about this last night for a time--and the Golden Bough has me thinking along those lines again of human symbolism and the "misread" of literalization of those symbols.

    Another good post.

  2. I posted to you in the "on meanness" blog comment section, before I read this latest entry. It's uncanny.

    You didn't post to me; you were probably talking to Martin. :)

    Other than that, agree with you on the tactic of using other religions as leverage against Christian fundamentalism.

  3. Thanks for another great post. I'm going to use the "white nation" example the next time I hear about how this is a Christian nation. Hopefully it'll be enough to get some of my relatives to "think" about what they really mean.

  4. But Christians shouldn't be bothered by an invocation to Allah since they don't believe in Allah. It is insane to be upset by something that you don't believe is real.

    So they must really know deep down that Allah is real, but they are just denying that truth because they don't want to accept Allah's authority and stop living sinfully.

    At least those are the arguments they use so often when we atheists complain about government endorsement of their God. It is funny how they forget these claims when they find themselves excluded.

  5. >You didn't post to me; you were probably talking to Martin. :)

    Yes, I will work on being more observant! D'oh!!! [Thanks!]

    >So they must really know deep down that Allah is real, but they are just denying that truth because they don't want to accept Allah's authority and stop living sinfully.

    Too true.


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