Back in 2002, a writer named Martin Miller wrote a story for the Los Angeles Times entitled From One Atheist to Another: Chill. His main premise was that non-believers who fight for their rights are “intolerant.” This is amusing and outrageous at the same time; how anyone who calls himself an atheist can possibly speak out against supposed atheist intolerance while never mentioning the intolerance manifested by the religious is mind-boggling.
Atheists see a country saturated with religion. There are churches on virtually every street corner. We turn on the television or read online to see not only our nation’s leaders but also the supposedly “liberal” media constantly extolling the alleged virtues of religion. The pope is discussed in reverential tones by newscasters, as if medieval thinking somehow equates with morality. The average taxpayer pays over a thousand dollars per annum covering up for the tax-exempt status of the church. We have Christian graffiti on our money. Every politician feels it necessary to loudly proclaim his/her faith in a god. At every turn, we are bombarded with the notion that belief in god is good, and non-belief is bad. Indeed, atheist ideas are rarely mentioned by the mainstream media and on the rare occasions when they are, it is usually with unveiled hostility. Who makes up the lost revenue shortfall caused by the tax-free ride religious organizations enjoy? Every American does, believer and non-believer alike. If you own or rent any property, residential or commercial, the property taxes are several hundred dollars higher than they would be if religious property were likewise taxed. In other words, as an atheist, I am forced to pay my hard-earned money to support something I do not believe in. This is contrary to the aim of the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson said it best: “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” One can only wonder what Jefferson and the other secular founders would think of America’s tax system today. One also wonders if Miller would tell Jefferson to “chill.”
When atheists speak up and try to do something about all this, it is inevitable that they will be attacked by the religious and by the corporate-owned media. What is perplexing is that we should also be attacked by some of our fellow atheists. Miller calls those of us who stand up for our rights and for the Constitution “intolerant, pushy, and self-righteous.” His statement that outspoken atheists would, schedules permitting, “be handing out pamphlets and ringing doorbells.” Atheist pamphlets are certainly available, but can Miller provide us with the names of some of these “pushy” atheists? Can he list any atheist organizations that tell their members to go out and proselytize? Even if what Miller says were true, what is wrong with proselytizing atheists? Miller seems to have no problem with Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious groups disturbing his Sunday rest. Apparently, he doesn’t consider them to be “intolerant, pushy, and self-righteous.” What is this if not a double standard? At this point, the question must be asked: which side is he on?
Miller also stated that he hates the atheist equating of gods with Santa Claus. Yet the analogy is a good one; both offer a pie-in-the-sky reward, both are objectively unprovable, and both reflect a magically-oriented mindset. Miller seems to be afraid of offending god-believers with this analogy. Nonetheless, the fact remains that anything atheists say is going to offend some believers. Let Miller live his life in fear of what those who disagree with him might think. He apparently is quite content allowing the Christian Right take over the country, but any real atheist or freethinker should have the courage and wherewithal to fight back and resist having the United States become a Christian version of Iran. If the religious don’t like our message, then quite frankly that is their problem, not ours. If anything, we nonbelievers have for far too long been too complacent in expressing our views. At least at present, we live in a country where freedom of expression is valued, although the Christian Reich desperately wants to change that. Miller also noted that the atheist’s pointing out of the Santa Claus analogy shows a “lack of humility,” which shows a that his psyche possesses a decidedly religious underpinning that any real atheist would recognize, not unlike the Christian message to “beware the sin of pride.”
For one who calls himself an atheist, Miller displays an appalling lack of knowledge about atheist philosophy. He says that “it’s empirically verifiable that there is no Santa Claus. The same cannot be said of God.” Yes, it most certainly can; when no coherent, non-contradictory definition/description of what a god is can be offered, one is unquestionably justifying saying that no such thing as a god can logically exist. Since theists have failed to provide a clear, non-contradictory description of what their god actually is, the atheist need not even consider all the other rationalizations offered up as proof of his existence. Empiricism is the foundational principle of atheism.
Further evidence of Miller’s ignorance of what atheism actually is is when he states in his letter that that “even we atheists must have faith.” This too is utter nonsense. Faith is the acceptance of an idea without evidence or proof, without sensory evidence or rational demonstration. Atheists accept as true only that for which there is evidence. Lack of faith is not an act of faith.
Miller’s ignorance is not confined to philosophy; it also extends to science. No real scientist says, as he suggests, that “the world just spontaneously came into being.” This is exactly what fundamentalist religionists contend, but to speak for all scientists, as Miller does, in addition to being wrong, is an act of colossal arrogance. The universe is based on cause and effect, and the existence of Earth is the consequence of pre-existing factors that caused it to come into being. The notion of the world, or of the universe spontaneously coming into being out of nothing implies divine fiat, which is a religious notion, not a scientific one.
Finally, Miller comments that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, with its “under god” inclusion is a “harmless nod to the majority.” Here, Miller shows his ignorance of history. The pledge, written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy (a noted freethinker) did not have the words “under god” in it until 1954 when the anti-communist hysteria was at its most feverish and the United States wanted to show to the world that we were not like those “godless communists” in the Soviet Union and China. Since that time, the Pledge should instead be called the “Prayer of Allegiance” for that is what it is. If Miller thinks the Religious Right in this country is content with this, then he is more naïve than the most fundamentalist Christian. Any examination of the news will show how more and more of our civil liberties are coming under attack, and always from the same source: fundamentalist Christians. This has escalated dramatically since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Unfortunately, president Obama has shown his totalitarian colors as much as his predecessor by refusing to reduce governmental controls over ordinary citizens; indeed, he has expanded them. The hallmark of every totalitarian regime has been the loss of individual rights; it is certainly not only atheists who have pointed this out. However, I suppose losing our rights would be preferable to Miller than daring to fight to preserve them.
Miller’s general ignorance and lack of intellectual integrity, while astounding, is far too common today. His silly article shows that he has much more in common with the religious community than the free thought community. Were he to attend an actual atheist meeting, no doubt he would become furious and leave early. Simply put, the problem is this: The majority of Americans do not share the views of the Religious Right, but at the same time they dismiss them as a threat. This is the gravest of errors; religions have always been set up to control others, usually through laws and decrees. The Religious Right, contrary to what cowardly people such as Martin Miller suppose, does not merely want “a place at the table,” they want to take over the United States and turn it into a Christian theocracy. Their words and speeches conclusively prove this.
Miller certainly does not speak for the atheist community. It may not bother him now to have the religious walk all over him. Let him walk away with his proverbial tail between his legs. Cowardice of this type must be exposed by those of us who recognize that what America stands for and what it is becoming are two vastly different things.
By: Jon Nelson