David Wong explains why atheists are so angry about church-state separation

David Wong has an article on Cracked titled “5 Ways You’re Accidentally Making Everyone Hate You.” The last item, “You Assumed That Because You Were OK With a Situation, Everybody Was” contains a pretty excellent explanation of why Christians shouldn’t be mystified when atheists get all worked up about church-state separation:

Let me use myself as an example again, so it doesn’t come off like I’m accusing anyone:

After being raised as an evangelical Christian, I for years assumed that Christianity was the default — there were Christians, and then there were weirdos. I was shocked when in college I found that some people get offended when you tell them, for instance, that their recovery from surgery was a “miracle.” “No,” they’d say, “it was actually the result of three months of excruciating rehab, incredibly expensive doctors, and a loving and supportive family who worked extra jobs to pay for it all.” I sneered and thought of them as overly sensitive PC hippie atheists, because I never considered how I would feel if, say, a Scientologist insisted that the ghost of L. Ron Hubbard wrote my books for me and that I owed all of my success to him. Enjoy your eternal hellfire, Zooey!

Now check the headlines — any controversy having to do with gay marriage, or school prayer, or any social hot-button issue involves the group who’s in control acting just like I did — baffled that any other groups are dissatisfied with the “normal” way of doing things (“Oh, so now we can’t keep the TEN COMMANDMENTS monument in the COURTHOUSE? But it’s ALWAYS BEEN THERE!”). And in many cases, the baffled people don’t feel any more malice than the guy did when he left the toilet seat up. My favorite blog in the world gives some great examples where opponents of desegregation or gay marriage have always insisted that they don’t hate the group whose rights they’re opposing. In many cases, they mean it honestly — “I’m not angry at anyone, I just want to leave things the way they are. Which incidentally involves me having all of the power.”

Okay, so that applies to a lot of things, but my mind immediately went to church/state separation, for a couple reasons. I have a very clear memory of my nice, liberal, Congregationalist mother reading a news story about the FFRF trying to get some purely symbolic religious display and using as an object lesson on how you shouldn’t behave. And I guess I took that lesson to heart, because I’ve had a hard time getting comfortable with some of the things the FFRF does, even if I understands the principles behind what they’re doing.

One thing to note about Wong’s article is that it starts off sounding like, “don’t do these 5 things,” but by #2 in the countdown, he seems to be making a case for why it’s impossible to avoid sometimes pissing people off. Which he’s probably right about. But it’s at least worth being aware of. So at minimum, Christians need to stop being mystified when atheists get all worked up about things like church-state separation.


  • Reginald Selkirk

    And I guess I took that lesson to heart, because I’ve had a hard time getting comfortable with some of the things the FFRF does, even if I understands the principles behind what they’re doing.

    Once you understand that the FFRF deliberately uses a “poisoning the well” strategy, their actions become understandable. You may still disagree with their tactics, but you should be able to understand what they are trying to do and why.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Another problem is church-state separation discussions is that the theist will frequently confuse the neutral position for an atheist one. For example, that removing “In God We Trust” from coins would be atheistic. In such discussions, it may be helpful to introduce a true atheist position (“There Is No God”) as a foil, in order to highlight the true neutral position.
    This bears some similarity to the FFRF strategy.

  • MNb

    As a non-American atheist I’m OK with a ten commandments monument in courthouse – as long I can hang the eight pastafarian rather nots next to it. Plus a colander.
    Actually an Austrian citizen was permitted to wear a colander on his head on his passport photo.

    • abb3w

      Insisting on the collander in the courthouse as well as the rather nots seems inequitable and thus excessive.
      Fine for the passport photo, however.

      • Kodie

        Why is it inequitable?

  • MNb

    Insisting on the colander and the rather nots in the courthouse isn’t anymore excessive than insisting on the ten commandments. That’s the point I make when debating religious traditionalists on issues like these. So it’s up to them.