Important Update on Wednesday, December 12: Below, I've written a rather light-hearted essay on the claim by some atheists that they are being persecuted for not believing in an immortal deity. Well, as I was writing it yesterday, news was breaking out of Sri Lanka that Buddhist monks have incited about 50 physical attacks against Christian groups there in the past year, the latest as recently as Sunday. Read more about it here. When atheists are willing to work against religious persecution of any kind, such as this urgent situation in Sri Lanka, that's when I'll take their claims of persecution seriously.
Many evangelicals think we're being persecuted.
Who'd have thought that atheists would feel our pain?
According to a report prepared for the United Nations, atheists consider themselves to be a persecuted lot, not just here in the United States, but around the world. In seven countries, atheists can be murdered for their faith, since indeed, atheism is as much a belief system as any other religion. Of course, in these same seven countries - where Islam rules - claiming the name of Christ can also be legal grounds for murder.
But atheists hate languishing in our shadow. So in honor of the UN's Human Rights Day, which was yesterday (oops - here's a belated shout-out for human rights), a consortium of unconventional religious groups called the International Humanist and Ethical Union decided to remind the world that it's not just Christianity or Judaism that can claim all the attention when it comes to persecution. Entitled "Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists, and the Nonreligious," this report claims to be the world's first comprehensive analysis of the sufferings encountered by people who don't believe the normative religious traditions of the countries in which they live.
Although it sounds like a grand, sweeping condemnation of all religions, basically, you can take the problems Christians and Jews have in Islamic countries, and assume that atheists suffer the same problems, since atheism denies Muhammad's god as strongly as it does ours. And it's pretty much only Muslim countries where atheists have encountered institutionalized, lethal animosity.
However, although atheists have a right to complain about how they're treated by Muslims, they tend to undermine their credibility with some of their other complaints. Their report says that in Arkansas, for example, an atheist can't testify in a court of law. But hey, we all have to give Arkansas a lot of grace, no matter your religious affiliation.
Atheists also don't like it that in some countries, like Greece, Russia, and England, state churches enjoy preferential treatment in halls of government. Apparently it comes as small comfort that the official worship of God in these countries is considered by most evangelicals to be about as significant as how atheists view God. In other words: nil.
Indeed, it seems that mostly what atheists don't like is that God's name gets so widely used in so many countries of the world. Their religion's god is themselves, pretty much, since not believing in the God of the Bible or the Talmud - or the god of the Koran - usually means you're your own god. Which means there's no standardized name for the gods of atheism.
And to the point which atheists make about the ubiquitousness of God, it's actually easy for evangelicals to agree: so many of our culture's references to the sovereign Lord of the universe are too insincere as to be offensive to Him, and even blasphemous. Politicians who demonstrate no faith in Christ invoke God's name like it's a mantra, or partisan talisman. People incorporate God's name in their cursing and vulgar language without any thought to how irreverent they're being.
In a way, atheists may hear God's name used more frequently than many people who assume themselves to be Christians. Of course, it irks atheists to hear God's name used so much, which is shameful to us who should probably be ashamed to hear our Heavenly Father's name used so improperly so often.
Shouldn't we be complaining along with atheists about how frivolously our society talks about God?
Frankly, I'm of the belief that anybody has the right to believe whatever faith they like, even if I think it's a goofy faith, like atheism. So to the extent that laws like barring atheists from testifying in court need to be eradicated, I'm all for it.
But should we worry that atheists feel slighted when our broader community tends to look less skeptically upon people who name God's name? In other words, should we strip all references to God from our national dialog because not doing so could be offensive to a particular group of people?
No, I don't think so. Particularly since it's the God of the Bible Who tells His followers to love their enemies, even if they worship false gods.
The way our culture is going, anyway, it won't be long until atheists won't have much to feel ostracized for.
Unfortunately, this change in our culture will be as much our fault as theirs.