I've been an atheist all of my life, with two notable exceptions. One was a half-hearted attempt at Christianity in my teenage years, fueled by family and societal pressure (it didn't take), and the other was a full-blown conversion to Buddhism in the immediate wake of a trip to Thailand in 2004, about a month before the Boxing Day Tsunami. I still meditate and try to follow the most basic tenets of Buddhism (the first two years or so of this blog were devoted almost entirely to Buddhism, and I even spent some time as a Buddhist Monk in Taiwan and California), but I can't say I ever really believed the religion's supernatural claims. Meditation and, say, not killing people, for example, are great ways to help a person live a better life, but I felt like we could dispense with the preaching about past lives and magical dharma protectors. People in Buddhist lands who don't subscribe to any religious beliefs aren't given to persuasion by the crazy stories of the religious. If a Chinese monk tells a Chinese atheist that he'll be reincarnated as an ant for drinking beer, the atheist is likely to offer to buy the monk a beer.
In this country, people like me sit back and marvel at the Christians, who are completely engaged in a religious war with absolutely no one at all. They vow over and over to fight against those evil atheists, who've gotten prayer banned from schools. They'll tell you that the reason prayer was banned from public school is to avoid offending some faction or other of the non-Christian population.
They'll tell you how wrong it is that people can't say "Merry Christmas" anymore in this country, and that the reason we can't say it is to avoid offending the Muslims, or the Jews or the atheists or the scientists or specifically - and I've literally been told exactly this - Richard Dawkins.
You'll hear all about how people are telling Christians that they're not allowed to insert their religion into their everyday speech; they've all been told to keep God out of it. They'll tell you the culprits behind this one are the media, who they've dubbed "The Mainstream Media", and who, in collusion with the secret cabal of America's anti-Christian educators and university administrators, have succeeded in brainwashing entire generations of Americans into hating the baby Jesus - and it's exactly these bad people we're not allowed to offend by talking about God.
But here's the thing. Prayer has NEVER been banned from public schools in America. In fact, the Supreme Court has again and again upheld the right of students to pray however they want to in schools and everywhere else. According to the Constitution, though, the government (which is who runs public schools) cannot do anything toward the establishment of a state religion, and therefore cannot facilitate, mandate, or take part in any kind of religious activity, which includes prayer. The kids can do it, the school can't. So the Christians are fighting against something that never happened?
Saying "Merry Christmas" has never been banned by any locality in the US, ever. At no time in the US has there been a law against anyone saying "Merry Christmas". Hell, I say it, and I'm an atheist. Now, a private employer might not agree with it and might therefore require his employees to say something else, like "Happy Holidays." That might happen, but it's a little bit of a stretch to claim persecution because of that, isn't it? Doesn't he have the same rights as everyone else? Besides, an employer making a rule for his employees to follow isn't exactly the same thing as a ban. So, the Christians are fighting against something that never happened?
Next up is the idea that Christians are unfairly being required to "keep God out of it," or in other words, they're being told that the rest of us might not want to hear it - which is entirely true, but there are strict federal guidelines for when someone, say and employer, can say that and when he can't. And when those guidelines are followed to the letter, the Christian loses that argument. We all just have to accept that there are times when our own personal belief systems are appropriate fare for discussion and there are time when they're not. But even when inappropriate, that's hardly a ban or anything approaching anti-Christian persecution, and it's almost never about fear of "offending" anyone.
I've heard a lot in recent years about how Christians are being persecuted in this country, about how hard it is to be a Christian, because the world is against them - which is why the world tells them to keep their religion "out of it." But the reality is that the idea of American Christians being persecuted for their Christianity is a complete myth, and can be demonstrated easily.
Seven out of every ten Americans is a Christians. Add the Jews and call it Judeo-Christianity, and you're closer to nine in ten. Every president, vice-president, speaker of the house, chairman of the joint chiefs, and chief justice of the supreme court, from George Washington to Donald Trump, has been either a Christian or a Jew. In my state (Texas), it's literally illegal to run for elected office without first "acknowledging the existence of a supreme being". Hardly an environment in which Christians are being persecuted, is it?
But none of this is how the Founding Fathers wrote it. Of course, the United States isn’t mentioned in the Bible, although I’m sure there could be some version of the Bible that was written in more modern times. But also, it’s worth noting here that the Constitution doesn’t mention God.
And don’t fall for the religious nonsense that the constitution is just a continuation of the Declaration of Independence, which does mention a “Creator”. The drafter of that document, one Thomas Jefferson, was an admirer of Enlightenment political principles, and he wrote the Declaration as an Enlightenment document, not a faith-based one. Don’t swallow the bullshit. Not only is the Christian religion not an American phenomenon, but America isn’t – and never was – a Christian nation.
So let's just ponder that for a moment, and remember it the next time someone claims that Starbucks changed the color of their cups as part of a War on Christmas (or Christians, or Christ, or God). In a future post, I'll discuss the difference between your RELIGIOUS LIBERTY being violated, and you just not being allowed to persecute others who don't agree with you - So stay tuned for that.