I don’t normally post on Thursdays, but today’s an important day for me and for many of my friends and loved ones. Today is Openly Secular Day, brought to you by the good and hardworking folks at OpenlySecular.org. Today is a day to talk about secularism and all its categories: atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker, and so on.
All around the world, even in America, people are ostracized and discriminated against for their beliefs. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 43% of people in the US would not vote for an otherwise qualified presidential candidate from their own party if that candidate were an atheist. That’s right: if the options were their own party’s atheist candidate or nothing at all, they would pick nothing at all. That 43%, by the way, is a higher number than would choose not to support an otherwise qualified Muslim nominee (40%), LGBTQ nominee (30%), or Mormon nominee (18%), the next three highest “negatives” in the poll. This is a country where kids are thrown out by their parents for “coming out” as atheists. Where “news” commentators can say of people unhappy about children being forced to say the words “under god” as part of the pledge of allegiance, “if these people really don’t like it, they don’t have to live here.” Where the Chancellor of Troy University can send out a video to all their students that ends (I swear to you, he actually says this) “if you take away religion, you can’t hire enough police.”
So today I’m standing up for the rights of the openly secular. Me, I’m a freethinking theist. I think you can either have an all-powerful god or an all-loving one, but not both. I prize reasoned argumentation over arbitrary rules. I believe that it’s not only easy to be “good without god,” but a moral imperative. Because if you’re only doing the right thing because you’re afraid of what some all-powerful being will do to you, you’re not actually choosing to do the right thing. How can you be good without reference to a deity? Ask just two questions before you act: “How would I want to be treated?” and “What would happen if everyone acted this way?” That’s it. The first is about empathy, the second is about society, and neither requires anything but that wondrous piece of greyish meat between your ears and a little hard work.
So here’s to all you secularists. You’re not alone.
Happy Openly Secular Day.
Richard Ford Burley is a doctoral candidate in English at Boston College, where he’s writing about remix culture and the processes that generate texts in the Middle Ages and on the internet. In his spare time he writes about science and skepticism here at This Week In Tomorrow.