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By Malcom Lagauche (aka Jeff Archer)
November 28, 2003

From checking the statistics in the program I use to design and edit my website, I have discovered that I have readers in over 50 countries. Therefore, some non-U.S. readers may be somewhat confused about the subject of today's article - religion. Readers in Australia, Canada and Europe, for instance, live in countries in which the people who practice religion do so in a private way and do not usually mix politics with religion. Unfortunately, people in my country are much more vocal about religion and its inclusion in our culture and government. Since the events of September 11, 2001, many U.S. citizens have mistakenly perceived one's degree of religiosity to be a measure of that person's level of patriotism.

A few days ago, I received an e-mail message from Betty, a person whom I had never corresponded with before. I don't know if she obtained my e-mail address from this website or from atheist-oriented websites that occasionally mention me because of articles I have written.

The message was quite simple: "How do I answer this?" Included were two attached files of letters sent in mass via e-mail lists. I will reproduce the first one in its entirety:

"It is said that 86% of Americans believe in God. Therefore, I have a very hard time understanding why there is such a mess about having `In God We Trust' on our money and having God in the Pledge of Allegiance. Why don't we just tell the 14% to Sit Down and SHUT UP!!!"

My first reaction was, "Typical of a semi-literate zealot to end a question with three exclamation points." I have seen so many of these chain e-mails that it did not really offend me at the time. I put it down to ignorance.

The following evening, the group of which I am president, The Atheist Coalition of San Diego, held our monthly meeting. Our speaker, Keith Taylor, a comedian/author brought up the same e-mail message. He then said, "I'm pissed off. How dare anyone tell me to sit down and shut up?" Then it hit me. Keith was right.

First of all, there are about 30 million atheists in the United States. We realize we are in the minority. However, we represent more people than the Presbyterian Church, the Mormons, the Methodist Church, and most other Christian denominations. There are many more atheists than Jews or Muslims. In other words, we may be a minority in some cases, but not in others. I can not conceive in my wildest moments an atheist ever telling a Mormon to "sit down and shut up." Nor a Jew, or a Muslim. In the context it was written, such a statement is the most ignorant and lowest form of communication one could make.

At the end of the statement were the words, "If you agree, pass this on, if not delete ." When I first received a similar e-mail, I responded to the address listed. Quickly, I received a message telling me that my message could not go through because of an incorrect address. I tried other addresses on the links, but received the same "cannot deliver" reply. Not only does one offend you, but the person(s) do not have the decency to listen to opposing views. This is called the tyranny of the majority, a concept with which many religious Americans are in denial of.

The second message was worse. It was lengthy, so I will only repeat a portion. The writer endorses school-led prayer at sporting events. Here are a few philosophical gems from the writer about this subject: "This is the United States of America, a country founded on Christian principles . Christian churches outnumber all others better than 200-1. So would you expect-somebody chanting Hare Krishna? . If I went to a soccer game in Baghdad, I would expect to hear a Muslim prayer. If I went to a ping pong match in China, I would expect to hear someone pray to Buddha . But what about the atheists . What about them? We're not asking them to be baptized. Just humor us for 30 seconds If that's asking too much, bring a Walkman or a pair of ear plugs. Go to the bathroom. Visit the concession stand. Call your lawyer."

There was much more rambling, but I will only include one more; one that is very curious indeed: "God bless our service men who are fighting to protect our right to pray and worship God." This statement infers that if the U.S. did not invade Iraq, prayer was in danger. And, I could assume from this that there are no female soldiers in Iraq. The writer should read the papers about the Jessica Lynch saga that the U.S. government twisted to serve the administration's agenda.

The writer talked about religious messages before sporting events, but he/she is so ethnocentric that he/she does not realize that the United States is probably the only country in the world that prays before sporting events or plays a national anthem. The vast majority of countries begin sporting events with either the dropping of a ball or puck in the middle of the playing area, or an official shouting, "play!" In Iraq or China, there is no prayer before a match.

I bring these messages up because they are in vogue today. The unfortunate aspect is that if a believer who is moderate and private in his/her belief reads enough of them, I can see where they would consider atheists to be the scum of the Earth. In this case, ignorance is power for the message senders.

I am an law-abiding American citizen who has always contributed in a creative way to the American culture. Before 9/11, a few people would cringe when they asked me about my religion and I stated that I was an atheist. Today, however, the playing field has changed immensely.

Just after the California Ninth Circuit Court ruled the words "under God" unconstitutional in the Pledge of Allegiance, the local FOX News station invited me to be a guest and debate the issue. In the waiting room, my opponent, a then-Republican candidate for Congress, told me I had no morals. I had never met the man and asked him how he could base his conclusion. He told me that if I did not follow Christ, it was impossible to have morals. The station's weatherman came in and shouted to me, "You took God out of my child's school. I'll fix you." He then left. This was before I even reached the studio.

When I entered the studio, the presenter turned his face away from me not acknowledging my existence. The debate was quite animated, but I held my own. Unbeknownst to me, when I left the studio, the weatherman was about to present the weather and then he had a huge American flag imposed over the map and the whole staff stood and said the Pledge of Allegiance and shouted the words "under God." That is how he fixed me.

Last year, Oceanside, a city about 30 miles north of San Diego, voted to spend $6,500 on a plaque to be placed outside the City Council chambers stating "In God We Trust." This was to be funded by taxpayer money. A few Atheist Coalition members attended a meeting and objected. The Oceanside assistant mayor, Jack Feller, stated, "I've never met an atheist. I don't know if I would know what one looks like." This bigoted remark offended many. I wrote a letter to the city, yet never received a reply. If one used the word "Jew" or Christian" in his statement instead of atheist, calls for resignation would come down immediately.

After this incident, I was invited to debate a pastor on a radio talk show with over 100,000 listeners. The pastor stated that 95% of the people of Oceanside believe in God, therefore the plaque was a good idea. The host of the show, however, was no apologist for religion. Neither was he a pushover for non-believers. He asked the pastor, "Do you have such a plaque in your house?" The pastor replied, "No. We (Christians) don't need such a plaque because we believe." The host then said, "You just made Mr. Lagauche's point for him."

Atheists under no means want religionists to change their ways. I have yet to meet an atheist who has tried to convert a person of belief. I only wish that were true with religionists. I am accosted by believers in supermarkets, at my house, at government meetings, at press conferences, and many other venues. One Christian once told me, "I don't care how many times you tell me that you are not interested. God has told me that it's my duty to save you."

The writers of the previously mentioned e-mails and the assistant mayor, Jack Feller, evidently have little knowledge of the world outside their own surroundings. The writers and Feller use computers. Bill Gates of MSN and Steve Wozniak of Apple are both non-believers. So, those who denigrate atheists are actually paying homage to one every time they turn on their computers.

Recently, the great actress Katherine Hepburn died. She was an atheist. So are George Carlin and Jack Nicholson. Christopher Reeve and Margo Kidder of the Superman movie series of the 1980s are atheists. Imagine, Superman and Lois Lane are atheists. Charlie Chaplin was an atheist. As was Mark Twain. Ninety-three percent of the membership of the National Academy of Sciences are atheists; the brightest and the best we have to offer who have been in the forefront of scientific progress. The vast majority of breakthroughs in medicine and science, breakthroughs that affect everybody in a positive way, are perpetrated by atheists.

The list goes on and on. Over the years, atheists have made Americans laugh and cry. They have made life better because of technological and medical advances. They have served in the armed forces and they have led astute social movements.

I will not sit down and shut up. Nobody can tell me to do that. On the other hand, I will never tell anyone else to sit down and shut up. As a human being, I have absolutely no right to tell anyone to do that. Neither does anyone have the right to tell me.

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