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We are a worldwide social network of freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists.

Why Christians Should Embrace a Secular Government:

One atheists’ plea for freedom of religion

By Jeff Jackson

Lest anyone try to convince you that God should be separated from the state; our founding fathers, they were believers, and George Washington, he saw faith in God as basic to life.”

~Sarah Palin~

Typically in conversations with Christians, when a secularist begins to sound a bit too rational, this old gem seems to crop up sooner or later. The old, “But this country was founded on Christian Principles” or “But the founders of this country were Christians.” The danger with getting into this argument is that it’s circular, and at the end of the discussion, no one thinks any differently than when they began.

One could argue that when people are deciding what is and is not fair, they should first imagine themselves in a minority position. Yes, the majority of Americans (roughly 73%) claim the Christian faith, while the non-religious make up approximately 18-20% of the total U.S. population. With non-religious Americans being the fastest growing “religious” demographic in the country, it’s not hard to imagine a day where they could be in the majority. The question I think Christians should ask themselves is: When that day comes (and I think it will eventually), do they want the non-religious people being able to tell them how they can and cannot worship, live their lives, or act?

If you would like a more contemporary argument that could potentially impact Christians today; imagine if a Christian family were to move to a majority Muslim town in the United States. One day these Christian parents find out that before each football game, the crowd is led with a prayer from the Koran. It doesn’t take much to imagine how they would react, they would be outraged! And this is the larger point about having religion in government, schools, and other public places; people always assume it will be their religious message being spread…but what if it isn’t?

Equality among either believers of different faiths, or between believers and non-believers, can never exist when one religion occupies a privileged legal position”

~Susan Jacoby, The Washington Post, January 3, 2011~

Secularism is NOT atheism. “Atheism” is essentially the rejection of a god claim, not the absolute certainty that no god(s) exist, while secularism is the making of decisions ethically, politically, and socially, with a disregard to any religious preference. Secularism makes no claim about any god(s), because in a secular view, it is irrelevant. And this, a secular government, is the only way to preserve religious freedom in the U.S.

I believe the founders of our country knew this, so their individual religious views are irrelevant. They valued freedom above all else and knew if a state religion was established, religious freedom would not last. This is why today you see no official religion of the U.S. and also no official language of the U.S., despite the fact that most of the founders of the United States spoke English. Their vision was an inclusive society, to not exclude any individual from participating; no matter their language, IQ, wealth, skin color, sex, or religion.

Typically the conflict we have seen between people of faith and the secular community, as it often plays out in the public arena, is the secular community having issues with Christianity being favored or pushed in government; Christians typically see this as an attack on Christianity. The thing Christians often don’t understand is this: if a teacher ever were to tell a Christian student that they couldn’t privately pray over a meal during lunch, before a test, or before a big game, the secular community would be just as infuriated. The thing Christians do not understand is that our fight is not against Christianity; our fight is against the push of any religious agenda and influence in government. However, in America, this typically plays out and is perceived by the religious right as a fight against Christianity, but this is simply not the case.

My plea is to reason; to the Christians in this nation to potentially foresee an America where the non-religious are no longer the minority, where politicians no longer have to cow tow to the religious right. Would Christians want to live in a country where the decision of such things as whom they can marry, where they can worship, who can hold office, and what is printed on their money is decided by an atheist governor, senator, or president? If the answer is “no”, perhaps they will see where the rest of the United States is coming from; the roughly 27% who do not claim the Christian faith.

Some day, Christians might just become that 27% minority.    

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Comment by Doone on August 30, 2013 at 4:04pm

I’m weeks late to the party here. If you pay attention to atheist issues you’ve probably heard that a recent major meta-study* concludes that at the population level, atheists are a bit smarter than religious folks (mainly Protestant Americans and English in this case). Not dramatically so, but in a statistically significant way. The difference persists even if you control for gender and education level. This means that if you look only at poorly educated people, the unbelievers are a bit smarter, and likewise if you look only at highly educated people, or women, or men. Here are some thoughts about this.

Intelligence is, to the extent that it is measurable, caused by both genetics and environment. Take a pair of twins and give one good nutrition, care and education – and withhold all this from the other twin. Then the first twin will score better at IQ tests than her sister. On the other hand, kids with smart parents tend to grow up smarter than other people even if they are separated from their parents at birth. The new study documents a drop-off in the difference in intelligence between atheists and believers after higher education. Atheists are still smarter, but the difference shrinks. That is very telling to me.

I don’t think having atheist beliefs makes you smarter. Nor does being smart make you more likely to become an atheist. The study’s authors suggest that the main explanation for the difference is that “intelligent people do not accept beliefs not subject to empirical tests or evidence”. This is almost certainly the wrong explanation. It may be an observational truth, but it is not a causal explanation.

Here’s how I think it works. It has to do not only with the amount of education controlled for by the study, but with the content of your early indoctrination and later education – specifically, whether you are encouraged to think critically or not.

By definition, religious upbringing and education teaches acceptance of some scriptural authority. Not only on ethical issues, but on matters of fact, such as “Is there a god and what’s her name?”. This is why religious affiliation runs so strongly in families, communities and cultures. There are an awful lot of Hindus in the world, for instance, but geographically and culturally they are sharply delimited. This religion’s success has nothing to do with smart people in India looking over the global options and picking the best one. It is due to everybody in that area, smart or stupid, being indoctrinated in the readily available and culturally accepted default faith. Religious people often attend religious schools and universities.

Non-religious upbringing and education, on the other hand, tends to be equally big on the ethics but more critical and open on factual issues. My kids, for instance, often get the reply “Can you guess?” when they ask their dad questions. This, I believe, gives a child’s intelligence a big push. The fact that this correlates with atheism is simply an epiphenomenon. If taught critical thinking, kids become more intelligent and also happen to be less open to accepting untestable or empirically false religious beliefs. Critical thinking training makes kids a bit smarter – and also atheist.

Zuckerman, M.; Silberman, J. & Hall, J.A. 2013. The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations. Personality and Social Psychology Review, Aug. 6, 2013.

I was inspired to write this blog entry by the discussion on episode #100 of the excellentSkeptikerpodden podcast. Congrats guys, keep up the good work!

Comment by Chris on August 26, 2013 at 5:39pm

Good article Jeff. B.T.W. I think it was a smart move to change the party name from the Atheist Party to the Secular Party.

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