Thursday, August 28, 2008


Yesterday, I received an email from an acquaintance of mine. The forwarded message contained a link to a YouTube video which pieced together clips of a speech given in 2006 by a politician in which he argued that it was not a good idea to use the Bible as a basis for public policy in the United States. The reasons he offered were responses to specific, problematic verses in the Bible, and the producer of the video accused the politician of "making fun" of the books in which those verses were contained.

He clearly thinks using the Bible as a source for public policy is a swell idea and scolded the politician for not agreeing with him.

The video irritated me.

Normally, I don't respond to emails like this one. A few months ago, the same woman emailed me an image of Jesus Christ, stripped down, beaten and bloody, kneeling on a cross with a crown of thorns on his head, a woeful expression on his face. I found it disturbing, much more than I did when I was a Christian. I guess my former desensitization to depictions of mythological torture has worn off because I actually became a bit queasy in my stomach looking at that image she sent.

I didn't write her back. I knew there was little point. I typically refrain from discussing religion with people I don't know well, especially when I know them to be fundamental Christians with little respect for anyone else's point of view.

This time, though, I felt the need to respond. Carefully, I explained my point of view, that regardless of what the Bible says, it's a religious book, and therefore, according to our Constitution's First Amendment, it's illegal to use Biblical text for public policy.

I quoted to her, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Maybe I have a simple mind, uncluttered by linguistic subtleties others see, but I can't fathom how that sentence could be misconstrued. It could not be much clearer.

And I also suggested that the passages the politician discussed in his speech certainly were problematic--one was about how to keep slaves, another was about the way to stone a child that strays from the religion--and pointing out the inherent problems of those passages can't really be considered ridicule.

After I sent the message, I started to think of possible ramifications. This woman and I share friends, and we're part of a group that gets together once a month. All of the members have been outspoken about their faith. I am the only one who isn't Christian, and I have kept it to myself. I wonder, will she pass along my comments to the others? Will I be exposed to a whole room of cold shoulders next time we assemble? Will they decide to exclude me altogether?

Whether all of those minor worries come to fruition, or she dismisses my email with a shrug and moves on with her day, I'm glad I wrote it. When religious folks start spewing what can only be called nonsense, I struggle with frustration, sometimes outrage, and I don't always know how much to object. There are many occasions when I hear or read someone say, "This country was founded by Christians!" or "This country was founded on Christian principles!" Those are at the top of my list of peeves, lately, mostly because they are so blatantly, obviously false.

Yet I usually keep silent.

This time, I simply couldn't, and I hope that my email inspires my acquaintance to see a different side of things. Separation of church and state is a crucial issue, and there will be far-reaching consequences if we lose it. In this case, whatever it may cost me, I had to attempt to be the voice of reason.


Paul said...

Let us hope such inspiration results, though unfortunately in my experience such words and thoughts often fall on deaf ears. I am glad you decided to respond, even if your thoughts will go unheard, to me it is the principle of the matter. of course I tend to be more outspoken and wear my atheism on my sleeve, regardless of the ramifications. Although my situation is different from many others, which makes such exchanges easier. One, as a scientist in training (i.e. in college) no one really expects much religiosity from me, and living on a campus is a very different environment.

Donna said...

Bravo! Please don't keep silent.

Ordinary Girl said...

Or it may put a human face to atheism for people who may have never knowingly encountered an atheist, which can go a long way towards encouraging people to question beliefs they've never questioned before. Hopefully they'll be open minded about you as a person, even if they reject your beliefs.