Religious Windows

19 Dec

Hey, here’s a good question—

Bonwell—I’m enjoying your new blog, but why do you call it “secular” when the entire thing is about Atheism? And what does “centered” have to do with it?

Good questions, which I’ll answer in reverse order. The “centered” part of my blog name is in reference to the Overton Window. The idea of the Overton Window is that while a society may consider some ideas “far left” or “far right,” what they’re referring to is what their society considers extreme. In the United States, government-run health care is considered “far left,” but for virtually all of Europe it’s considered the least someone could do… even the idea of insurance-based healthcare is freakishly right-wing to them. We consider it “far right” to suggest that certain moral principles or behaviors be mandated by law, but there are many Asian countries who would consider a simple legal mandate to be far too liberal, preferring instead to suppress any form of communication that would even suggest deviant behavior.

The Overton Window is used to great effect by religious folk in the United States. You can easily find a news item on any given day (especially Christmas week) which tries to suggest that simply allowing to someone to live a life free of religion is an offensive, repulsive idea that itself suppresses other people’s freedom of religion. Glenn Beck has written a wonderful fiction about what would happen if the Overton Window shifted to the far left, and has written plenty of non-fiction about what would happen if it shifted to the far right.

Even when Christianity is not referenced directly, its teachings are often a given in the public discourse. “There’s nothing wrong with being gay,” many argue, “but everyone can agree that sodomy is morally reprehensible.” Well, who says? Where did the word ‘sodomy’ come from? The book of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament. The argument begins with “sodomy, being one of the acts of Sodom, which God struck down,” and goes from there. Without making any statements in either way of my opinion of homosexuality (yet), let’s focus on this point: our social discourse defaults to Christian morality as the default and works from there. Christianity is a conservative religion, literally—its teachings are entirely based on the values of people who lived 2000-6000 years ago, and any updates to that ethos are considered blasphemy, or worse. By setting Christianity as the default, we’re shifting the window to cover only religious conservative ideas, where any form of new thought is considered offensively radical. That is where the “centered” part of the blog name comes in—we want to shift the window of discourse back to the middle of the spectrum.

As for the “secular” part: I’m an atheist, it’s true. I also go to church. I’ve gone every week for the last month, in fact. I won’t say which one because denominations are a purely Christian obsession and I’m not Christian, but I’ve attended services at churches ranging from Unitarian to Baptist to Bible Missionary to Orthodox. I’ve also been to Muslim seminars, had lunch with the Hare Krishnas, and walked through the halls of a Mormon temple. I held my daughter at her Christening, which I insisted she go through. I pray, although as an atheist I refer to it as “wishing.” As in, I wish I could have that job. I wish I had more time to write. I wish I were a famous celebrity. It brings me the same comfort as praying brings to a Christian, and since prayers are (or should be done) behind closed doors, where nobody can hear them, my wishes have the same ultimate effect. I am atheist not because I have not been exposed to religions, but because I have been exposed to so many that I realize how much of it is myth and legends.

Also, even the most extreme atheists do not flatly dismiss the notion of God. Richard Dawkins says that on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being a religious zealot and 7 being the absolute, unwavering non-belief of any higher power, he’s a six. Bill Maher states that he follows the church of “I don’t know.” Atheists live their lives with the presumption that there is no higher power above them (one of the many reasons why they don’t call themselves agnostic), but very, very few of them straight out say that the existence of God is impossible. It’s an issue I covered in week two of this blog, and one I’ll return to next week and beyond.

It’s not in my interest to attack religion. It is in my interest to explore truth. There is not a single issue I can cover where there is not at least one Christian denomination who agrees with me. I want to foster a society where people are free to think, to explore, to find new things, be it a new planet, a new state of consciousness, or simply to explore the beauty of sound. Those things are impossible if we refuse to accept new beliefs, or if we base everything we learn on what we’ve already been told.

If there ever is a religion which accepts reality over preconceived notions, I would be the first to join, but I think that idea defies the very concept of religion itself. And thus, whatever I may personally believe, I will continue to push for us all to live in a secular world.

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Posted by on December 19, 2011 in Uncategorized


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