Thursday, October 9, 2014

We don't. Really.

In the last week or so, some genuinely ridiculous stuff has been popping up on my Facebook feed, all centered on a particular theme.  First it was the ridiculous assertion that atheists were outraged with Carrie Underwood, the country/pop singer and former American Idol, who late last month released a song called "Something in the Water."  An excerpt of the lyrics:

Then somebody said what I'm saying to you
Opened my eyes and told me the truth."
They said, "Just a little faith, it'll all get better."
So I followed that preacher man down to the river and now I'm changed
And now I'm stronger

There must've been something in the water
 As Christian-themed pop songs go, that one is pretty innocuous.  It's hard to imagine anyone being "outraged" by those lyrics.  I mean, it's not like she was forcing public schoolchildren to sing them during an assembly.  I have to conclude that this meme is an attempt by an overzealous publicist to tap into the Christian persecution complex in order to sell records.

By the way, this song is from the same singer who gave us "Jesus, Take the Wheel."

Then, today, the following image popped up on my feed several times:

Um, what?

As far as I can tell, this image is actually a couple of months old at least, but it's in the same vein as the so-called "outrage" that atheists supposedly feel toward Carrie Underwood.

Obviously there's been a bit of a miscommunication here, so let's clear that up.

As a rule, none of us atheists are outraged at Carrie Underwood.  We really couldn't care less.  I suppose it's possible that some atheist somewhere is outraged at her, but that person has not made his or her existence known to the Internet.

And we really, truly do not care if anyone prays to God or god or anything else.

If it bothers you that we don't care, I sincerely apologize for disturbing your worldview.

To be honest, this seems like some kind of reverse psychology trick.  As a Constitutionalist and a civil libertarian, I strongly support the right of individuals to make their own choices about religious matters and to practice their religion largely as they see fit.  Where things break down is when folks try to use the heavy hand of government to coerce people into a particular religious belief, or to isolate and ostracize nonbelievers, or to treat religious dogma as science.  And, as long as we are being honest, the folks who are trying to do that are pretty much all Christians.

If you want to pray before a city council meeting or a public school test, or if you want to try to convince people on your own time that the earth is about 6,000 years old, then, by all means, go ahead.  The problem isn't with the prayer.  It's with giving the prayer special status by including it in the official proceedings.

I suspect, of course, that such prayers aren't really about the prayer at all.  They're really about using the government to give Christians special status and to coerce people into participating in a religious activity that they would not independently, voluntarily engage in.

And these Internet memes aren't about any real complaint from atheists to anyone.  They're about continuing to ostracize atheists by accusing them of attempting to persecute Christians.  That idea activates a powerful response in the Christian psyche.  Even though Christianity is by far the dominant religion in this country, comprising wide majorities of the population as believers, and even though Christians are freer here to worship as they see fit than in any other country in the world, there is a growing sentiment among many American Christians (certainly not all) that they constitute a highly disadvantaged and oppressed minority, mostly in response to efforts by non-Christians to exclude religious activities from official proceedings.*

* - I've modified this paragraph from the original.  My good friend Jon, who is a Christian seminarian, and with whom I have had many thought-provoking conversations on this subject, pointed out that the previous version painted all American Christians with a broad brush in attributing that attitude to them.  Generalization is almost always unfair, but it was particularly unfair in this instance because it may not even be the majority position of American Christians.  It was also sloppy, because it wasn't even what I was trying to say.

Now, that is something I am outraged about.  Keeping you from using the authority of the government to proselytize others to your faith is not persecution.

And to the creator of the Carrie Underwood meme and the photo I reproduced above, I must ask:  Why does it bother you so much that I don't believe what you do?

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