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- The Role of Religion in History & Society
Religion Is Everywhere
Some time ago, a believer (a fellow American) insisted to me in his hub that there has been an "almost total removal from our society of anything that mentions God." After I raised my jaw back up from the floor, he then asked that I show him where such a presence exists in our society. For an atheist like me, it was like someone standing in a swimming pool up to his neck and insisting I show him where the water is. Still, I'll offer as many examples as I can muster, for -- try as I may -- I can find no such compilation anywhere else on the internet. God and religion are, indeed, everywhere.
Yes, he actually said that!
They're in my neighborhood: Where I can find nine different churches within a five-block radius of my house, and at least twenty within the city limits of my small Michigan town. They're in the conversations of passersby, where one hears common phrases like, "thank god," "oh my god," "god only knows" or, if if somebody sneezes, "god bless you"; in the crosses people wear around their necks; and in the annual summer circuits of our own local pair of Mormon proselytizers.
They're in my newspaper: Where so often the front page reminds me of the violent animosity between Jew and Muslim, between Muslim and Hindu or between Shia and Sunni; where inside the cover page, a daily Bible quote reminds me of the religiosity of my community; and where the weekend edition will devote at least an entire page to church news and religious articles.
They're on the radio: Where locally I can hear at least a half-dozen stations with a Christian theme; where the the two or three country stations seem to include a mention of God, Jesus, church or praying in every other song; where on even more mainstream stations, one hears the sporadic evangelizing of U2, Creed, and the syrupy, repellant proselytizing of MercyMe's "I Can Only Imagine."
They're on the television: Where televangelists fund financial empires and lavish lifestyles with the misguided piety of credulous rubes; where entire networks like CBN and TBN are dedicated to the celebration and proselytization of Christianity, imitated by Sunday preachers on local stations; where every story of some near tragedy inevitably ends with someone declaring a "miracle"; and where every awards show includes someone thanking the "almighty" for their success.
They're in our sports: Where there is a long tradition of team prayer before high school games; where every NASCAR race begins with a Christian invocation; and where every Broncos game offers the spectacle of third-rate clown and world-class hypocrite Tim Tebow flaunting his religious faith before millions of NFL fans.
They're in our school boards: Where religious ideologues try to force creationism into school science curricula, and insist upon health "education" programs that teach only abstinence, dooming students to dangerous, even deadly ignorance.
They're in our laws: Where the selling of liquor in my state is prohibited everywhere on Sunday (the Christian sabbath), and where many stores close altogether for the same reason; where in the state capitol, legislators driven by religious creed constantly strive to restrict women's access to contraception and health care; and where my state senate recently tried to pass an "anti-bullying" bill that would actually PERMIT bullying if the perpetrator can claim that their actions are rooted in a "sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction."
They're in our public policies: Where churches are exempt from taxation; where ideological restrictions on stem cell research retard the potential to find cures and treatments for myriad ailments and diseases; where dogma overrules compassion with regard to the end of life; and where religious belief inspires the legal definition of marriage.
They're in our state constitutions: Where seven states "constitutionally" prohibit atheists from holding public office or "public trust" (including Texas, where the bumbling evangelical governor holds public prayer rallies).
They're in our partisan politics: Where religious lobbying groups (like Focus On The Family and American Family Association) have substantial sway among candidates and elected officials; where Dominionists, who believe the U.S. should be an outright Christian theocracy, are a growing sub-sect among Republicans (including even candidates for President).
They're everywhere we travel: Where billboards along the highway warn us that "judgement day is at hand" or instruct us to "choose life"; where car bumper stickers ask us, "What would Jesus do?"; where the nightstand in every hotel room hides a Bible; where the waiting rooms of hospitals, doctors and dentists offer religious magazines; and where bathroom stalls are often adorned with religious pamphlets.
They're in our holidays: From Good Friday and Easter in April, to Thanksgiving in November to Christmas in December (which, although not exclusively a religious holiday, still fills the airwaves and shopping malls with tunes praising baby Jesus, and despoils many a courthouse lawn with Christian nativity scenes that thumb their sectarian nose at the Constitution).
They're on (and in) our architecture: Where one can find religious inscriptions on government buildings in towns throughout the country, especially the nation's capitol; and in the official proceedings within them, which often begin with some religious invocation (including the U.S. Congress and U.S. Supreme Court) or the Pledge of Allegiance, bastardized by the Cold War insertion of "under God."
They're in my wallet: Where I can read the dubious platitude "In God we trust" on every denomination, and on every coin in my pocket.
They're in our oaths: Often taken in the presence of a Bible or other "holy" book -- of elected officials, military enlistees, jurors and witnesses.
They're in our criminal sentencing: Where alcohol and drug offenders are regularly sentenced to AA programs that require you to turn your life "over to God," whether or not you're a non-believer.
They're in our prejudices: Where according to polls, Americans distrust atheists more than any other group; where religious pandering is still one of the surest paths to political success; and where precedence suggests that judges often decide against atheists based wholly on their lack of faith, particularly in child custody disputes.
They're in our rites of passage: From the moment of our birth -- when religious tradition prescribes male circumcision -- to the religious vows of marriage, to the solemn benedictions of funeral ceremonies.
They're in our clubs and fraternities: From the Boy Scouts to the Knights of Columbus to the American Legion, the Christian faith is deeply ingrained in many of our country's most popular social organizations, as well as in our military.
They're in the abuse of children: Where pedophiles in priestly garb prey on minors entrusted to their care; where fundamentalist Christian parents beat their children to death in the hopes of "delivering" their souls "from Hell"; where other parents are disuaded by their religious belief from taking their children for desperately needed medical treatment -- or worse, replace that treatment with potentially dangerous rituals like exorcisms.
Finally, and most notoriously,
They're in our worst terrorism: In the smoldering rubble of the Twin Towers; in the burned-out shells of abortion clinics (and in the stalking and cold-blooded murder of their staffs and doctors); and in the Bible-waving thugs terrorizing women at the entrance to reproductive clinics.
In conclusion, I offer this disclaimer: Not every item on the preceding list is presented with critical intent. For instance, though I dislike the religious aspects of Christmas, I do enjoy celebrating it in my own secular fashion, and I certainly like the time off from work! My purpose here is to be as comprehensive and convincing as possible in demonstrating the prevalence of God and religion in contemporary American society. Thus, I've offered every example available, from the most innocuous to the most dangerous.
(One final note: I proceed from the presumption that this list will continue to evolve, as I continue to find additional examples, or as others suggest them to me. So it follows that comments after the hub may offer suggestions that have already been included.)