Crap. Thanks a lot, Eric.

Friday, October 31, 2008
UCF member and platonic boyfriend Eric posted earlier today about the brouhaha in North Carolina surrounding Senator Elizabeth Dole's "Godless" advertisement against her opponent, Kay Hagan. Senator Dole's ad implied that Ms. Hagan was (gasp!) an atheist, so clearly, she must be stoned/drowned/burned/not elected.

Eric, an atheist himself, feels understandably irked by this turn of events in his home state, and expressed his ire most eloquently.

Which got me to thinking - always a dangerous turn of events.

I self-identify as an agnostic. Agnostic in the true sense of the word, the word used by Professor Huxley - meaning that one should not profess to a belief in something that cannot be proven. Please note that this definition also means that I don't disbelieve. In the absence of proof, I simply don't know - which I consider to be the most honest answer available to questions of faith. My moral and ethical code, while based on the Judeo-Christian ethos of my community and culture, is not dependant on religion.

Nothing gets me wrapped around the axle faster than a Fundie who assumes I'm morally bankrupt because I don't follow religious dogma.

But the True Believers typically consider my belief system to be "atheism by any other name," and hold me in the same contempt as they would Richard Dawkins. Which is unfortunate, because while I think Professor Dawkins has some interesting ideas, I think his treatment of persons of faith makes him kind of a dick. I don't necessarily agree with people of faith, but I don't disrespect them strictly on the basis of their faith.

One thing I find interesting is that the marginalization of agnostics and atheists in our society goes completely unnoticed within the mainstream. Want to be a politician? Better not profess agnosticism or atheism. They're the least trusted groups in America, and you have about as much chance of being elected as that proverbial snowball in a mythical hell. During the primaries, it took significant political pressure to convince a Republican vying for the Presidential nomination that the 1st Amendment's establishment clause also guaranteed an individuals right not to believe.

Earlier this year, an executive at my company resigned for reasons of health. While his condition was never made public, those of us who worked for our company assumed he had been diagnosed with some form of cancer. While I have no emotional investment in the man or his family, I wished him well and the best of luck in fighting his condition.

Well. The e:mails from the faithful started, fast and furious, contending the only thing we could do for him now is to "pray." Really? That's the only thing you can think of? How about donating money to cancer research in his name? How about pushing for health care for those who need cancer treatment and cannot afford it (unlike this executive)? How about volunteering in a hospice, or offering to do chores for a friend, relation or acquaintance who is also ill? And these people of faith think we agnostics and atheists lack compassion and moral fiber, and we're the ones coming up with concrete actions?

Being a white woman of Irish ancestry, people usually assume I'm Christian until proven otherwise. I don't consider such a stereotype to be necessarily negative, nor do I think it's intentional in most cases.

Several years ago, a dear friend of ours wanted to know if we would be interested in coming for their Easter celebration. She's a delightful person whom I would consider more "spiritual" than "religious," but she considers herself Christian. We politely declined, but it never even occurred to her that we, as non-Christians, would be singularly uninterested in the celebration of a religious holiday.* About a year later, she and I were discussing how people make "assumptions" about the world-view of those around us. She claimed she didn't do that, until I pointed out her Easter invitation. To her credit, she immediately saw the situation for what it was, and has not made religious assumptions about us since.

Perhaps my sensitivity on this issue is especially raw right now because religious belief has become such a huge issue in politics in my adult lifetime - in my view, inappropriately so.

On the other hand, I am the recipient of a great deal of unearned privilege in my life. If I am marginalized in this area, but receive benefits in many others, is it a wash? Do I have the right to complain about the stereotypes and assumptions people make about me, when an accident of my birth allows me so much?

Yes, I think I do. While my complaint may seem minor compared to the issues of the working poor, it's still an issue of equality. A right guaranteed in our Constitution, whether we're "God-fearing" or not.

_________________

*Our usual Easter tradition consists of eating frozen pizza and watching Dogma. I love that movie...

11 comments:

The Mechanicky Gal said...

Oh Janiece! I am going to save snippets of your column. You know how we are with our never-ending discussions of religion, and smug asshats, etc. And I have been casting about to find words to describe just how I feel about the whole "I'm Christian, you know" sensibility that has invaded our social conscious.
Mention that you pray to Allah and watch the fur fly! It seems that only the Christian God counts.....

Eric said...

Is it ironic if I give you an, "Amen, sister!"

Because, you know, amen, sister. Well-said, and thank you.

Janiece Murphy said...

For those of you not "in the know," The Mechanicky Gal and I laugh uproariously every time some self-satisfied, smug, self-righteous twit says in that cloying voice, "I'm Christian, you know." Or my Hot Mom's personal favorite - "Jesus loves me."

I used to gag - now I just laugh and laugh.

You're welcome, Brother Eric.

P.S. Will Robbin mind sharing her bro with me?

vince said...

You're absolutely right - there is a big difference between agnostic and atheist. Agnostic - from the Greek agnostos, a = without, gnostos = known or knowledge.

For me, the only way religious belief impacts how I vote is peripherally, in that a candidates beliefs often inform their positions, or demonstrates their hypocrisy. And I'm unlikely to vote for someone who belongs to the Church of Satan.

Janiece Murphy said...

Vince, there is a difference, but if I'm going to be misidentified, it's more accurate to say I'm an "atheist" than a "Christian."

And while I don't think you're doing so, neither label (agnostic or atheist) should be considered an epithet.

You're right that religious faith informs decision making. Both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin consider themselves "Christians," but only one of them thinks ID should be taught in public schools. For this reason, belief should be examined. But I don't think lack of belief should effectively kill a candidate's chances of being elected.

Eric said...

Re: the difference between "atheist" and "agnostic"--Indeed, if you tease things out into "strong" atheism/agnosticism vs. "weak" atheism/agnosticism, by some definitions I'm an "agnostic." I self-identify as an atheist because it's a stronger position and I think more accurate (esp. in vernacular use).

I don't have the brainpower right now to get into the taxonomy of freethinking (there are some good websites out there, and I seem to recall Wikipedia actually having decent entries on the subject), but my own position is that while I certainly can't disprove the existence of a deity, and have to concede it's possible that there's one, I have absolutely no evidence satisfactory to myself nor do I see a deity as being a useful hypothesis. (By that last comment, I mean that I don't see how postulating the existence of a deity actually answers any questions better than the alternative postulate [no deity], so I consider Occam's Razor sufficient to eliminate the possibility.)

To which I would add, as another reason for identifying as an atheist, that while I can't say with certainty that there's no deity, I feel the probability is so remote that I can say there's no deity with confidence.

T.H. Huxley's own position, most would say these days, appears to closest to what is now commonly called "atheist"--as a scientist, he was unwilling to make a categorical statement that there's no god anywhere, ever, but he seems to have been personally satisfied there wasn't. I.e. for Huxley, "agnostic" didn't carry the "undecided" connotation it usually carries today. More that he considered the case unmade and therefore didn't believe.

* * *

I think a candidate's belief only needs to be examined when it intrudes on public policy. Should you believe that ID should be taught in schools, that contraception should be outlawed, or that America's foreign policy in the Middle East should be governed by a conviction that we are in End Times as prophesized in Revelations, then, yes, I guess you've asked to have your beliefs scrutinized when you run for office. But if those beliefs aren't going to inform public policy, then believe whatever you want. It is (or used to be, or ought to be) a free country, you know?

The Mechanicky Gal said...

Maybe, Janiece, I'll come to visit you on Easter then! Pizza! MARVELOUS!
But not this year. This year I GO TO IRELAND!

Janiece Murphy said...

Eric, it's certainly a sliding scale, and I think it's fair to say I could accurately be described as either a "weak atheist" or a "strong agnostic." But I retain enough doubt in my own certitude that I prefer the agnostic moniker.

Amy, you know you're welcome anytime.

vince said...

And while I don't think you're doing so, neither label (agnostic or atheist) should be considered an epithet.

No, it shouldn't be.

Keith Wilson said...

A friend of mine defined agnostic has knowing something out there will make him pay for his deeds in the end, he just doesn't know what it is yet.

Janiece Murphy said...

Welcome, Keith.

I would describe that as "weak agnostic" on our sliding scale.