Neither evangelism nor atheism

Christopher Hook

Evangelist Pat Robertson’s recent comments about Haiti should not have surprised most people who have followed his career. More and more, these kinds of comments are losing their shock value. Whether it is the “Are you going to hell?” pamphlets found around campus, the enormous posters depicting aborted fetuses that ring Risman Plaza for a week each spring, the “Jesus Camp” documentary or the protestors at military funerals waving banners that blame each soldier’s death on American support for homosexuals, the public is constantly submerged in Robertson’s brand of radical Christianity.

This message has, unfortunately for the majority of Christians, cast quite a negative spell on religion in the United States, and it may be one reason for the incredible decline in religiosity since 1990.

On the flip side, according to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), atheism is growing, from 8 percent in 1990 to 15 percent today. More people than ever are being turned away from organized religion and toward pursuing their own paths of understanding.

But the atheist movement, like Christianity, also has a bad name — and for good reason, in my opinion. The movement has no reservations about attacking Christians for being irrational, anti-scientific and downright stupid for their beliefs. In an age where science is increasingly butting heads with traditional religious ideas, the battle lines have been drawn: Atheists are assembling in groups, putting out literature, hanging “Reason’s Greetings” holiday billboards around cities and holding conferences in an effort to recruit new members away from religion. “We need to be everywhere, just like religion, (or else) we let religion win by default,” said Annie Laurie Gaynor, Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president in 2009.

This kind of speech is indicative of my hatred toward organized atheism. Atheism has become a religion of its own. Religious people with whom I’ve talked feel just as attacked and just as afraid to reveal their personal beliefs to the public as non-Christians do.

This polarization has pushed the public to one extreme or the other. For example, a liberal Christian might see Christianity represented in popular media as a faith that promotes gay bashing and the idea of a vengeful God who will wreak havoc on sinful countries like Haiti. For a person with less than a strong belief, choosing between this kind of Christianity and the life of a quiet atheist is easy to do.

On the other side of the coin, a moderate Christian, observing the attacks made on organized religion by organized atheism, might be pulled more toward evangelism or another form of devout Christianity. ARIS Associate Director Ariela Keysar told USA Today, “There’s more clarity at the two extremes and the mishmash is in the middle.”

In a USA Today article from last year, ARIS co-author Barry Kosmin said, “Religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many.” Indeed, in an age where a person’s sexual, political and religious preference is posted on Facebook for everyone to see, where you are immediately labeled depending on what kind of computer you buy or what newspaper you read, religion (or the lack thereof) is just another identifying factor when making a judgment about someone.

What’s more, being identified one way or the other seems to be more important to people than the religion itself. This is my main concern about the state of religion today. I don’t think that people like Pat Robertson honestly believe God reached down from the clouds and into the tectonic plates below Haiti, causing the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that left 200,000 people dead. They say these things because they have an attentive audience. This kind of controversial message obviously attracts listeners. The same holds true for many organized atheists, who enjoy proclaiming from the highest rooftops their superiority over the “ignorant masses” who practice a faith.

For people on both extremes, the concern is not so much about religion, but about winning an argument, getting listeners and gaining power, all just selfish reasons. To have religion or not, this should be an intensely personal decision, one that is very important for how you live your life. Don’t let power-hungry, political-minded groups influence you — they almost certainly don’t have your best interest at heart.

Christopher Hook is a junior international relations and French major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].