I am often asked by family and friends - even the non-religious among them - why I bother involving myself with a group like ISSA. I am consistently asked why I care so much about secularism and why I would be willing to publicly brand myself an atheist when the title carries such an unflattering stigma.
I have written previously about my experiences with religion, including my Lutheran indoctrination. From 6th to 8th grade, I was enrolled in a small Lutheran confirmation class that met two or three times a week. There, my pastor taught us that we would burn in a pit of fire for eternity if we rejected the teachings of the Bible. These teachings included the inferiority of women, the inferred young age of the earth, the notion that earth was once flooded by more water than it contains, and countless other things that any educated person would have a seriously tough time swallowing. I will argue to my dying breath that threatening children with Hell if they don’t subscribe to irrational ideas is abuse, and that my pastor was therefore abusive in his actions.
However, I must also admit one thing: my pastor was a good man. He always seemed to genuinely care about any problems I or my peers were facing. When my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, he lent his support to both him and my family multiple times. He even attended my step-father’s small Catholic funeral. He and my step-father had never even met. Religious or not, everyone who met him often remarked that he seemed like a particularly good person. I would say that he was as good of a person as he could be while still being a Lutheran minister.
To me, my former pastor represents one of the saddest consequences of irrational belief. It wasn’t moral bankruptcy that led him to threaten children with eternal suffering, it was his deep-rooted and unshakable faith in bad ideas. No person of this virtue could act so irresponsibly on their own, and he’s not alone. The world is full of religious leaders who are exactly the same way. This misfortune does not end with clergy either. How many LGBT kids and young adults have been told by their confused and crying parents that they will have to find somewhere else to live because of the lifestyle they have chosen? How many young atheists have had a similar experience? How many younger children have gone without needed medical attention as their parents prayed over their sickbed instead of taking them to the doctor? The parents of these children love their children as much as any parent, they are only doing what they have been convinced is the right thing. Think of all the politicians whose religious beliefs affect their policymaking. Are they not, also, just trying to do the right thing when they fight for theocratic laws?
This is why I choose to fight organized irrationality, especially religion. Bad ideas lead to bad actions by good people, sometimes even the best people. Think of the difference it would make if these damaging ideas didn’t exist. If humanity is to reach its true potential, the influence of religious fundamentalism is going to have to be severely cut or even phased out of existence. As long as science is oppressed, people are told who they can and can’t marry, children are intentionally threatened, and Christianity fights for control of public schools, I will resist religion. Even the brightest of my confirmation peers may never reach their full potential because their curiosity and ability to think critically has been discouraged. I am not calling for intolerance of religion, I am only saying that minds must be changed to form a more perfect world.“With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.” -- Steven Weinburg