This notice ran in my local newspaper last week:
Wanted: Your views on religion and public policy
Are you happy with religion's role in public policy, worried about the separation of church and state, or scratching your head over the idiocy of (name the political party)? [name redacted] is working on a story that looks at the ways religion and politics are connected to moral values in the United States. Express your views by sending an e-mail to [redacted]. Please include your daytime phone.
My response follows:
As an atheist, I'm firmly – albeit reluctantly – in the "worried about the separation of church and state" category. My stance stems from the worsening religious divide in our nation, and the increasing number of believers who use empty talk of morality to gather and misuse political power. Believers, fundamentalists in particular, often erroneously equate their personal religious beliefs with morality; as Sir Arthur Clarke once observed, "The greatest tragedy in mankind's entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion."
Pat Buchanan's "culture warriors" of the 1992-era GOP have commandeered half of the electorate, and they have successfully promoted their baseless belief that the United States is a "Christian nation" or is founded on "Judeo-Christian principles." Actually, all of our founding principles are secular in origin: representative democracy, separation of powers, and a limited government that respects individual rights.
In another popular misconception, televangelists call the separation of church and state "a lie of the left," and their farther-right brethren (Dominionists, Reconstructionists, and other extremists) demand a return to such Biblical barbarities as death by stoning for "crimes" such as adultery and homosexuality. Despite the Constitutional prohibition against any religious test for public office (not fully upheld until the 1961 Torcaso v. Watkins decision), some fundamentalists want such colonial-era religious prejudice to be resurrected.
In today's hyper-religious America, the "Creation" myth trumps cosmology, tales of "Adam and Eve" demolish biology, the "Great Flood" story buries geology, sex education is neutered under the guise of "abstinence-only" ignorance, and "faith-based" entanglements with government abound. Most appallingly, these religion-based mistakes are made in the name of morality, as if a literal interpretation of ancient tribal myths and rituals should outweigh reason and evidence. I cannot comprehend how mere belief can obscure so many obvious truths, and how so many people can be completely certain of that which they cannot prove.
Closing our eyes to everything we have learned in the centuries and millennia since religion's "holy" books were written, as the fundamentalists and their politicians exhort us to do, will ensure that the future is less free, less safe, and less moral. Balkanization and tribalism threaten to divide us along religious fault lines as they have around the world.