Most people who know me know that I’m an atheist. Having made that statement, most people who know me also know that while I have enormous problems with churches and the business of organized religion in general (the subject of another blog post at some point to be sure), I have nothing but respect for people who are truly faithful and who really try to live up to the best and most noble aspects of their belief systems. Such is the case with a very long-time friend of mine, M. She is a genuine Christian in the best sense of the word – she is giving; she seems to do her best to be non-judgmental; and she is steadfast in her faith, no matter what. Add to that, she is a genuinely charming and nice person. The other night I saw a blurb come across my Facebook that “M likes the Christian Coalition.” I was horrified. While I am not generally given to sharing my private conversations with people, I do so here to illustrate a point:
EAS: Oh how it saddens me to see that you "like" the Christian Coalition. You and I don't see eye-to-eye on religion, and that's totally ok as matters of faith are very personal, but the CC is a hate group pure and simple. Its mission is to promote a right-wing agenda that seeks to marginalize and exclude very large swaths of American society while wrapping itself in the cloak of biblical fundamentalism. It has been said that when fascism comes to America it will be carrying a Bible and wrapped in a flag, and quite frankly groups like the CC are vying to be the standard bearer for just such fascism. Jesus' message was one of love and tolerance and forgiveness for all. He did not preach hate, marginalization and hypocrisy.
M: I like that you know so much about what Jesus talked about. So why aren't you two closer?
EAS: It's very simple. I'm an atheist. That having been said, I accept and respect that most people aren't. Your faith is as deeply rooted in you as my lack of faith is in me. It is part of us. I respect your faith even though I don't share it. I also respect the fundamental message of Christianity -- the love and tolerance part -- and have little respect, in fact great derision for those who would twist good people into following them into missions of hate and division.
M: I would say that it takes as much faith to believe there is no God than to believe there is. I think people are angry at their circumstances and therefore are angry with God. They also want to live their life their own way without a God and His set of rules. Also the consequences of what the God would say are coming for not following set rules. So I'm content following His plan and understand that others are not. But as always Eric, I would understand that you will vote and support those who subscribe to your beliefs and philosophies as I know you would guess I do the same. You don't believe your peeps are hateful and I don't agree with the peeps that call themselves Christians and hate the very peeps that Jesus Christ died for.
EAS: I can assure you that it takes no more faith for me to be an atheist than it does for you not to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Allah, or Vishnu or any of the thousands of other deities people around the world worship. It does not come from an angry place for me. Just as a universe without a creator makes no sense to you, a universe *with* one makes no sense to me. To understand that, you'd have to crawl inside my head, and that is quite impossible, and I'm not suggesting that you ought to. Nor am I suggesting you ought to give up your faith for atheism. I'm not about that at all :) I just happen to think very highly of you. I also happen to oppose everything most everything the CC stands for and find it particularly disgusting that they drag good people of faith into this by twisting the fundamentally good message of Christianity for their own selfish and genuinely un-Christ-like ends, and would hope that you could see through them and rise to your better nature and live by your principles.
Whether M chooses to dissociate herself from the Christian Coalition is ultimately her own affair and if she does not, all I can say is that I tried. She’s still my friend – even if we don’t agree politically or on matters of spirituality -- and I truly value her friendship. One of the greatest things about the US is the fact that as individuals we are free to associate ourselves with whatever group or groups we choose to. In fact, the larger point here isn’t really even about the Christian Coalition per sé. The Christian Coalition as an organization has dropped dramatically in membership and influence since its heyday in the late 1990s when the IRS slapped it down for violating the rules that keep non-profit organizations from engaging in direct political activities (read more about it here). Rather, the point is how right-wing groups, whether socially right as in the case of the Coalition or corporatist as in the case of Americans for Prosperity, cloak themselves behind ostensibly benign causes or words to manipulate people who, in an absence of critical thinking, truly believe that they are doing the next right thing when they are, in fact, being used as the instruments of their own downfall.
We see a beautiful example of this right here in Arizona in SB1070, Arizona’s (in)famous “papers please” law, which the courts have fortunately enjoined from full implementation. Governor Jan Brewer, having ascended to the office after Janet Napolitano left the Governor’s office to become the Secretary of Homeland Security, signed this legislation into law in the spring of 2010 and campaigned on it ultimately to win election to the Governor’s office in November. An investigation by local journalists later revealed links between Brewer, State Senator Russell Pearce, the legislation’s sponsor, and the Corrections Corporation of America, a private for-profit prison corporation that operates many of the prison facilities in Arizona and who provided a great deal of support for the passage of SB1070 and ultimately for Jan Brewer’s election and which stands to profit handsomely from the increased traffic through Arizona’s jails should the courts permit this legislation to stand. Brewer’s opponent campaigned on repeal of 1070. Brewer, fueled by corporate money, whipped up great amounts of fear among the lesser-educated and easily manipulated conservative largely white older people of Arizona to make them feel that they had a great deal to fear from immigrants from the south – a simple fact of life in Arizona since before Arizona even joined the US nearly 100 years ago.
With the advent of the Citizens’ United ruling in 2010, this problem is only likely to get worse. The only defense against it is vigilance. Do align yourself with groups who share your beliefs, but know who is behind those groups, no matter what side of the political spectrum you may occupy. Most websites have an “About Us” page. Read it. Find out about the people or corporations who are behind the groups who are advocating for the causes you believe in. Why are they advocating for those causes? What’s in it for them? Sometimes the cause is genuine. More frequently the cause is a front for corporate or religious interests who are interested in pushing some other agenda.