Kilroy Was Here
December 30, 2003
A Little Tolerance Goes A Long Way
In Reason, Cathy Young preaches moderation in the enforcement of separation of church and state.
In a society where the overwhelming majority of people follow one religion (albeit with many different denominations), there will, inevitably, be tensions between protecting the rights of the minority and respecting the rights of the majority. It is almost certainly concern for minority rights, not any animus toward Christianity per se, that accounts for the fact that in many instances, Christmas decorations are treated as suspect while Hanukkah or Kwanzaa ones are not. Yet to deny religious expression to the majority is not only unfair but counterproductive: Instead of promoting greater respect for religious minorities, such measures may generate a backlash.
I find this backlash evident in my own family. One vacation home, I was surprised to find out my father, who majored in zoology for a time, denied the validity of evolution. Incredulously, I asked my father and his new wife why. In the discussion, the backlash reared it's head. "Why do those evolutionists keep trying to prove that God doesn't exist?" my stepmother asked.
I was a little baffled at this. I don't think biologists have a stake on the whole existence of God game. Why would a 50 year old Indiana housewife feel that evolutionists were attacking Christianity.
Then it came to me. The Darwin fish. You've seen it. It's a satire of the Christian fish symbol with little legs and the word Darwin in it. When I first saw it, I thought it was clever and cute. A little harmless fun at the creationists expense.
But I think this little icon has done more to hurt the cause of teaching evolution than any other act. This icon sets up the false dichotomy: evolution vs. Christianity. We're right. You're wrong.
Perhaps a little more tolerance. A little thicker skin is called for. I'm all for separation of church and state. The state should not endorse any particular religion. But, speaking as an atheist, I'm beginning to wonder if all this thin skin at (let's face it) the practice of the majority of this country is doing us more harm than good. After all, tolerance is a two way street. If we atheists (and Jews and Muslims and Wiccans and other-non Christians) allow the majority of people to practice their religion in what are ultimately harmless ways (such as nativity scenes in public parks, Jesus fish, 'under God' in the pledge of allegience), maybe they'll be much less animosity when we need our own space to practice our own belief (or lack thereof).
Maybe we can have a President who doesn't have to talk about Jesus as his personal savior in order to be seen fit to lead this country.
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