Religious Persecution—in America? by Christina Knowles

Snagged from Media Matters for America
Snagged from Media Matters for America

If you are listening to Christian radio or Fox News lately, you may think religious persecution is running rampant in America right now. But is it really?

If you think you are being persecuted for your religious beliefs, ask yourselves these questions: Is anyone trying to stop you from praying, reading your holy book, or worshipping in your own home? In your place of worship? Is anyone trying to stop you from imposing your religious views on others publicly? If you can honestly answer yes to the first two, then perhaps, you are experiencing persecution. However, the latter is not persecution. It is you trying to persecute others, and is therefore, not protected under religious freedoms. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

Here are some examples of actual religious persecution.

  • Jesus Christ’s crucifixion based on his religious claims and those of his followers.
  • John the Baptist’s beheading based on his belief in Christ as the messiah.
  • Constantine’s destruction of pagan and Roman temples and his intolerance of all non-Christian religious practices.
  • Mary Tudor’s slaughter of Protestants who refused to convert to Catholicism, which earned her the name of Bloody Mary.
  • Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jews and the slaughter of 6 million Jews under his leadership.
  • Joseph Stalin, who was against all religion and demanded atheism be embraced by all. He killed thousands of people because of their religions, destroyed temples, and outlawed Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and more.
  • Charlemagne persecuted the Saxons, insisting they convert to Christianity.
  • Martin Luther was killed for his reformation of the Catholic church, but was also, himself, a controversial figure for the anti-Semitic sentiment in his writings.
  • On-going persecution of Christians in China, which includes, beatings, imprisonment, confiscation of religious materials, and executions.
  • In Africa, there is much Christian vs. Muslim persecution erupting in violence and death. For example, the recent Islamic terrorist attack at a Kenyan college, killing 147 Christians.
  • In the Middle East, Christians are persecuted by Muslims, Muslim groups persecute each other, and then there are the devastating effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which many believe is rooted in differences in religious ideology.
  • In America, today religious persecution may exist on a very small scale. Individuals are discriminated against in work environments or at school, but it is not widespread. Probably the most persecuted group in America today would be the Amish, who are frequently attacked when venturing out of their communities. But even these are isolated events.

Many people believe that Muslims are the most hated or persecuted religious group in America today because of the association of terrorism with Islam in the Middle East and because of the attack on September 11, 2001. But while the sentiment of many Americans may be anti-Muslim, actual persecution is also limited to isolated events.

Merely being discriminated against or even hated does not constitute religious persecution. Religious discrimination is against the law and people on the receiving end of discrimination in America have the opportunity for fair legal redress, which in itself, shows that this is probably not at the level of persecution.

Individual people will always discriminate and infringe on the rights of others, but when this is sanctioned by the state, no protections are in place, and no justice is available, then it can truly be called persecution. One might question if isolated incidents of hate crimes constitute actual persecution in the academic sense or just criminal activity by a prejudiced few, which will not go unpunished. If so, no one in America can claim to be persecuted on the basis of religion.

If your idea of religious persecution is that you are not able to infringe on the rights of others to practice your religion, then you are mistaken, and frankly, that’s just too bad.

In the news recently, there have been a variety of groups suing the government and petitioning for laws to protect religious freedom, when in fact, religious freedom already exists and is protected by the Constitution. If refusing to serve someone based on his religion appeals to you, then opening this can of worms is likely to backfire on you. Already, we’ve seen cases of signs appearing refusing to serve Christians on the grounds of “deeply-held religious beliefs.” All one has to do to see the inherent discrimination in these types of protections for businesses is to replace “Christians” or “homosexuals” with “blacks” or “Asians,” and we immediately become incensed with righteous indignation, saying, “They can’t do that! That’s illegal!” What’s the difference? Do you really believe that your religious freedom entitles you to discriminate against others in a public place by refusing to offer goods and services? No one is trying to prevent you from exercising your religious freedoms. But you cannot, in America, run a business open to the public, and then discriminate against people based on your religion or theirs. That sounds a lot like Nazi Germany. Saying you can’t do that with your business, does not mean, you are being persecuted.

Try being an atheist in a country where atheists are prevented from holding public office in seven states (West). Can you even imagine our country electing an openly atheist president, or imagine the ridicule a sitting president would incur if he refused to say a prayer at the Prayer Breakfast or at the National Day of Prayer? Yet, the very religious folk who are so vocal about religious freedom have no issue with religious tests for public office, using religion to campaign, or to freely criticize the lack of religion in candidates and politicians.

Unfortunately, the inability to “put the shoe on the other foot” is at the root of this ridiculous controversy over religious freedom. Instead of demanding your right to deny others rights, try to imagine what you would feel if that happened to you. I believe that most people do not want to hurt others or treat them unfairly, but when our sense of justice and our fear of losing our own rights cause us to treat others unfairly or unkindly, then we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what we are really trying to accomplish. Maybe by remembering what real persecution looks like, we can more realistically look at our own fears. Fear seems to be at the heart of this issue, and decisions made on the basis of fear are rarely rational or effective, and are often divisive. Really, can’t we all just get along?—Christina Knowles

Originally posted in 2015

Sources:

West, Ellis M. (2006). “Religious Tests of Office-Holding”. In Finkelman, Paul. Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties. CRC Press. pp. 1314–5. ISBN 978-0-415-94342-0.

Angry Atheist or Justifiably Angry? by Christina Knowles

Religion  We’ve all heard of the stereotype of the “angry atheist,” and I’m really tired of it and all it implies. If you really want to know why this atheist is sometimes angry, I’ll tell you, but you aren’t going to like it. I’m tired of being told that I am angry at a god I don’t believe in. I’m not, but lately I have been angry at some of those who believe in this god.

In general, I am a happy and pretty serene person. I am easy to get along with, I don’t get mad very easily, and I can’t think of any wrong done to me that I don’t easily forgive very quickly. However, I am angry at religion, at least organized religion. I don’t really have a problem with vague beliefs of some abstract spirit world where are there are no holy documents dictating how everyone else is supposed to live, regardless of whether or not they also believe it.

The kind of religion that makes me angry is the kind that is preventing progress, inhibiting intellectual reasoning, brainwashing children and cultures, interfering with the rights of others, and destroying our world. That’s right, destroying it. And I’m not just talking about the terrorism of some Islamic groups, or the overt oppression of homosexuals and women, but, at least in the United States, I blame fundamentalist Christianity for the dumbing down of the world when it comes to science, the environment and climate change, over-population, and for popularizing the belief in the superiority of mankind and his “dominion” over animal life and nature, as well as attempting to morally justify the worship of capitalism and making it acceptable to vilify and oppress the poor. Religion is leading to a mass extinction on our planet.

Any species that takes more than it needs from its environment eventually becomes extinct. The only way out of this that I can conceive is education. Education in science, history, literature, social studies, math, in everything, including de-bunking religious superstition. As long as people are conditioned to check their brains at the door and believe a book written by bigoted men thousands of years ago, men who had no understanding of science and every reason to perpetuate thought which put them in control. This book causes good people to discriminate against other good people, this book causes women to accept or even welcome their own subjugation, and this book causes intelligent people to dismiss intellectual thought in lieu of “faith,” which leads to denying scientific fact and embracing fantasy notions of escaping this planet for an imaginary perfect place where none of the people they find offensive will be allowed to go.

And when you believe there will be a new earth, why take care of the old one? Why not have “19 kids and counting” if a god will take care of all of them or rapture them up and take them to heaven? We don’t need to worry about the exponentially growing population and the fact that we do not have enough resources to support them or enough jobs available for them as they become adults. And if animals do not have souls, and men do, obviously, men can do whatever they want to them. And prejudice and discrimination against those who do not agree that your god makes the rules is suddenly justified because you are just “trying to save them” and are worried about their eternal souls.

One of the most disturbing things about American Christianity is the apparent worship of capitalism and the disdain for the poor. While, in the past, Christians prided themselves on caring for the poor, this new generation of Christianity seems to prefer quoting aphorisms about God helping “those who help themselves,” “no working-no eating,” and “teach a man to fish,” etc., effectively blaming the poor as being lazy without looking at factors such as opportunity and oppression, instead, promoting corporate greed as God’s blessings for the entrepreneurial spirit. They seem to think that if they please God enough, enforcing his edicts on the world, they, too, will be blessed with riches.

But if you really want to know why I am angry, you first have to understand my perception of religion. While Christians may think I am lost, I think, as a former Christian, that I have awakened and narrowly escaped a cult. I believe that Christians are nice people, more often than not, who have been deceived and brainwashed into joining a damaging and intellectually debilitating cult. This cult lures people in by quoting the nice parts of the bible, and there are a few, very few. These people are drawn in by the idea of an all-powerful and benevolent being who personally created them and loves them. They aren’t immediately informed about this god’s past immoral and psychotic displays of rage on humanity. And when they do run into these passages, eventually, they are explained away with such illogical nonsense as “We can’t begin to understand God,” or “Because God is perfectly just, He has to destroy sin,” (even the innocent children, apparently, and despite the notion that He created it), or my personal anti-favorite, “You just have to have faith.” Why? Why would anyone think it a good thing to believe something for absolutely no good reason, contrary to the observable evidence, and with no supporting evidence of its own? Especially, blissfully ignoring the fact that this god seems strikingly similar to a very flawed, over-emotional, prideful, vindictive, and sexist early Middle Eastern man. This is exactly what I mean. This cult ensures its survival by making sure its members believe that looking too closely at its logic is a bad thing and blind faith is admirable.

I’m sure at this point, some people are thinking that I sound like I am mad at God. I’m not. I don’t believe he exists, but if the god of the bible were real, I certainly would not find him worthy to be worshipped or obeyed, not to mention that he seems to be a trickster engaged in the longest hide and seek game of all time. However, I am mad that this mythology is continuing to block progress and affects millions of people who do not share these beliefs. I am angry that persistent sexism exists because of religion. I am angry that discrimination of all kinds of people exists because of religion, that wars are started over religion, that disdain for the poor exists because of religion, that scientists are scoffed at because of religion, that we are killing ourselves, plant life, and animal life because of religion. I don’t mean to single out only Christianity for the blame; there are other factors, but, in my opinion, it is this dominant religion causing the most harm here in the United States. I am angry that in America, there are still some laws on the books that prevent an atheist from holding political office, which is completely unconstitutional. Personally, I would rather see a person who depends on reason in charge of public policy than someone who wants to determine what is right and wrong from an ancient book that should have long ago been relegated to the status of mythology, a category to which it most certainly belongs. However, we all know that even if there were no “religious test” for public office, the “moral majority” of America would never elect even the most ethical and upstanding atheist as president. An atheist would be forced to pretend to have the popular religion in order to have a chance for a political career in the United States.

Yet, Christians cry religious persecution all the time—whenever they are prevented from forcing their religious dogma on others. It is not enough anymore to spread the gospel, they must enforce their imaginary god’s laws on rational people who think they are delusional. I apologize if this is too blunt, and I want to make sure everyone understands that I do not think Christians are stupid. They aren’t. They are brainwashed, usually from birth, indoctrinated into a culture of Christianity and held there by fear of hell, fear of losing community and family, and being ostracized as godless heathens. When Christians do allow themselves to doubt and question, they are quickly reined in and corrected. And even when they no longer believe, they fear admitting it. I was once among them, and I feel for them, but I refuse to stand by silently while they destroy the world I, too, must live in. So, yeah, I am angry, and I do feel the need to say what I think is really going on, but I am not mad at an invisible dictator in the sky whom I do not believe exists.

I am not an angry person. I am a person who gets angry, especially when it really matters. I am a moral person, and I want to see us solve problems and move forward in a way that best protects our future. So you see, in this way, we aren’t really that different. We both think the other is ruining the world, we both think the other is deluded. However, I don’t think you are going to hell. I think you can be woken up. I think you can snap out of it and realize the wool has been pulled over your eyes. I’m sure you think I could come back to Christianity, but I won’t because I never want to believe something for no reason again. I want to see a new age of reason emerge, and the United States return to its former position as one of the world’s freethinking leaders of democracy and scientific thought, rather than being known as the largest free country still holding on to magical thinking and holding back progress. Reason, in the end, is the only savior out there, and I’m justifiably angry because we are encouraging ignorance and fantasies over rationality at the cost of our future.—Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2015

Coming Out as an Atheist in America by Christina Knowles

AmericanAtheistsWe, who are openly atheist, often encourage others to come out publically as atheists because when more people admit to unbelief, the more we are accepted, the less discrimination we experience, and the more rationality can be spread around, in general. But, it’s not an easy thing to do. A gay friend once told me that it was harder telling her parents she no longer believed than it was telling them she was gay. Yet, most people don’t realize what it is really like to come out as an atheist in religion-obsessed America.

Do you want to know what it feels like to be an atheist in America?

It feels like realizing everything you thought was true is wrong.

It feels like being off-kilter and having to reevaluate everything.

It feels like losing everyone you thought you knew and trusted.

It feels like losing all your friends and starting over.

It feels like being stabbed in the back by the sister you nursed day and night through her cancer.

It feels like being cheated out of everything rightfully yours by the only sister you have left.

It feels like being looked on with suspicion by your own family.

It feels like being rejected by your own son and not getting to see your grandchildren.

It feels like being seen as a moral degenerate by people who don’t have a moral bone in their bodies.

It feels like being WAY more moral than most of the Christians you know.

It feels like being a second-class citizen.

It feels like being discriminated against at work.

It feels like being feared by your students’ parents.

It feels like being forced into the “angry atheist” role when all you ever wanted was to just get along.

It feels like your boss pretending to care about your work environment, but really she just doesn’t want to be sued.

It feels like spending tens of thousands of dollars on your step-daughter’s medical bills and having her unfriend you on Facebook.

It feels like people lying about you to ruin your career.

It feels nauseating, listening to people thank God, pray to God, blame God, anything God.

It feels like people thinking they are better than you.

It feels like people judging you all the time.

It feels like people ignoring all the charitable work and self-sacrificing you do because it doesn’t matter if it’s not for God.

It feels so unfair that people hate you just because you’ve grown beyond them.

It feels like things finally make sense.

It feels like being the only sane one in the room.

It feels lonely.

It feels freeing.

It feels like I am an adult.

It feels like I can choose to live my life in the way that seems best to me.

It feels like I appreciate each day, knowing this is all there is.

It feels like me.

It feels right.

It feels totally worth it.

So, to those struggling with whether or not to come out, only you can weigh the consequences in your own life, but as for me, I don’t regret it.—Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2017

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