Courtesy, once again, of Why Evolution Is True, comes another article in the New York Times, this one about a bible-belt pastor that left religion behind. Despite the fact that the author, like many journalists, has only a superficial understanding of what he’s writing about (and suffers from the common delusion that the chronological listing of particulars is something to be destroyed at all costs,) the article still communicates the significant repercussions of announcing one’s lack of faith in an area dominated by christians. Jerry DeWitt, in a rapid turn of events, lost his job, his wife, and all of his friends when he let it be known that he was a secular humanist, and began receiving nasty little messages on his voicemail. This comes as no surprise to anyone the least familiar with reactions to secularism; christians seem to like the title of being good, but the practice is a bridge too far (and already crumbling into ashes.)
More notable, however, are the various comments following that article. There is a distinct dearth of christians recognizing the inherent assholery of their brethren; instead, we have the hackneyed ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy popping up, which curiously seems to only get pointed out to atheists – the number of times I have seen this wielded against the untrue christians I can count on the fingers of two fingers. And, we get to see the blithe avoidance of the key points of the article, to instead hear someone wax pompously about their own special status as the recipient of god’s touch. Funny, even though they directly say this is god’s doing, they seem to always express this as if it’s the fault of the untouched. This is despite the fact that DeWitt has better “touched” cred than anyone I’ve ever spoken to, as recounted right there in the article.
The writer, perhaps in a sense of balance, does point out that not everyone has been nasty to DeWitt, and I’ll be perfectly fair and say that yes, there is some credit to be given over this. But you tell me: how well does someone being nice to DeWitt stack up against veiled death threats, the loss of his job, his wife leaving him, and his house being foreclosed on? Especially when it was demonstrated in front of a reporter from a major newspaper? Do you get the same impression that I do, of someone who thinks their pleasant ‘public face’ disguises their shitty attitude?
Now, funny, I thought jesus had a few things to say about this all, and that he was one of the prime motivators in christianity, but it seems like that’s only when it’s convenient. I would have thought that someone dropping faith would be considered a challenge, a signal to really pour on the positive aspects and, if nothing else, the charm – not a cue to become a petulant brat. Even the lamest of corporations, faced with drooping sales, isn’t stupid enough to insult and ostracize their customers, but looks instead for ways to improve their product, or at least put on the pretense of such.
Interestingly, the primary message, and indeed the direct advice given by another pastor and echoed by the writer, is, “keep your mouth shut.” Yeah, the whole thing’s fucked up, but just lie, to everyone else as well as yourself, because it’s easier that way. Which is a rather damning commentary on the childishness and mob mentality of our society anymore, and the coward’s way out. “For god’s sake, don’t even try changing those assholes for the better! Leave that to the… oh, yeah. That was supposed to be our whole purpose as christians, wasn’t it?”
But that really isn’t the purpose, as has been demonstrated countless times over the centuries. The purpose is only to wield a specialized status, to bear a title that requires no accomplishment and no responsibility, but allows one to dictate to others at will without having to demonstrate any real value from it. You will notice that the pastor himself, tasked with guiding others towards proper behavior, instead just makes excuses for them.
The ones who are spewing the nasty messages and making all the effort to ostracize that horrible atheist aren’t really doing anything good, are they? Most of it is undoubtedly just insecurity, and likely a little resentment from seeing someone leave the club. Some of it is probably fostered by the constant demonizing of atheism and secularism, even admitted within the article when it is pointed out that some believe DeWitt is a satanist (wonder where they got that idea?) Regardless, none of it is even remotely related to positive action, and few of those engaged in such seem to have any inkling whatsoever of this. If there is one message that christianity is supposed to promote, it’s, “be good.” So just how pathetic is it that it cannot even get this straight? No, there only seems to be the belief that if you don a little cross, you have magically pronounced your behavior to be acceptable. The omniscient god they like to blather about seems remarkably easy to fool.
Now comes a little perspective. Since the argument that outspoken atheists are being mean is a ridiculously common one, I feel obligated to point out the hypocrisy here. But more importantly, I want to show some important distinctions. I have nothing against being mean, actually – I’m all for it, provided it’s applied in a useful manner. Our societies are built upon the input of everyone, and what they consider acceptable or not. Being mean is a way of announcing the level of disagreement you have with a particular standpoint. I’m sure that my beating the shit out of a child rapist is unlikely to garner much negativity, despite how mean it really is.
However, the perspective and circumstances, the reasoning behind, are crucial. Yes, I’m mean towards the excesses of religion, and even the idea behind it – they demonstrate both a class consciousness and privilege that promotes no advance to society or behavior, and an idea that is remarkably lame and superstitious in itself. Not only do I find it necessary to demonstrate that critical thought is lacking, the message must also fight against the propensity of humans to follow one another around like unthinking sheep. A truly ridiculous number of things in our culture revolve around the idea that religion=good, despite the constant barrage of evidence that this equation fails more often than it succeeds. I post about these subjects specifically to highlight how often people cannot see the obvious.
This is different, radically so, from being mean in order to maintain one’s own privileged position, or because someone is insecure and incapable of improving themselves. Our society, and in fact all interactions among every cooperative species, revolves around others; our status and our survival depend on them. This even extends to what religion hopes to accomplish (or professes to attempting anyway.) Yet, there is a remarkable tendency to believe that, in the process of disrespecting others, the religious should be receiving respect back from them. Or, failing that, then the hopes that their numbers hold out so the in-group of religious folk can still maintain an advantage through might.
This has nothing to do with ‘good.’ And it’s not like being good requires some special guidance, training, or insight anyway. It’s about as uncomplicated as any decision we could ever make.
In fact secular humanism, which is the label that DeWitt applied to himself that triggered this entire mudslide, is a standpoint that specifically applies itself to doing good, to building a stronger society. That’s exactly what so many christians claim to be after themselves, isn’t it? Ah, but the rub is that it does so by dumping the reliance on privilege and labels, and completely trashes the concept that any holy book automatically counts as good. The only people who have anything to fear are the ones who lose all of the status provided by such privilege, and have no good deeds to display in its place.
Awful goddamn lot of them, isn’t there?