Capitalizing on recent surveys showing a decline in religious beliefs and a growth of nonbelievers, the American Atheists organization is celebrating its 50th anniversary by putting up billboards in Texas that encourage Americans to “Go Godless Instead.”
The signs mostly quote conservative politicians who have called for more religion in American life and laws. All the usual suspects are cited: Sarah Palin: “We should create laws based on the God of the Bible,” which was actually a misquote and was corrected later. The sentiment is accurate, though.
Former Republican Presidential aspirant and Senator Rick Santorum was quoted as saying “Our civil laws have to comport to a higher law. God’s Law.” Former House Speaker and Republican presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich was included, quoted as saying: “How can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?”
Another one sign attacks the Roman Catholic Church for its child-abuse scandal.
“We’re very proud of these billboards,” said American Atheists President Dave Silverman (right). “Prominent figures in the public sphere continue to make abhorrent statements, all justified by their religion. The time in American history where overt bigotry against atheists is acceptable is finally coming to an end, and good riddance. We invite reasonable people to stand up, come out, and join us in celebrating 50 years of fighting for the separation of church and state and the civil rights of atheists.”
Guaranteeing civil rights is a worthy cause, but atheists can forget about winning anyone’s mind or heart.
Their focus is on evidence of God’s existence. In that, they are right: there isn’t any. After all, clearly, the accounts in sacred books are contradictory and only add to the welter of conflicting religions. But, religion isn’t about facts. It’s about faith.
People believe because they have no choice. It is nearly impossible for anyone to confront the apparent reality of momentary existence surrounded by endless eons of nothingness. Few people are willing to contemplate the apparent truth that rich and poor, evil and good, share the same future. The absolute meaninglessness of life would overwhelm most people.
It’s easier, both from a logical sense as well as psychologically, to create an imaginary god and pray to him, to write novels and call them sacred, to create a class of people ordained to dispense the “truth.” It’s comforting; it provides emotional support. Religion brings people together and serves as the glue that binds society.
It’s why some scholars have proposed that humans come equipped with a “god” gene, a built-in commitment to religious belief that ensures frail humans could compete and eventually overcome the gigantic beasts and fierce predators in the world around us.
Atheists offer nothing but bleak honesty, a trait few humans excel at. Just look at Congress.
Moreover, atheists offer no replacement for religion. What else provides solace in times of sorrow, hope when all else seems lost, support in dire conditions? What else confidently gives answers to questions that trouble us all?
What else creates illusions that allow us to endure and accept that which would seem otherwise intolerable?
As one colleague once told me: “We need our illusions.”
Yes, we do. We thrive on them. Sexual allure is built on illusion; so is everything we think we know about life, our place in the universe and the future of mankind.
Atheists have no place in that.
The signs they erected in Dallas and Austin only remind us that they exist. They don’t make atheism relevant.
That’s why many humans shucked the pagan gods for one all-powerful god. Jupiter may have wielded a mighty bolt of lightning, but could not comfort the sick or bless a marriage. Mars fought blood wars, but never cradled a dying soldier in his arms or eased the pain for a widow. In time, Jupiter, Mars and the rest simply became names in history books and quirky sobriquets of planets.
The gods were trumped by Jewish, Islamic and Christian charity, which became proverbial. One of the five pillars of Islam is the requirement that believers help the poor. No pagan faith ever did that.
Until atheism can come up with that kind of approach and help ease the burdens of life, members will find that a few signs are nothing more than self-created writing on the wall.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net. He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.
You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1