Welcome to Further Than Atheism. Written for non-believersof all stripes, Further Than Atheism is an ongoing attempt to explore the territory that lies beyond the rejection of gods that all atheists share. It is based upon the insight that atheism should be a beginning, not an end in itself. By focusing only upon what they do not believe, atheists restrict themselves to being nothing more than a mirror of the ideas of the religious. Atheism consists only of negation, but it allows for many possible affirmations as well. The search for such possibilities is what Further Than Atheism is all about.
Further Than Atheism: The Virtue of Nonviolence Toward Our Foes
In the United States, atheist and other non-religious groups have had a long history of peaceful protest against oppression. How, on the other hand, can we describe the role of right wing Christianity in American culture? Try this: Right wing Christians fantasize about people who disagree with them burning for eternity
That seems like an inflammatory statement. Am I exaggerating? I think not. While this statement I have made may feel inflammatory to some, let's keep in mind that right wing Christians are promoting a literally inflammatory agenda that is the opposite of secular nonviolence.
I was taking a walk outside today in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania when I saw a striking billboard, with a background all in flames. On the billboard were written the words: "Warning: Exposure to the Son may prevent burning".
Get it? The warning can be distilled down to the basic message: Submit to the prophet worshipped by right wing Christians, or you will be punished with the torture of burning forever in the fires of Hell. Agree to follow the prophet (and his earthly representatives, the leaders of right wing Christianity), and you will be spared the torture by fire.
The billboard was actually put up by a church hoping to recruit new members. Right here in the United States, religious fundamentalists are trying to bring new people into their radical organizations with the promise of burning people alive. They're trying to seduce young people to join them with the claim that this kind of violence is a good thing.
I was shocked that this kind of celebration of violence would be displayed so publicly, right above a sidewalk where children often pass by. I got online to check to see if anyone had written about the billboard.Many Torches
What I found was much more frightening than just a small promotion of the the billboard. This motto is being used to recruit new followers to extreme right wing groups, and it's being used all across America. In fact, it's a rallying cry being used in many countries, to swell the ranks of right wing Christian organizations with the promise of agony for those who do not follow the supposed true faith.
Stephen Glass, of Warner Robins, Georgia, uses the threat of burning non-Christians in his Together We Teach ministry, "spreading the Word". A sermon by Christian preacher Chad Janey of Charlotte, North Carolina praises the threatening fundamentalist motto, proclaiming, "How true the statement on this sign really is. Exposure to Jesus Christ, the Son, can indeed prevent eternal burning.... The further we expand, the more exposure we will have and the more God will bless us." Janey's sermon is given along with the militant religious song, Am I A Soldier Of The Cross?
I found an online store where a right wing Christian is selling a line children's clothes with this message. The owner of the store wants children to go around with the threat on their shirts. She even puts the message on a baby's bib, and on a teddy bear, for children to hug.
I also found the bloody threat given by the Fairview Missionary Baptist Church, led by Elder H. C. Vanderpool, as shown by the photograph above. It's a sign showing the theme for the sermon and for Sunday School. Think about that for a second - H. C. Vanderpool's sect is teaching this idea to children. They're preaching the moral virtue of burning non-Christians to kids!
These same people are complaining that America's moral values are threatened by teaching children the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection. Yet, they are teaching children to look forward to the day when people are thrown alive into raging fires as punishment for failure to submit to their prophet.
It's not just protestant right wingers who are promoting this phrase, celebrating the burning of Non-Christians. Catholic Rich Bedard uses the threat on his web site, in a section he entitles "A Smile Or Two :-)" Think for a second about this. Does the idea of people being burned just because they won't adhere to Christian religious laws make you smile? Rich Bedard and his Catholic followers think it ought to.
It's important to note that not all Christians are looking forward to a day when all non-Christians will be thrown into a gigantic fire to be burned alive. But, looking at the huge number of times that the rallying cry, Exposure to the Son may prevent burning, it's hard not conclude that these radical Christians are not downright gleeful at the prospect of the burning of those people who dare to disagree with them.
Americans ask, with genuine confusion, how Islamic fundamentalists are able to recruit so many adherents in spite of their obviously hateful rhetoric. I suggest that Americans look at the hateful religious fundamentalism that is growing in their own nation in order to find the answer.
Blazing a Path Without Violence
We may be stark in our words, but we who reject religion ought to reject harsh deeds against others, and we would do well to reject even the rhetorical use of depictions of violence against our opponents, especially those within the Religious Right of Christianity in America. Nonreligious Americans are a vulnerable minority that could easily become the scapegoat of a right wing government, or violent right wing organizations. We will never win the cause of earning respect for our rights by engaging in violent acts against American religion, or even threatening such violence in an attempt to gain attention.
One of the reasons we reject religion is that we see its long history of violence. We gain nothing in rejecting religion if we embrace its most terrible methods in doing so.
We secular Americans don't believe that the world is just a fantasy, an imagined way station we enter on the way the the true reality of a divine realm. We need to pay great attention to the impact of our deeds on Earth, so that our time alive on Earth can be as positive as possible.
We need to accept and communicate to others that no cause, no matter how correct, is so important that it merits inflicting violence on others. Beyond the commitment to active nonviolence, it will also be to our benefit to provide a better example than right wing Christianity, and avoid indulging in fantasies of the gory torture and annihilation of people we don't like. Even violent right wing Christians do not deserve the kind of brutality that they so eagerly anticipate for others.