Friday, September 16, 2016

Atheists Aren't That Weird

Towards the end of the Republican primary race, Ohio Governor John Kasich basically looked like the last normal person standing. Largely, this was because of the contrast between him and the other two remaining candidates - Donald Trump, who needs no explanation, and Ted Cruz, a flat-out Christian Reconstructionist theocrat. Kasich, though, is apparently not nearly as reasonable as that comparison made him seem.

Last week, while stumping for Chris Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican, Kasich couldn't help running his mouth when he noticed the Harry Potter series on the shelf at a bookstore. For some reason that was never explained, he wondered aloud about Daniel Radcliffe's religion, or more to the point the actor's lack thereof. Radcliffe identies as an atheist, which Kasich seemed to have difficulty comprehending.

John Kasich’s reputation as the “normal” Republican comes, in large part, from a lack of serious media scrutiny. But over the weekend, one intrepid reporter, Allie Morris of the Concord Monitor, captured a telling Kasich moment as the Ohio governor stumped for Chris Sununu, a Republican running for governor of New Hampshire.

“Inside a bookstore he didn’t much discuss Sununu’s candidacy,” Morris wrote. “Instead he looked at the latest Harry Potter book and pondered why British actor Daniel Radcliffe is an atheist.”

Morris continued:

“You know that Daniel Radcliffe has declared himself an atheist?” Kasich said to no one in particular. “I’m serious. What a weird thing. Why would a guy who has had all that success just, I mean, what the hell is wrong with him?”

It is true that Radcliffe gave an interview in 2009, at age 19, when he said, “I’m an atheist, but I’m very relaxed about it. I don’t preach my atheism, but I have a huge amount of respect for people like Richard Dawkins who do.” Further research revealed that Radcliffe was not kidding about the “relaxed” part, as he has hardly ever spoken publicly about his unbelief in a deity.

And the thing is, this is exactly the sort of contempt that both unbelievers and members of minority religions get all the time from certain sorts of Christians. If Radcliffe were a hardcore atheist activist that would be one thing, as you could argue that by wading into that space he was inviting debate. But that's not the case at all. The only reason Radcliffe previously mentioned it at all was that he was doing an interview and the reporter asked. I mean, was he supposed to lie?

It sounds ridiculous when you say it like that, but I think that's really what the Poor Oppressed Christians want. They are literally so insecure in their beliefs that even the mention of the possibility of unbelief, or different belief, frightens them. I realize that's not a very charitable assessment, but what better explains their behavior? It also explains why they are so desperate to enshrine Christianity into law, so the state can punish anyone who doesn't share their beliefs.

Spirituality, or lack thereof, is an entirely personal choice. People around the world have spiritual experiences while following every manner of religious system, but at the same time we also know some people just don't. Why should they be forced to identify with any religion at all, when religion does nothing for them? There's nothing wrong with someone who decides to live their life that way, and there's nothing weird about it either.

In fact, just by the numbers, unbelievers aren't all that weird. Those who follow no religion are a growing percentage of the American population, and are a much larger group than all the pagans and esotericists put together. That sounds pretty normal to me.

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