(Originally published on my NAIWE blog on March 25th, 2009.)
If you’ve perused my Profile page on this website, you know that I am about (I hope!) to finish my Master’s degree in Religious Studies. Religion fascinates me because it influences so much of our behavior, even if we are nonbelievers. I was planning to write my first post on religion about the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), but I was just watching the 10pm news, and saw a story about something that I simply cannot resist commenting on. Here it is, 10:30 at night, and instead of getting ready for bed, I’m doing research and pounding furiously on the keyboard. Yes, furiously!
Here in Kansas, you can’t put your big toe out the front door without stepping smack in the middle of a religion controversy. Ah, Kansas. Home of Operation Rescue and the creation versus evolution controversy engendered in our state Board of Education elections. After every election, the balance shifts and the science standards are re-written. At the moment, we are pro-evolution—which makes this particular “controversy” somewhat surprising.
Tonight one of our friendly local news anchors informed me that a new billboard has just gone up here in town celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Wow, I thought. That’s weird but cool. Darwin certainly deserves to be celebrated. But as I scanned the billboard being flashed on the screen, I sighed. This is not a celebration of Darwin. It’s a manipulation of Darwin used as an excuse to b***h-slap people of faith.
“Praise Darwin,” it says. “Evolve Beyond Belief.” The sponsor listed at the bottom is the Freedom From Religion Foundation. (You can see an identical billboard in Colorado at http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-02-10-darwin-secular_N.htm.)
Here in Kansas we spend so much time fighting this creation/evolution battle that I pretty much have my response down pat. So here goes. Again.
For many of us, faith is not an either/or proposition. Of course some folks will tell you that if you don’t believe that the earth is 6000 years old and if you don’t accept Jesus as the Christ, then you are going straight to the hot place. But—and please pay attention FFRF—we don’t ALL believe that! In fact, judging by the latest ARIS survey, which I really will get around to writing about one of these days, fewer and fewer of us believe that.
When you attack all believers without discrimination, you attack many people who would otherwise support you. Let me share what is apparently a well-kept secret: It is possible to be a person of faith and to believe in the scientific evidence that surrounds evolution. Yes, that’s right. I am a religious person AND I believe in dinosaurs! (And the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but that’s a story for another day.)
It is possible to be a person of faith without insisting that everyone around you believe exactly the same way. It is possible to be a person of faith without insisting on literal biblical interpretation, prayer in schools, nativity scenes on public property, or posting the Ten Commandments on anything or anyone that will hold still long enough. I am a person of faith, and I am opposed to all of those things. Furthermore, it is possible to be a person of faith and to simultaneously support legitimate science standards, common-sense sex education in schools, and the right of every individual to practice his or her faith or non-faith as she or he sees fit. I am a person of faith, and I believe in all of those things.
In fact, my beliefs might conceivably lead me to offer support to an organization like the FFRF. I poked around on their website a bit (www.ffrf.org), and, once I got past the offensive proposition that only atheists are ethical and intelligent people, I found that their aims and most of their methods appear to be good ones. (I particularly appreciate their legal page, which gives accurate interpretations of current law and advice about what to do if you believe you are experiencing religious discrimination.)
But, given that they arbitrarily dismissed and insulted me because I have “Belief,” I guess I’ll just have to keep sending my money to the ACLU instead. Maybe the FFRF can Evolve Beyond the Need for My Donation.
UPDATE: I sent a shorter version of this post to The Wichita Eagle as a Letter to the Editor, and it was published on Sunday, March 28, 2009. See the online version at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/letters/story/751832.html.