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An essay donated by Susan Humphreys

Can Theists and Atheists coexist?

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Can’t we figure out a way to "co-exist"?

During a discussion I had quite a while back with a Christian fundamentalist, he said Atheists want to destroy all religions. I thought at the time that he was being a bit paranoid. I have come to realize that he wasn’t totally wrong. However he makes the same mistake militant Atheists make, blaming the religion and not the person. 

In the discussion I mention below, I sent a quote by Steven Weinberg (1933-), the American physicist. He said:

"With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil...." 1

The PR director for American Atheists responded back with:

"Are you trying to say that bad people are our enemy?"

YES. Except I prefer to use the word "problem" rather than "enemy". Problems can be fixed while people tend to think that enemies need to be annihilated. 

It seems I have to remind people over and over, that all of the world’s religions and secular philosophies can help people become better people or help them become worse people -- more egotistical, self-righteous, judgmental, hypocritical and intransigent. And this includes Atheism.

I am getting ahead of myself, let me start at the beginning of this particular confrontation.

I sent an email to the American Atheists 2 (AA) "suggesting" that they should drop their plans to appeal a judicial decision in their lawsuit against the World Trade Center Memorial Association. The latter group plans to relocate two steel beams in the shape of a cross from the ruins of the World Trade Center to the memorial exhibit. They also denied AA's request to add an Atheism symbol to the exhibit. You can read more about this issue on the www.atheists.org web site as well as by googling World Trade Center cross.

My first email resulted in a series of exchanges with the Public Relations director and ended with the following statement from this gentleman: 

"Our goal is not to coexist with religions. We think religions are dangerous, primitive, barbaric, backward, and dangerous. We want to live in a world devoid of all religion. While our goal as an organization is more specifically legal equality and an end to discrimination, our motivation is more along the lines of this paragraph. I hope this helps you to understand where we're coming from.

If you are interested in the accommodationist approach, you might want to check out the American Humanist Association or others along those lines. At American Atheists, we are not accommodationists and this is not our strategy nor an approach with which we agree."

Here again is another example of hubris and also of why the world is in such a mess. Their whole attitude is it’s "my way or the highway." They believe that "coexisting" and "accommodating" are dirty words. 

This gent also said "It is only by instigating ‘trouble’ that progress is made." I pointed out that he was plain and simply wrong. Change comes about in many ways. NOT just by instigating trouble.  

That mindset is that of juvenile delinquents and thugs, not of rational, logical, and reasonable minds. AND I had thought Atheism was about logic and rationality, about clear and thoughtful consideration of issues, options and alternatives, about being non-judgmental, non-hypocritical, about living up to a higher standard of ethical and moral behavior. 

As I thought some more about his comment I realized they will never "eliminate all religions" by bludgeoning people into submission. They will never build a "just society" by using unjust tactics, by adhering to a "tit for tat" or an "eye for eye" type of justice. They will have to find a way to offer people something better so they choose voluntarily, of their own volition, to switch. That is the ONLY way to bring about change that actually works.

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They will never be able to offer something better until they come to understand the many purposes that religions fulfill in the lives of people and find alternate ways to fulfill those purposes. 

  • The first purpose of religion was to help people:
    • make sense of the unsensible,
    • bring some sort of order and structure out of disorder/chaos,
    • understand their place in the world,
    • understand how they came to be here,
    • understand their purpose, and
    • understand how the world works and what they need to do to make sure everything keeps on working as it is supposed to function.

In ancient times, this was done by creating a cosmology, creation stories, Genesis is just one beautiful example. Science has largely taken over this first purpose, explaining how the world works. However, science hasn’t been able to -- and probably won’t be able to -- address the issue of "why?".  Why is the world the way it is, why are we here, why do good things happen to some people and bad things happen to other people, and why can’t or doesn’t a God that is supposed to be perfect in every way stop bad things from happening and punish those who do "bad" things? 

  • The second purpose of religion was/is to provide rules and laws to govern behavior so people can live together in some sort of harmony for the benefit of the group. Religions also contain mythologies that explain and justify the social order. These laws are designed to maintain—why kings are kings, and priests are priests, and peons and slaves are what they are and need to accept their lot in life. The Ten Commandments are one set of such rules, but all of the world’s religions have versions of these. These rules were also contained in the Cosmology created by the group. The problem here is that rules can be designed to benefit the elite, Kings and Dictators, Priests and Popes, Ministers and Mullahs, Rabbis and other religious and secular leaders, at the expense of everyone else. Some rules/laws were designed to justify and sanctify preconceived prejudices and the groups persecution of those "others" -- all of the people that aren’t just like them.
     
  • The third purpose of religion was/is to provide a group for the individual to belong to. We are social animals, we need human companionship. Many people, though not all, need the structure and organization, the fun of social activities that a religious group provides in their lives. Religions have understood this fully, and have used shunning and excommunication very effectively, as well as threats of eternal punishment in Hell to make people behave as they are supposed to and to keep people in the group. 
  • The fourth purpose has been to help people find their connection to God/s/ess, to Brahmin, to Nirvana, to the Oneness with the Universe, to salvation, or whatever it is they seek. Rituals, chants, great architecture, music and drums, the whirling of the whirling dervish, the swaying and recitation of the Hasidic Jew, the ritual prayers of the Muslim, the ritual dietary laws, the meditation and Yoga of Hindus and Buddhists, are all designed to help people transcend their earth bound existence to make this "cosmic connection". One however doesn’t have to believe in a God/s/ess in order to find this connection as Einstein points out in his book "The World As I See It" 3 and as many of us have discovered on our own.

There has been a common thread that runs through all of the world’s religions and secular philosophies, Karen Armstrong identifies this in her book "The Great Transformation." 4 I discovered this thread on my own and was pleased to find her book and see that she reinforced the idea.

This thread is that our day to day actions, how we treat our fellow man, matter. You can find it in Matthew 25, verse 31 to the end of the passage as well as in many other passages in the Bible. This is where we get the line, "the least you did to one of these who is my brother you did unto me." It is found in the Analects of Confucius where he was asked if there is any single saying that one can act upon all day and every day? He replied, "Perhaps the saying about consideration (sometimes translated as reciprocity): never do to others what you would not like them to do to you."

Rabbi Hillell was asked to recite the Torah while standing on one foot, and he made a similar reply adding, "this is the whole of Torah, all the rest is commentary." Christians call this saying the "Golden rule".

There are similar concepts in the Tao teh Ching, the Upanishads, the Koran and in the writings of our great secular thinkers. Our day to day actions, how we treat our fellow man, all of them, especially those that are different from us because of race, ethnicity, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification, religion or lack thereof, MATTER.

All the world’s religions and secular philosophies (at least I think all of them) have realized that it is our EGO that gets in our way and keeps us from reaching our highest potential as human beings. It keeps us from becoming the "better or good" person that we have the potential to be. Fundamentalist, extremists of all religious persuasions and militant Atheists typically have no control over their Egos/ They see absolutely NO good in the other person’s beliefs, and in their day to day actions. They often lump all members of the group into the same tar pit without distinguishing between the good and bad apples in the group. Extremism that claims "it is my way or no way, is the problem."

This basic and simplest of concepts: that day to day actions matter, has gotten lost in the doctrines and dogmas, in the fights over truth and lies, in the misinformation/ belittling/demeaning campaigns as each group tries to assert and prove, their TRUTH, that the power of their God (or philosophy) is greater than any other. As they try to establish their dominance, they seek control and power over the populace for their personal gain and the total annihilation of their opponents.

This has been going on since the dawn of human history. Isn’t  it time someone had the courage to say:

"No more; enough is enough;, can’t we all  figure out a way to just get along, to co-exist?"

Or even more simply, in the words of Rodney G. King:

"Can we all get along?" 5

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Expressed during a speech in 1999 in Washington, DC.
  2. The American Atheists web site is at: http://atheists.org/
  3. Cover of the book Albert Einstein, "The World as I see it," Open Road / Philosophical Library (2011). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. Available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and audio formats.

    Amazon.com's book description:

    "A fascinating collection of Einstein’s observations about life, religion, nationalism, and a host of personal topics that engaged the genius’s intellect In the aftermath of the First World War, Einstein writes about his hopes for the League of Nations, his feelings as a German citizen about the growing anti-Semitism and nationalism of his country, and his myriad opinions about the current affairs of his day. In addition to these political perspectives, The World As I See It reveals the idealistic, spiritual, and witty side of this great intellectual as he approaches topics including “Good and Evil,” “Religion and Science,” “Active Pacifism,” “Christianity and Judaism,” and “Minorities.” Including letters, speeches, articles, and essays written before 1935, this collection offers a complete portrait of Einstein as a humanitarian and as a human being trying to make sense of the changing world around him. ..."

  4. Book cover image Karen Armstrong, "The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah," Atlantic Books (2011). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. Available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle formats.

    Amazon.com's book description:

    "The centuries between 800 and 300 BC saw an explosion of new religious concepts. Their emergence is second only to man's harnessing of fire in fundamentally transforming our understanding of what it is to be human. But why did Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Jeremiah, Lao Tzu and others all emerge in this five-hundred-year span? And why do they have such similar ideas about humanity? In The Great Transformation, Karen Armstrong examines this phenomenal period and the connections between this disparate group of philosophers, mystics and theologians."

  5. "Can We All Just Get Along? For The Kids & Old People? Rodney King speaks," You Tube, at: http://youtu.be/

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Originally posted: 2013-MAY-15
Latest update: 2013-MAY-15
Author: Susan Humphreys

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