TSE, GOD, 'nME
Whenever I think about atheism I start thinking about Thomas Stearns Eliot. I'm not sure why, probably because Eliot's poetry and life were so bound up in the transition from a primarily Religion-centered world view to the modern era of Science, which included Jessie L. Weston's "From Ritual to Romance" and Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer's "The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion".
T.S. Eliot saw the deconstruction of Religion and the rise of Science for the destructive paradigm-shifts they were. His most celebrated poems--Prufrock, Wasteland, Hollow Men, and Four Quartets--all contained elements of his fear and confusion at seeing the Christianity of his youth go from a rock-hard Faith to a much debated Anthropological subject. He well understood that the underpinnings of societal behavior had always based itself on, at root, 'Because God says so' and without this cardinal anchor, had slid from the height of civilization to the depths of 'what can be got away with'.
His more considered response, in the later years of his life, was to accept the need for shared rituals, with faith-based subtexts--Thus his conversion to Church of England or, as we in the states call it, the Anglican Church.
(This completed his 'conversion to British' as well--Eliot was derided by some for his overactive Anglophilia--following as it did his refusal to return to the U.S., his adoption of English accents and mannerisms, his application for British citizenship and his (ultimately failed) attempt to volunteer for service in the British military. He had to settle for nightwatch duty in his neighborhood of London--which experience led to some of the Four Quartets' more violent envisionings. But, I digress.)
I am amazed that we are, a century later, still dealing with the legitimacy of the major and minor 'faiths'. That word, 'faith', rather than 'religion', has become very popular because it is easy to criticize a religion, but to advocate losing faith is a non-starter, 'faith' being so widely confused with either 'optimism' or 'dedication' or both. This makes the word a very good noun for the 'faith-based' camp of the religion issue.
Having lost so much ground since Eliot, the irreligious must accept that a productive and well-scheduled lifestyle need not include sabbath services (or fasts, etc.) for that life to be good. Anyone really following the Golden Rule will often find themselves out-Jesus-ing the Jesus freaks, out-mensching the Jewish orthodox, and out-salaaming the Allah-prone. And, strangely enough, they can even out-enjoy their lives without the devouts' guilt, suspicion and fear.
I, and other athiests, need to be careful--we can type something in an obscure blog and little will come of it, hold our own opinions without letting it interfere with our social lives or our jobs. But we do not want to be seen as the kids who ratted out Santa's ficticiousness, or the communists who would outlaw religion, or the slobs who embrace atheism as a way to excuse their misbehavior. In short, we don't want to be hypocrites. We should beware of rationalizing our misbehavior with our non-beliefs just as believers indulge in some of their ideas (like shooting doctors or adding fairy tales to biology class).
And even beyond that, I have no interest in trying to make other people unhappy. I write what I do because my profile says 'atheist' right at the top--if you aren't an atheist, you shouldn't be reading this. If people want to believe in things, I say let'em--religion can be a very comforting delusion--and it keeps people from worrying over understanding their world, their lives: 'Jesus, take the wheel', if you will. Marx said 'religion is the opium of the people' and I, for one, am in favor of de-criminalizing drug abuse of any kind. Religion may be a drug, but I often wish I wasn't allergic.
No, my only 'cause' when speaking of atheism is to remind my fellow citizens that, in this country, common sense and the common good have always trumped religious scruples and partisan morality. No demagogues need apply--and it's a sign of our lower-education-standards times that a religious nut just ended his eight-years as our elected President. No prior POTUS was ever so baldly in favor of a single religious group's morals and taboos.
Back in more sensible times, like, the rest of our history, such revival-tent thinking would have immediately disqualified a man for serious candidacy. Washington often spoke in defense of atheism in government, having as his warning the eternal religious strife and warring caused by the theocrats of Europe and Great Britain.
And Jefferson changed the phrase 'truths to be God-given' to 'truths to be self-evident', primarily to forestall any conflict over which God was being refered to.
But now that our uneducated heads are full of mush, now that that mush is being frapeed by social networking, partisan journalism (an oxymoron) and commercial advertising, now--we can react to any situation more quickly and more stupidly than at any previous point in history! The effect on democracy has been disheartening: ad money representing one's campaign message--the one with the biggest pot of donations get the most votes. It is assumed that the true character of the candidates will be powerless in the face of constant air time boosting the rich one and insinuating the inferiority of his or her opponent.
A new type of faith-baser has arisen who, like the bigots, must reconcile outlandish beliefs with the knowledge that being too open about their true character will marginalize them from the common crowd: i.e. a majority of fairly sensible Americans who want religion to stick with church and prayer, and leave the politics and legislation and science to people who don't believe in magic, miracles or damnation.
These new mega-evangelists, or neo-cons, or whatever, want more than freedom of religion, they want power of religion. They want their spiritual perspective to be more than merely permitted, they want it to be the filter for judging everyone's behavior and the law governing everyone's activities. Forget about them being Jesus-freaks, they're god-damned un-American! Traitors, if you will--read Sarah Vowels "Wordy Shipmates" if you don't believe me: religious tolerance and pluralism is our nation's oldest tradition, coming centuries earlier than Democracy, Freedom of Speech, or the Right To Bear Arms.
Greatness of empire, historically, has always contained the seeds of its own fall--when I was in school, I'd wonder how the United States of America could ever become something other than the world's best hope, what could ever happen that would bring the emergence of a power greater than the USA? The answer was all around me, of course, our schools. Our schools are the root of our government. Without education, no democracy can be safe from the cunning of the greedy and self-serving. We have gone from the nation with the highest percentage of literate citizens (at the turn of the last century) to one of the most ignorant of the developed countries. Add overzealous proselytizing to a crowd of ignorant, marginalized people and what do you get? America as Al-Queda-ville, with the rest of the world having trouble deciding which is worse, us or the terrorists.