COLUMN: God and Utah

Harry Caines contributes a weekly column to His column is a work of opinion, and does not reflect the views of Cache Valley Daily, the Cache Valley Media Group, or its employees.

<em>“There are three things I have learned to never discuss with people…religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.”</em>

—Linus, from the comic strip, “Peanuts”

When indulging in a board game a few years ago with a close friend, I told him I was disturbed by a column I had read in the news about a group of teens who would go around neighborhoods looking for Nativity scenes outside of people’s homes. The teens would then steal the Baby Jesus from the display.

To counter this vandalism, those who displayed the Nativity were securing the Baby Jesus into the manger to prevent it from being taken. I opined–admittedly without much couth–that I found it ironic that people were using screws and nails on the Baby Jesus.

The reaction of my friend trumped my boorish attempt at humor. He took great pleasure in the knowledge. He found nothing wrong with the vandalism of religious iconography. To him–and I am paraphrasing his argument–anyone willing to “stick it” to religious people in a non-violent act were OK in his book.

I believe that the motivation for my friend’s acceptance for these childish, petty acts can be explained in the disclosure of one fact: he is a non-Mormon raised and living in Utah.

Being in the minority can change your view of what is right and wrong.

And now, enter the American Atheist National Convention. This event will be held in Salt Lake City in the spring of 2014. And while this convention is not expected to bring more than a thousand people, it has already been in the news.

The keynote speaker for the convention will be an NFL punter. Christian fundamentalists have Tim Tebow, nicknamed “God’s quarterback”. The atheists have a punter. Sad.

I have mixed feelings on this. I understand the desire for a non-religious group to come to Utah. Utah is a theocracy with a terrible history of using the law and lawmakers to promote Mormon ideology and suppress minority opinions.

But with all people and organizations, there is one question I must ask the American Atheists group: what are you trying to accomplish?

If this convention promotes a dialogue regarding the oppression of atheists, the stereotypically erroneous belief that godlessness equates to immorality and the responsibility a theocratic majority has to prevent itself from infringing on the inalienable rights of those who think differently than they do—well, I am all for that.

If it is to be smug weenie heads who push buttons for the sake of doing so, then while I fervently defend their right to do that, I find it a bothersome and counterproductive waste of time.

And this leads me to expose an unfortunate truth about most of the atheists that I personally know or have spoken with in my adult life. Many atheists I know are bitter, unlikeable people.

To be even more blunt, if atheists ran governments I am not so sure that the urge for retribution, or the act of oppressing religious affiliations, would not be Priority One. It could become the living embodiment of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. Orwell was spot on in criticizing Communism in his classic tome. In recent world history, when the Communists took over power the first thing they did was kill or exile the vanquished.

Don’t we see this now in liberal bastions of America in a less bloody form? The bizarre belief that the display of, or open worship of a deity is somehow offensive or inappropriate. It is the opposite of what happens in Utah, but is equally wrong! Any exercise of free speech that is curtailed because it may be deemed offensive is a desecration to the first right guaranteed by the constitution of this nation.

And yet, I have to ask myself what are atheists—and, in Utah, anyone who is not Mormon—to do about being consistently treated like second-class citizens? One can only be told that they must live by the “community standards” long enough before they understand that the community denies they have any estimable standards worth acknowledging.

In the 1960’s, Blacks in America heard two different messages that created a chasm in the Civil Rights movement. Those who followed Martin Luther King, Jr. believe that non-violent resistance was both morally and socially just. Those who followed Malcolm X believed that violence as a means of self-defence was not only a viable option to stop oppression, but was also a sign of intelligence.

I do not compare the struggle for those who strive for a more secular society with the shameful treatment of African slaves and their descendents. That would be obscene. But, I do suggest that when one ruling class–whether that class is defined by skin color, gender, nationality, wealth or religion–starts to slide from a supermajority into the possibility of being just a plurality, then that ruling class should consider if the burgeoning minority is benevolent or malicious.

The stigma attached to atheism has withered exponentially over the past two decades. The belief that only elite, pseudo-Socialist university professors doubted the existence of God has gone the way of VCRs and New Coke. All one has to do is watch television to know that those who are portrayed as ostracized, unintelligent freaks are nearly always church-going folk.

This stereotype is no more right, and should no more be accepted than what those who denied the veracity of a living deity had to endure in the history of the world. But, if every action has a natural reaction, then it must be stated that most of the blame for the vitriol currently spewed at practitioners of religion must fall on themselves.

Nearly every major religion practiced has a variation of the Golden Rule. That being, do to others as you wish them to do to you. Someday, a secular generation may take over political power in America. If they bully the religious minority, then it can be said that majorities are inherently inclined to oppress. If the Golden Rule is implemented during the Godless Revolution, then it will be known that the atheists are indeed not only moral, but morally superior to those who pray to God.

Either way, the faithful lose.

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