Are You a Hawk or a Dove on Religion?

Vic Stenger

A disagreement exists among those few of us who profess no religion, I will refer to those on the two sides of the issue as hawks and doves. The hawks say we atheists, agnostics, or humanists should take a strong stance and challenge religion straight-on. They argue that religion is not a benign force in this world, that its do-good image is a fraud. They point out that, throughout history, more people have been murdered in the name of religion than anything else. Even today, many if not most of the world's conflicts can be traced to religious differences. Religious forces are also the primary oponent of attempts to control a population explosion that is leading this world toward ecological disaster.

On the personal level, religion teaches dependence on imaginary spirits rather than a realistic self-reliance, and imposes great psychological burdens of guilt and shame. Finally, the constitutional separation of church and state is a sham, unsupported by either the Supreme Court, the President, or the majority of members of Congress.

The non-religious doves say: Leave well enough alone. People can believe what they want to believe, and if they choose to believe nonsense, then that's their business. Besides, religions do good. Look at Father Damien and Mother Theresa. Religions provide rites of passage, comfort the grieving and dying, and carry on great traditions of art an music from generation to generation, thus preserving culture. Further, most people want to believe anyway, and we are not going to change anything.

Well, let me say where I stand. I believe that religion has been a yoke on the neck of humanity for all ages, and that Christianity, in particular, delayed the progress of humankind by a thousand years or more. And just when people were finally beginning to learn to think rationally, to accept heretical ideas such as evolution, superstition has made a comeback. Ironically, this has been made possible by modern communications, the product of the very science so abhorred by the forces of irreason. Fundamentalist preachers use TV and computer mailings to hard-sell their message to a gullible public.

Steadily, Thomas Jefferson's wall of separation between church and state is being torn down. Our tax-supported military chaplains proselytize among Desert Storm troopers. Our tax-supported local politicians hold prayer breakfasts. Our tax-supported Justice Department petitions the Supreme Court to overturn lower court decisions barring prayer at graduation commencements. I think we ignore these developments at our own risk. I think we should fight back, regardless of the odds and the great array of power aligned against us. The survival of the human race my be at stake.