“That's me in the corner, that's me in the spotlight, losing my religion” - R.E.M.
While the Unites States continues to chip away at the wall that separates church and state, the rest of the western world is making strides to reinforce it.
When, a few weeks ago, Julia Gillard became Australia's first female prime minister, she stunned the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's reporter who was interviewing her by saying: "No, I don't believe in God, I'm not a religious person. I'm not going to pretend to believe in a faith I don't feel. And for people of faith, the greatest compliment I could pay to them is to respect their genuinely held beliefs and not to engage in some pretense about mine. I think it's not the right thing.”
How refreshingly honest and groundbreaking that sounds.
Do not hold your breath for a U.S. politician to have the courage to utter such words any time soon, as if one needed God’s help to run a government. In recent years, Americans have grown comfortable with voting for ethnic groups, gays, religious minorities or women, but they do not seem prepared or equipped to back an atheist, today's "liberal" atmosphere notwithstanding.
In a 2007 Gallup Poll, when this question was asked, almost 60% percent of Americans said they would not vote for an openly atheist candidate for president, by comparison, 43 percent said they would not vote for a homosexual. In Australia two thirds of those polled said they did not care about Julia Gillard's "lack of religious faith". Here is another country that is light years ahead of us.
In the Scandinavian nations, the majority of the population doesn’t have any religious beliefs. Consider this: they enjoy far more social justice, less violence, and a broader acceptance of gay relationships than our puritanical God-fearing America.
Atheism is one of the many "moral" and cultural battles being waged today. Other hot buttons are: creationism, evolution, abortion and gay marriage.
Perhaps the time has come for secular people to start shaping their own world and come out from behind the sacristy.
I used to call myself a recovering "cathaholic". At first I was a pious and excited altar boy but as time went by it became meaningless and boring. Then I grew up. I started to come to terms with my sexuality and stopped listening to the Christian rhetoric because of its inherent contradictions. I became a semi-agnostic, still strongly questioning the omnipotent God who allowed the world to be full of sufferings, tragedies and disasters. Finally I realized it was not a “phase”. We are born without religion and I had gone full circle, I was a born-again atheist. The journey was just as hard as coming out of the closet.
I'm not here to try and "convert" you to my way of thinking by claiming I now hold the truth of life and the hereafter. My only credo is: “It is not important what people believe, but what they practice”. That should be the only barometer in our judgment of others. I would hope it is a no brainer to know that violence, racism, homophobia, hatred, genocide, greed, child abuse, discrimination, exploitation, war, terrorism and oppression are never justified, and by extension, more so, if perpetrated under the banner of religion.
2,000 years since Jesus and Mohammad, more since Abraham, most followers of major religions still do not get along with each other or anyone else who dares to be different from them.
Every holy ambassador is absolutely certain of having a wireless heavenly phone line with God, and if not, there is always some ancient “book” full of bizarre do’s and don’ts, a “sacred” manual, more incomprehensible and confusing than the booklets attached to electronic appliances. Curiously the only thing they agree upon, and have in common, is their disdain for atheists. Yet when was the last time an atheist waged a crusade or strapped a bomb to his chest over religion?
The "infamous' Marquis De Sade wrote: "replace the religious inanities which you are imposing on the minds of your children with excellent social principles, instead of prayers let them learn their responsibilities to society, let them know that happiness consists in making others as fortunate as we would wish to be ourselves".
Amen, and sleep in on Sundays or on the Shabbat, it is the best way to honor the day of rest.