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The Importance of Free Thought and Humanism

By Jay Bartell

15% of Americans now identify themselves as Atheists as opposed to only 8% in

1990 (as seen below). While this may be a surprising number, this is far from a

substantial free thought and humanistic movement.

(American Religious Identification Survey 2008) There is also a growing tally of “closet

atheists”. This disturbing trend brings the issue of free thought to the forefront of our

culture. Are we giving the people of this nation their true 1st amendment rights? Or is

there a piece of this philosophical puzzle that we are missing.

The very rudimentary aspect of questioning religion and its practices has long

been dabbled with even dating back to our founding fathers. As Thomas Jefferson once

said, “Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he

must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.” (Thomas

Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787) Many prominent politicians have tried to

make these quotes obsolete. The religious right movement began during the Reagan

administration and had a major influence on Bush administration decisions as well as

today’s congressional votes. Michelle Bachmann a Representative from Minnesota has

continually blocked legislation for any form of religious freedoms. Last July, the
Freedom from Religion Foundation filed suit to prevent the words “In God We Trust”

and “one nation under God” from being engraved on a wall in the U.S. Capitol Visitors

Center. Today, 41 U.S. House members including Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann and

three senators asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit. (Glenn Thrush - Politico)

Bachmann is also quoted as saying “It is important that we put men and women of God

into office in our government, Amen. And I don't want any more letters about church and

politics don't mix. If that's your opinion, then you need to get saved…” This is one of the

reasons why god told Bachmann to run for Congress, (Robert Blevins - AB of Seattle)

and yet another reason she was made a key player in the religious right. However, we

have seen a surge of free thought throughout the nation and effectively cornering people

such as Bachmann.

Atheism has broken into the mainstream with various campaigns and feature films

devoted to the absurdity of religion. This has been an ongoing fight in the U.S. and with

the growing number of atheists, the fight will not die out. Prominent authors such as

Richard Dawkins are getting noteworthy coverage for his extensive books on a

resurgence of atheism. Dawkins is able to bring atheisms main points to the mainstream

media. Bill Maher, a political pundit and comedian recently released the movie

“Religulous” which lambasted prominent religious figures, and pointed out the

inconsistencies of the arguments for religion. However with a successful revolution

comes a great backlash. When these stories find light in news coverage, many

representatives from the religious right come out in droves to protect their beliefs.

Therefore, the vicious circle keeps turning and we are always left with one solution.

The only real solution is constant awareness of the problem. We have to get the word

out that Americans have other options than faith. There also has to be an effort to protect

the rights we already have because they are constantly under attack from the religious
right among other political movements. There also has to be an outspoken mentality to

what we think of religion. Not only does that mean spreading awareness but not being

afraid to be the lone person in the room who doesn’t believe that there’s a man in the

sky. To spread raise awareness of our rights to free thought and inherit humanistic

rights, I hope to host a screening of the movie “Religulous” with a panel or discussion at

the end of the film. Below is an example of the event I would like to organize, set up by

Canadian Free Thought Group.

Throughout history there has been countless attempts to restrict religious rights

ranging from swearing on the bible to the Germans massacre of 6 million Jews. Many

overlook the significance of simple things such as saying the pledge of allegiance or

having in god we trust on our national currency. The values that we speak of go directly

against the fabric this nation was built on. As noted earlier founding fathers like

Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson have not only denied a god in their writing but

made religious freedom an essential cornerstone of our nations stability. It is also

important for us to highlight the lack of religious freedom in other countries. When a

country is run as a theocracy, it sets the entire civilized world back as well.
In August of this year, Ireland passed a law that made blasphemy illegal. The law

specifies "A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an

offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding 25,000

euro." (ABC News) For example, the law would include Jews being prosecuted for

saying that Jesus is not the Son of God. Once the ball begins to roll, it has a chain

reaction elsewhere. The disturbing thing about this law is it was voted on by Irish

parliament. This is not a theocratic or totalitarian regime that imposes iron-fisted

resolution. This country has representation in the European Union, and is well respected

in that contingency. Vatican City, the home of the catholic faith actually has zero

poverty. It is estimated GDP per capita of $21,198 makes Vatican City the 18th

wealthiest nation in the world per capita (Encyclopedia of Nations). Vatican City is

entirely run by a religious hierarchy, yet they are one of the richest countries in the world.

While that may sound like good old-fashioned capitalism, this too has the potential to

become a dangerous trend of religious zealots gaining more and more control.
(Discover Magazine) The survey above found a strong relationship between a

country's religiosity and its economic status. In poorer nations, religion remains central to

the lives of individuals, while secular perspectives are more common in richer nations.

This relationship is generally found across regions and countries, although there are some

exceptions, including most notably the United States, which is a much more religious

country than its level of prosperity would indicate. Other nations deviate from the pattern

as well, including the oil-rich, predominantly Muslim and very religious kingdom of

Kuwait. These examples highlight the growing problem we are facing. However religion

has become a vote getting strategy in American politics. This trend has significantly

decreased the chance of having atheist politicians on the hill. A selling point for many

voters is a politician’s faith. We are still statistically a Christian nation, and statistics

show we have always valued a candidate who is true to his faith.

Granted that various Christian sects built the first colonies, they built this country on the

idea of religious tolerance. Our Forefathers were various Christians, deists (believing in a

God but not Jesus), atheists & agnostics. Making the U.S. a one-religion country is

exactly what the colonists were fleeing from in England. Our first currency & Pledge of

Allegiance did not contain the word God. They were added later. When dealing with a

country that reinvents there own history, it is important to bring concise points to an open

forum. In Daniel Florien’s “Six Improved Arguments”, valid points are given that may

even make the most religious of people may consider.

“1. Man is finite (in time, space and power etc).

2. God, if he exists is infinite (in time, space and power etc).

3. Therefore mankind cannot possibly recognize God or even know that God exists.”
While this may simply be scientific points, we must take a step back and realize what we

are actually basing ideologies and government philosophies on. If we decided as a people

to make decisions based on humanistic views, needless to say humans would be happier.

The basic definition of humanism is “A system of thought that centers on

humans and their values, capacities, and worth. Concern with the interests, needs, and

welfare of humans.” A shockingly similar philosophy to that of John F. Kennedy who

said, "And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond

human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable - and

we believe they can do it again." Every civilized human being can agree on these points

from the definition and from JFK. However as soon as I insert a few crucial words into

the original definition, everything changes. “A system of thought that rejects religious

beliefs and centers on humans and their values, capacities, and worth.” What really

changed there? Does the absence of religion really change a steadfast system of thought

that the majority of Americans can agree on? This is all the argument comes down to,

and the sooner our leaders realize this fact, the sooner they will begin working for the

people once again.


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