Have you ever noticed that there’s a stunning correlation between a person’s place of birth and their religious affiliation? Have you ever noticed that there’s a stunning correlation between someone’s parent’s religious beliefs and their own? I can’t count the amount of times that upon asking a theist why they subscribe to a particular religion I’ve been met with the response of ‘well, that’s just because I was born into it’. It’s amazing how often times religious people can so effortlessly point out the flaws in the doctrines of others, yet fail entirely to apply precisely the same rudimentary critical thinking to their own faith.
I used to respond to this assertion by trying to point out that it’s a logical fallacy, and that surely they can see how their faith is so obviously completely dependant upon their geography, but it never seems to get through. Why is this? Why are so many religious people so insular and dedicated, despite knowing that they only believe in their arbitrary god because they were canalised into doing so? Well, if you ask me, I think it’s attributable to the unwarranted privilege that religion is so often granted in public discourse; you can satirise and criticise someone’s politics, and that’s just a diversity of opinion, but God forbid you do the same thing [to] someone’s religious beliefs; because, well, then you’re just a bigot—how many times has someone been called a racist for voicing an opposition to the teachings of Islam?
If a Christian is asked why they believe in their god and they say that its because they were brought up to, or they derive comfort from it, or they just feel as though it’s right, well that’s perfectly acceptable; why should anybody need to justify their beliefs? This is something I could almost get behind, but let’s not forget that it’s these beliefs which are infiltrating the politics of the masses and the education of children. If you want to argue that your religion should be taught in schools and that scientific evidence should be ignored in favour of ancient superstition, well then I’m sorry but you’re going to have to do a little better than that. Imagine if Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump were asked why they support a particular policy, and their response was that they were brought up to, or they derive comfort from it, or just feel as though it’s right. Would that be sufficient to anyone?
Now of course if people keep their religions to themselves, then they shouldn’t necessarily be expected to justify their reasoning, that’s not what I’m trying to argue. I just wish that people wanted to. I wish that we could live in an educational environment which promotes scepticism and freedom of thought, one in which no ideology is held beyond the ability to criticise. One which expels bad ideas, promotes no particular religious dogma and teaches children that ‘yes, your beliefs are probably just fine but guess what? So are other people’s’. If this was a universal reality, albeit quite a quixotic one, don’t you think that radicalisation, religious authoritarianism and holy wars would be a thing of the past?
That’s the thing, secularism doesn’t equate to atheism—secularism benefits everybody. Yes, it protects my right to be an atheist, but it also protects my friend’s right to be a muslim. Secularism just means that each of these rights doesn’t undermine or infringe upon other rights (and that includes a child’s right to a scientific education, or their right to abstain from pledging allegiance every morning to a god they don’t believe in).
The Founding Fathers of the United States were strictly secular. We hear so often that the country was founded on Christian values, despite John Adams himself once stating that ‘The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.’ As noted in an article from the Huffington Post on the issue, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Federalist Papers and the Constitution, the four most important documents in American history, all unambiguously prove the country’s secular origins. The Founding Fathers were completely aware of the dangers associated with a religious state, which is why they were so explicit in trying to prevent it. But despite this, every single president of the US has been a Christian, save Jefferson and Lincoln, but even they were religiously ambiguous, so they could in theory still fit the bill.
Look at the division that exists in modern society. Look at the scientific illiteracy of our children. Look at the influence of a Christian God upon a constitutionally secular state, and then look me in the eye and tell me that we don’t need secularism now more than ever. I may be an atheist, but I’m a secularist before I’m an atheist. I don’t want to force kids to abandon their religion, I just want to create an environment where they can choose to make that decision for themselves.