This weekend, Jon Stewart is holding “a rally to restore sanity” on the mall, two months after Glenn Beck’s religion-infused “Restoring Honor” rally. Beck said he was called by God to hold the rally. Now atheist groups are planning to use Stewart’s event to promote “reason.” Are “reason” and “sanity” the opposite of religious belief? Is taking religion out of the political debate the answer for restoring reason? Or do we need more faith?
Full disclosure: The United Coalition for Reason, sponsor of the godless bus ads, is an endorser of the mission statement of the Secular Coalition for America, www.secular.org, the organization for which I’m president.
The bus ads simply invite people to come out of the closet to their friends and neighbors about their lack of religious beliefs. Atheists and humanists don’t fear a judging God, but many fear the judgments and the stigma placed on them by a mainly religious society. Some are concerned that their jobs as well as their relationships and good will of neighbors may be at stake, and unfortunately they sometimes are. Much as with the gay rights movement, the more that come out the easier it is for others to come out and find a sense of community. That’s the essence of what these ads are about.
What we nontheists want, consistent with our founders, is freedom of conscience for all. Government should not be in the religion business, even if Glenn Beck believes God told him it should. Government should not favor one religion over another or religion in general over non-religion.
As an example, the legislature in my home state of South Carolina authorized the car license tag motto, “In God We Trust,” available to all at no extra cost. My local secular humanist group applied for “In Reason We Trust” tags. It carried a fee, but our members and others, too, now have such tags. Frankly, I would rather my state promote reason than God, especially given the dismal state of education here. Individuals should be able to promote the god of their choice, but not the state.
I have trouble understanding why some people think secular Americans are insulting those with religious beliefs when we mention we don’t believe in any gods. A church-sponsored billboard near my house asks, “Got religion?” It certainly doesn’t offend me to see this by the highway. Are Methodists insulted when Presbyterians promote their theological views?
We may have different views on religion, but I hope we can at least agree on one fundamental good–the marketplace of ideas. Some may think reason and sanity are the opposite of religion, and some may not. Let arguments be heard, not stifled. That, to me, is the most sane and reasonable way to act.