Your money and/or your life:
mugged by the mythmakers
— the price we pay for religion
By MarieAlena Castle
Communications Director, Atheists For Human Rights
Thomas Jefferson said, "... it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
True enough if religious belief was only a matter of personal opinion like belief in tarot cards and flying saucers. But this has never been so. Religions are, and ever have been, set up to control people, frequently with harmful results, sometimes mild, often severe. This is done most effectively by controlling an entire society through laws and customs-that is, by putting the coercive power of society's institutions to the service of the dominant religion.
There are about 24 million atheists in the U.S, only a handful of whom get involved in efforts to resist religious control. The non-joiners' rationale is that religion doesn't injure them personally.
They're wrong. We are living in the backwash of Christianity and are so swamped by the irrationality of it all that we no longer see the injuries. This pamphlet summarizes what religion costs YOU in terms of your money, your personal freedom, your health, and sometimes even your very life. You may escape some of these costs, but no one escapes them all.
COST #1: Religion prospers from your money
The wall separating state and church is full of pass-throughs. Who do you think makes up the revenue shortfall caused by religious tax exemptions? You do! If you own or rent any property, residential or commercial, the property taxes are several hundred dollars higher than if religious property, worth billions of dollars, was also taxed. You pay more because they pay nothing.
IRS estimates of money that accrues to religion in exemptions, subsidies and donations is over $270 billion a year — just to promote religious fantasies! That's over $2 billion a year per state on average. Think what a truly secular society could do with that! Lower our taxes substantially, fix our roads and bridges, improve our schools, rebuild deteriorating neighborhoods. And if you think religious charitable works are paid for by religious institutions, think again. Much of what they do is government-funded.
It is extremely difficult politically for governments to deny religion whatever it wants. If you own a business and want to expand, you must abide by zoning laws designed to preserve neighborhood values. Not so for religious institutions. They can usually expand as it pleases them, adding to traffic congestion and noise, restricting views, destroying historic preservation areas, and generally enhancing their interests at the expense of everyone else's.
Now here's a low blow: If you lend money to religionists who subsequently declare bankruptcy, the money they tithe to their church cannot be used instead to help repay you. The church gets its tithes while you get the shaft. It's the law.
COST #2: Religion messes with your sex life
If you think your sex life and reproductive decisions are your business, check the statutes. Most states forbid adultery, fornication and sodomy, and all apply some degree of unnecessary restrictions on sex education, contraception and/or abortion. These laws are based entirely on religious beliefs, serving only to legally validate those beliefs. Whether you are heterosexual, homosexual, have a disability that makes government-approved forms of sexual relations difficult or impossible, or find yourself needing accurate sex information or trapped in an unwanted pregnancy, there is a law to intimidate or even force you into conforming to someone else's religious beliefs.
COST #3: Religion messes with your relationships
If you're an atheist, you have another problem — finding a nonreligious partner. Chances are you will fall in love with a religious person who may not tolerate any atheist talk or action from you. She or he will be active in church, get religious literature in the mail, brainwash your children into religion, and be happily identified openly as religious. If you are equally expressive of your atheism, you may experience marital discord and one of two choices: keep your atheism to yourself or split up. (And it's not easy getting custody of your children when it's a devout church-going parent against a morally suspect atheist parent.)
COST #4: Religion affects your health
Fetal tissue research is discovering how to cure Parkinson's disease, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and many other afflictions, but religion-dominated legislators have restricted funding severely. Why? Because of the belief that an embryo, a microscopic cluster of eight cells, is a real human being with an immortal soul. These undifferentiated cells are hyped hysterically as "baby body parts" and destroying these nearly invisible specks is called murder. This is human imagination run amok while sick people pay with their health and their lives.
Then there are the hospital mergers, usually arranged as a solution to financial problems. Trouble arises when one of the hospitals in a merger is controlled by the Catholic Church. All staff in the merged institution are required to sign an agreement to adhere to the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services" dictated by the Catholic bishops of America. They apply to everyone, Catholic or not.
Treatment must conform to Catholic doctrine, not your medical needs. If you live in a small town where the only hospital is Catholic, you are in trouble. No contraceptive advice, no abortion even if your life depends on it, no removal of a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, no prenatal diagnosis if the hospital suspects the purpose is to determine the need for abortion, no sterilizations, no morning-after pill, no in vitro fertilization or other fertility technology, no aggressive end-of-life pain remission no matter how much you plead for it. (From the Directives: "Patients experiencing pain that cannot be alleviated should be helped to appreciate the Christian understanding of redemptive suffering.")
It's not just Catholic hospitals. If you live in a small town where the only pharmacy is at Wal-Mart, you can't get the morning-after pill. It's against the religious beliefs of John Walton, the born-again corporate founder.
COST #5: Relgion affects your education
Many school systems or individual teachers nationwide downplay the teaching of evolution in science classes. This is because of pressure from fundamentalists who believe the Bible is a divinely inspired science textbook and anything that contradicts it is in error. The theory of evolution consists of a solid body of evidence that explains the development and speciation of earth's biosphere. The concepts undergird all other sciences, which cannot be understood without them.
If you are unfortunate enough to graduate from a school system that sold you out educationally to avoid controversy, you will have a lot of catching up to do in college science classes.
Worse, as a citizen, you will be surrounded by people who are scientifically illiterate. These people will vote for politicians who also have no understanding of the physical world and will most likely make destructive decisions. You will suffer the consequences along with everyone else.
And don't forget sex education, or the lack of it, in our schools. In northern Europe, where religion is not a controlling factor, comprehensive sex education is a standard part of the curriculum and contraceptives are widely promoted, available and affordable. If we had that here, we'd get the same results they do. Like them, we'd have far fewer unplanned pregnancies, far fewer abortions, and far fewer teenagers and their babies on welfare for you to help support.
COST #6: Religion affects how well you live
It's been said that, if it hadn't been for religion, Columbus would not have landed in the New World — he would have landed on the moon! Because of religion, we lost 1,500 years of progress toward improving human life. The ancient Greeks knew the earth was round. They speculated that matter is made up of ever smaller particles, the smallest of which they called an atom. They made major strides in mathematics. They were beginning to think along evolutionary lines about biological changes. They were developing rational treatments for diseases. They, along with the ancient Romans, made impressive technological advances that eased physical labor and improved the quality of life, including indoor plumbing.
Then the Dark Ages of Christianity rolled over Greco-Roman civilization and destroyed everything. A world of knowledge disappeared. Learning became limited to theological musings at the intellectual level of how many angels could sit on the head of a pin. Scientific investigation was replaced by Bible reading and the earth became flat again. Technological advances consisted of improved torture instruments for the witch hunts and the Inquisition.
If not for religion, many diseases and birth defects would be history, and contraceptive technology would have long ago achieved population growth control. As it is, our overpopulated world now faces the prospect of proliferating wars, disease epidemics, and economic disasters as fossil fuels, forests, fishing grounds and fresh water supplies dwindle.
Religion continues to degrade our lives as we suffer the consequences of religion-driven wars, global family planning restrictions, and economic and social oppression of women. Refugees by the thousands are at our borders seeking safety and economic survival ... And they bring with them the primary cause of their homeland's misery — their religious beliefs.
COST #7: Religion affects your self-esteem
Maybe you have no problem being atheist. If your family and friends do not take religion seriously, all is well. You live a sheltered life. Most likely you never venture into areas where people do take religion seriously. So go sign up for the Boy Scouts and refuse to take their god oath and see what happens. Get a job in a company where the boss is a born-again fanatic and likes the employees to follow suit and see what happens. Attend a company dinner meeting where the boss starts with an invocation to Jesus and asks you all to bow your head. Want to take a chance on not being noticed if you don't go along with this? Care to speculate about the career repercussions?
Get into politics and be just as open about your atheism as religionists are about their beliefs. As a campaign committee member, you will likely be kept well out of public view lest your atheist identity get your candidate in trouble. Try running for office. If you have the slightest chance of winning, your opponent will let the public know you're an atheist and play the religious bigotry card to advantage.
You can avoid all this, of course. Just keep quiet about your atheism. Like the light-skinned "colored" people years ago who "passed" as white to avoid discrimination, you too can "pass" as a god believer. Just bow your head and bend your knee, and sprinkle a little god-talk in your conversation. Let religion have its way because you sure don't want to rock the boat.
COST #8: It's not a cost if you refuse to pay it
Consider that 1987 news conference at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport when former President George Bush responded to reporter Rob Sherman (from American Atheist Press) on the subject of non-religious people as follows: "... Faith in God is important to me. ... I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."
The media never made an issue of this because Bush only reflected the popular sentiment. That sentiment exists because we have rolled over and played dead rather than stand up for our rights. Is this what we want? To continue to "pass" with demeaning groveling and god-talk?
Is it possible to have a society where religion has little negative effect and being an atheist presents no problems? Of course. Britain and the Scandinavian countries are an example. We might still have atheist groups, just so people could socialize and talk about it and hold little debates about the existence of god, and ignore the religious right because it no longer has power to foist its beliefs and practices on everyone.
We look forward to such a "God-Less America." And so, like other minorities who organized against their oppressors, we atheists will "... take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them."