There are many areas in which secularist ideas are well developed, but the challenging of a public view of religion in general and Christianity as a benign force is not. Unless we explain why we oppose religion, the general public, writers and broadcasters will remain apathetic to, confused, and unconvinced by secularism and humanism. Atheists and agnostics spend a lot of time discussing the existence, or not, of god, and we have many scholars adept at refuting the veracity of the bible as either a historical document or reference book for living a good life. We comment on and entertain ourselves with the endless stream of absurdities of various superstitions/religious beliefs, erring clerics, and so-called miracles and conversions.
The very basic assumption that I think we do not address enough is the automatic belief by non-secularists, including many ‘Humanists’ that belief in god and the pursuance of religion, if not actually a good thing, is a harmless irrelevance, or personal comfort for the old, ill or disadvantaged, and for this reason if for no other should not be criticized!
Opposition to religion has also been deliberately associated in the public imagination with authoritarian communism, which in no way reflects our views. Do we take the reasons for our secularist views for granted? Too many atheists do not see the need to spell out what it is about religion that we oppose, very often in words of one syllable? In my view, if we do not explain in detail, what it is about the attitudes and doctrines of religion on each issue, much of our other activity will fall (as it does) on deaf ears. It is not enough to persuade people that god is a figment of human invention, and the bible only relevant to that myth. Many people do not seem to mind that, consequently, if all that stems from it, both for individuals and society, in terms of attitudes and public policy is not understood, it is easy to understand why they feel that way.
Many people do not seem to understand why secularists oppose religion. There are two distinct levels on which this criticism is needed.
The first is on a personal, private level. We accept entirely that as a private occupation, raison d’être, personal, moral guide, any belief system however bizarre, is a person’s legal ‘right’ and presumably none of us would challenge that. We do however have a right to express our views, and debate our opinions, that reliance on superstition, or inflexible code and doctrines, is a poor substitute for a confident, rational, evidence based, view of life and its physical and physiological problems. It is at least part the cause of lazy, uncritical acceptance of unproved notions and current anti-science culture.
The second is at the public level of religious activity; the many areas of public policy in which religious traditions set the agenda. In areas such as discrimination issues, poverty relief, health, education, housing, international relations, the organized religions insist on their dominant role. Typical is the current difficulty for the UN and its inability to address population and development issues because of opposition by America’s ‘Moral Majority’ and the Vatican, (and the effect that has on finance). At a national level the insistence of the religions of their right to indoctrinate children in sectarian schools, or teaching religious opinion as fact, in all schools; and at a personal level, guilt and punitive attitudes on gender issues, exemplified by the ‘Section 28’ issue.