Why do atheists try to exert so much influence on public opinion if they know they are a minority?
In brief, you don’t need to be in a majority to have principles worth sharing. Whether or not skepticism spreads at the rate that we’d like, it’s still important to speak our minds when opinions are levied on the basis of a majority. As utilitarian as that might feel when you’re on the big side of the fence, a variety of opinions benefits everybody.
The democratic process has made us all familiar with the idea that at least 51 percent of the population can screw everyone else over. However, with regard to matters of opinion or lifestyle, the importance of a majority decreases as plurality rises. The will of a monolithic entity like the ‘religious right’ becomes less important when it is put in constant contact with Jews, Muslims, atheists, Hindus and whomever else.
To be fair, members of the Christian majority that live in more diverse places like California or New York tend to be more tolerant, but Texas alone can almost outvote them. The problem of ‘majority rules’ stems from homogeny. I lived in Oklahoma for a while growing up; the fact that Oklahomans primarily fall under one of three categories of Christianity makes it a pretty hospitable place for like-minded people. They get really riled up, however, when confronted with how differently other people choose to live their lives. Places like that wouldn’t be that way if they were exposed to more diversity, which is why minorities should do things like, well, write columns.
If there is an absolutely necessary point to make, it’s that tolerance is a two-way street. If you have to tolerate agreement with something, you have to tolerate disagreement with something. For example, I wish religious organizations didn’t receive tax exemptions. I personally think it’s ridiculous that charitable organizations like the church can selectively support people when paying taxes would make a real difference for everybody. Even if the First Amendment completely invalidates special treatment for religious organizations, I do my best to accept it because it at least means something to other people.
Atheists will always contribute to public opinion. We’re living in an increasingly secular society because we’re a nation that is free to confront the limitations of its own knowledge. We strive to be civil about it, but we don’t hesitate to ask the right questions.
Travis Vail is a fourth-year communication major.
In the Constitution, one of the most beautifully crafted pieces of law ever made, the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” I think that it should be obvious what this means: The government of the United States does not adhere to any religion or religious view. Yet people, in particular the religious right, still want to violate the Constitution and return the country to its ‘Christian values,’ a phrase that would make the Founding Fathers red with anger if they were to ever hear it.
When most atheists voice their (granted, often loud) opinion, they are simply trying to reinforce the Founding Fathers’ original idea that, for the protection of both institutions, there should be a brick wall between church and state. God in the Pledge of Allegiance, God on our money, the Ten Commandments in courtrooms — these are all glaring examples of religion, specifically the Christian religion, intruding on the government, and they are directly against the First Amendment. It is important to note, though, that secularism is not atheism. It would be equally against the first amendment if money were to have printed on it “There is no God” instead of “In God we trust.” In place of these mottos, there should be nothing relating to religion, no mentioning of God. Instead, it could say “Be Excellent to Each Other” — a motto I surely could live by.
However, some still clamor that the United States should be called a Christian country because of the Christian majority. But, if this were true, then it should also be called a white nation, a female nation and a right-handed nation. Obviously, using these last three as examples, if we use this logic the conclusions we come to sound either terribly bigoted or ridiculous. While we are a democracy in which the majority rules most of the time, we still have laws in place that protect the interests of those in the minority. That is why it is illegal to have separate drinking fountains for different ethnicities; we live in a country that protects the individuals from the complete will of the mob. As an anonymous intellectual once said, “Democracy is not two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”
Jay Grafft is a third- year communication major.