One annoying thing about being an atheist is that religious people frequently attribute malicious motives to us that we don’t have. For example, my very Catholic mother-in-law recently claimed that atheists, through the Supreme Court, had made it illegal for children to pray privately to themselves in school. When informed that this practice is, in fact, perfectly legal, her countenance softened only slightly. This and other incidents convinced me that atheists, as a “movement,” have to do a good job of making our real goals clear. Of course, religious thinking being what it is, perhaps nothing we say can convince most religious that there is no evil Atheist Agenda.
Just for the record, let’s discuss what atheists really do and don’t want:
- Atheists do not want to prevent religious people from freely worshipping in their homes, churches, synagogues, mosques, or any other private venue. On the contrary, atheists generally support the freedom of conscience of all individuals, which is why they support the separation of church and state. We simply want the same freedom to live according to our own consciences without being discriminated against.
- Atheists do not want to prevent anyone – school children, adults, anyone – from praying privately to themselves over a meal, before a test, or at any time the person feels the need. Atheists DO want to prevent schools, teachers, and any other government official or employee from mandating that people participate in religious exercises, and from conducting religious exercises on government property or using government funds. These activities violate the First Amendment to the Constitution.
- Atheists do not want to prevent anyone from displaying religious symbols – a nativity scene, menorah, the Ten Commandments, etc. – on private property, whether a religious institution or simply a religious person’s property. Such displays are legal and should not be interfered with even if they offend some people. Atheists DO want to keep religious displays off government property. The government is prohibited by the First Amendment from supporting or sanctioning any particular religion. Displaying religious symbols on public property suggests an improper endorsement of that religion.
- Atheists DO want to be treated with the same respect religious people demand for their beliefs, and to be treated equally and fairly under the law.
- Atheists do not want to push religious people out of public life or public service. Atheists DO want the opportunity to serve their communities as public servants as well, without being deemed unfit by voters or other politicians based solely on their lack of belief in a deity.
- Atheists do not want to live lives of debacuhery, to steal, cheat, lie, kill or commit harms to other people. We DO want religious people to recognize that atheists are moral people who in the aggregate behave at least as well as, and certainly no worse than, religious people.
- Atheists do not want to deny the fundamental dignity and worth of each individual. We DO want children to be taught, however, that human beings are an animal like any other, which evolved from earlier life forms through a natural process.
- Atheists do not want to elevate science to a religion. We DO want claims about the world (including religious claims) to be subjected to the rigorous standards of evidence required by scientific thinking. We also DO want to keep religious ideas posing as science (i.e. “Intelligent Design”) out of school science curricula and in religious studies classes, where they belong.
These are our simple goals. No devious grand scheme. No agenda to bring evil upon the world. Just a wish to live and let live, which keeping religion a private matter. Not so radical when you think about it…