Religion wins through fear, students lose

The other day I posted this link on my facebook.  It talks about the FFRF scoring a victory in two counties, one in Mississippi and the other in Kentucky.  In those counties, sectarian prayer before sporting events will stop.  Rock on.

Immediately I started getting emails from people telling me of the same problem elsewhere, and how their kids must falsely pray with the others.  To each of them I wrote back and said to get a recording of it and to bring me in and it will stop.

Every single one of them said their son/daughter did not want to do anything for fear of losing their spot on the team/playing time, etc.  The students are certainly uncomfortable, but feel they’d be made more uncomfortable if they spoke up.

While I understood, it made me sad.  This is how religion wins – not by having the best arguments, but through ideological bullying.  And it works.  We have students unwilling to stand up for their rights and to defend the Constitution because those who claim the moral high ground are spitting on it, and to tell them to stop would result in repercussions such as losing the athlete’s spot on the varsity.  Not through any lack of skill and ability or for being disruptive, but purely because they won’t kowtow to the majority religion.

And so religion continues to bring people together, just as religious people tell us it does.  For some, like the unbelieving students in the huddle, they are brought in through emotional blackmail.  While the devout are busy telling us what a wonderful thing the unifying force of religion can be, they somehow always miss just how exclusionary it is.  When you’re only bringing your own kind together and then forcing the hands of others through threats (eternal torture, ostracism from a team you’ve worked hard to make) and punishing the out-group, that’s not bringing people together.  We may as well prop up wars for their ability to drive cohesion.  And when you’re emotionally blackmailing teens, whether or not you think you’re saving them from an eternity of suffering, far from being a pillar of morality you’re actually fucking despicable.

This is one of the many reasons to keep church/state separate.  Religions are divisive.  Christianity is sectarian by its very nature.  Our government officials, including teachers, coaches, and administrators, must work for true inclusion, and this simply cannot happen when they’re allowed to wear their religious views on school property.  What good person would honestly see a student they believe is bound for eternal torment and not try to subversively save them?

What pisses me off even more is that some atheists still believe that situations like this do not represent the outcome of religious thinking (as they unquestionably have for the whole of human history) – that these scenarios are somehow isolated and rare and that most religious people are capable of accepting the existence of a hell for unbelievers while simultaneously working with us.  Those people are wrong on an order of magnitude similar to that of young-Earth creationists.  This kind of thing happens all over the place.  When a group wants to create a Secular Student Alliance club at their high school (right next to Ignite, Campus Crusade for Christ, FCA, etc.), more often than not (by a long shot) they must fight and claw, cite their legal rights repeatedly, and often bring me into the loop directly in order to make it happen.  Sometimes they must even bring lawsuits.  PZ, Greta, Jen, myself, and a host of others can (and do) write multiple blog posts every day about religion’s malicious impact on society.

The type of discrimination experienced by these students is just one facet of the problem of religion, and it is the norm, not the exception.  We shouldn’t try to coexist with religion and hope that these incidents go away in their own time.  This is how religion has maintained its dominance since its inception and there’s no reason to believe anything will change.  As the FFRF has shown in winning this decision, and as the SSA has shown in forcing administrations to allow secular clubs, is that we must fight to make the world a better place.

I’m proud to be in the middle of it swinging.  I hope one day my job as High School Specialist at the Secular Student Alliance will become superfluous, but that day is a long way off, sadly.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.