On October 13, 2007 I went to the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s 30th Annual Convention in Madison, Wisconsin. While only there briefly to scope things out, I was there long enough to be handed a flyer entitled “Open Letter to those who Deny God” and written by “the 5 Loaves & 2 Fish group”. I would link to this letter online if such a copy existed, but I have been unable to find one. However, several points are raised in this letter that I take issue with and would like to respond.
Strictly speaking, I am not your target audience. Unlike other attendees of the convention, I am not an atheist. I do, however, deny the Christian god you happen to represent, so I suppose that your message could include me. Allow me to defend myself and the atheists — by speaking out against atheism (which was admittedly brave) you have invited public criticism of your words.
Your letter opens with an attack on the key speaker, Christopher Hitchens. You say that “Hitchens has waged a war against God” and has attacked “Mother Teresa and Billy Graham” and has “blamed God and religion for wars and all types of ills and suffering.” Is this supposed to discourage people from seeing Hitchens speak? These are precisely the reasons he has gathered a following, and I do not think any of your charges against him are actually negative — as he says, religion has indeed been the cause of many wars and all kinds of suffering. He has spoken only the truth on these matters.
You blame persecutions and the Inquisition (for example) on “the corruption of religion” rather than religion itself. But there is no distinction — institutionalized religion (particularly Catholicism) was the cause of these events. And this is what Hitchens and others take issue with — while I cannot speak for him, I do not think he has a problem with people who practice religion so long as they are not interfering with the lives of others or being hypocritical. His goal is not to convert Christians to atheism, as near as I can tell.
You claim that “suffering, disease, and death are caused by sin which has been carried from generation to generation after the fall of Man.” This is an absurd thing to claim. I understand the Bible says that “the wages of sin is death”, but you cannot generalize this to all suffering, disease and death. Was Abel killed by Cain for being sinful? Are diseases caused by biological creatures due to sin? Before the fall of man, did these bacteria simply exist without having to feed on mankind? I recently wrote an essay called “Why I Am Not a Catholic”, which included the following line: “We can read that sin cannot be transferred from one person to another or from father to son (Ezekiel 18:20, 2 Samuel 12:23, Matthew 18:10 and 19:14, Psalms 127:3-5).” If sin cannot be transferred, how can it go through generations and how can we be punished for the fall of man?
You claim that the “FFRF has denied the dominant influence of Christianity during the founding of this country” and quote both John Quincy Adams and Noah Webster for support (although both of your quotations come from the 1830s and not the 1770s). The FFRF may do these things, and there is much debate between atheists and Christians about whether or not the Founding Fathers were Christians or deists. But both sides are missing the point — what the founders believed is not important. A country should be run on the basis of how things ought to be, rather than how things were at their beginning.
If every signer of the Declaration and Constitution was a devout Christian, that doesn’t mean we should be a Christian nation. Many of them were slave owners. They opposed rights for Blacks and women. If we find quotations of Washington praising slavery and calling for the subjugation of women, are you going to insist we reinstate slavery and deny women suffrage? I highly doubt it. So why does the religion preferred by the founders have any bearing on the people who live in America today? The First Amendment’s denial of any established religion by the government should put to rest any notion that we are a Christian nation.
You blame the atrocities of Stalin, Mao and Hitler on their ruling over “atheistic” and “godless” societies. You say their governments had “no morals” and “no standards”. Your version of history borders on crackpot ideas. Regardless of what awful things these regimes did, they still had morals and standards, however awful. And Nazi Germany was hardly godless. The Catholic Church was very appeasing to Hitler, and the Germans were by no means atheists simply because they endorsed nationalism. Where is this broad claim coming from?
Your next move is even more absurd, contrasting Germany or Russia with America today. We are, according to you, “a tolerant nation of other faiths because of [our] Christian heritage… One will not find this tolerance in Islamic countries…” Are you a group of bigots or simply ignorant? Lebanon and Jordan have Christian and Islamic people living side by side. Iraq under Saddam was tolerant of all faiths. Iran, despite media suggestions to the contrary, has the largest population of Jews in the Middle East besides Israel and they have representation in the government. Do I even need to mention the thousands of Vietnamese we slaughtered in the 1960s and 1970s or the Iraqis between 1990 and today who died from our bombings and harsh sanctions — possibly numbering in the millions. We may not target them for their religion, but our government is by no means opposed to mass murder when they believe that they can get away with it. What great Christians we are!
You end your letter with a version of Pascal’s Wager: “Do you want to gamble where you will spend the afterlife?” You ask this, suggesting that faith in God is preferable to atheism just in case the Bible is true, so we can avoid eternal damnation. I won’t get into the whole mess of problems in this logic, but let me ask you two questions. First, if one believes in God because they want to avoid hell and not because it’s something they rationally believe in their heart, does God really want people who are only posing as believers? And second, try reversing your questioning — what if an atheist said, “Life is short, and being dead lasts forever. Do you really want to gamble by spending all this time in church when you could be embracing the joys around you?” Atheists enjoy the alleged works of your god every day by loving nature and their fellow man. Talk to an atheist about morals — you’ll find many of them are more tolerant and loving than many Christians.
I have no problem with your choice to practice a particular brand of Christianity, or any other faith, so long as you do not interfere with the lives of others. But scare tactics and poor reasoning will not convince the atheists — atheists are logical, rational people. They are as devoted to their lack of gods as you are to your god. Your efforts to convert are, frankly, a waste of time that could be better spend working for a charity and helping your fellow man — something many atheists and I firmly believe in. I support Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Books for Prisons and Students for Justice in Palestine — and I don’t need any book or god to guide me in morality. Morals are rational responses to the world — your god says things are right because the natural order of the world has already made them right. With or without Him, morality stands firm.