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Why Religious People Are Scared of Atheists

Religious believers commonly attack atheists simply for existing. Do out-of-the-closet atheists -- even polite ones -- challenge attempts at theocracy?

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But there's another, more insidious way that taking offense at atheists' existence is an attempt to establish theocracy, and to perpetuate the degree of theocracy that we already have.

Look at it this way. Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. clearly want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want everyone in the country to celebrate their holy days. Witness the annual freak-out over the supposed War on Christmas, in which Bill O'Reilly and company get their collective panties in a twist about stores saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

But they don't just want everyone to celebrate Christmas. They want everyone to celebrate it religiously. They don't want non-Christians to adapt this holy day to their own uses. Loki forbid the atheists should march in the Christmas parade, or put up billboards in December with atheists in Santa hats saying "Don't believe in God? Just be good for goodness' sake."

They still want Christmas to be a religious holiday, special to the Christian faith. Yet at the same time, they want it to be a government-recognized Federal holiday that everyone has to observe.

In other words: They want theocracy.

See, you don't get have it both ways. You don't get to have Christmas be a secular holiday, universal to the culture, recognized by government agencies and celebrated by people of all faiths and of no faith at all... and still have it be a religious holiday of the Christian faith. Not if you respect people's basic right to worship, or not, in their own way. Pick one. If Christmas is a universal secular holiday, quit whining about it being secularized. If it's a distinct religious holiday, quit trying to ram it down everyone else's throats.

Now, if the Christian Right wants to argue that everyone should be Christian, they absolutely have the right to do that. Heck, I argue that everyone should be atheist. I think that atheism is correct and religious belief is mistaken, and I'm working hard trying to persuade people of that. If the Christian Right thinks Christianity is correct and all other positions on religion are mistaken, by all means, they should make that case.

But there's a huge difference between making a case for why your religious views are correct... and getting offended, insulted, and martyred over the mere fact that some people disagree with you. Making a case for your position is one thing. Trying to stop other people from making their case is quite another.

The former is simply the marketplace of ideas: bumpy, fractious, sometimes obnoxious, even at times grotesque, but a cornerstone of a free society. The latter is entitlement. The latter is hegemony: systems by which those in power perpetuate and expand their power. And, when it gets enshrined into government policy -- like teaching religious beliefs in public school science classes, or funding religious organizations with tax money, or opening government meetings with prayers, or displaying the Ten Commandments on government property, or promoting one religion over another in a public school -- the latter is theocracy.

And when the Christian right demands that atheists not be allowed to march in a public Christmas parade, or to advertise on public buses and trains... that's exactly what they're demanding.

Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.

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