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Sunday, 1 June 2008

Among the Believers

picture - Carmen Winant

Bringing together Waco, the Great Disappointment, sacrificial Red Heifer's, the Third Temple on the Mount and a spurious sprinkling of Susan Sontag, Ian McEwan writes about End Times and the Apocalypse in last weekend's Guardian.

He quotes (and questions ) various opinion polls. "Ninety per cent of Americans say they have never doubted the existence of God and are certain they will be called to answer for their sins. Fifty-three per cent are creationists who believe that the cosmos is 6,000 years old, 44 per cent are sure that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead within the next 50 years. Only 12 per cent believe that life on earth has evolved through natural selection without the intervention of supernatural agency."

McEwan concludes that "We have no reason to believe that there are dates inscribed in heaven or hell. We may yet destroy ourselves; we might scrape through... The believers should know in their hearts by now that, even if they are right and there actually is a benign and watchful personal God, he is, as all the daily tragedies, all the dead children attest, a reluctant intervener. The rest of us, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, know that it is highly improbable that there is anyone up there at all. Either way, in this case it hardly matters who is wrong - there will be no one to save us but ourselves."

Which brings us to Carmen Winant. She has fine work up on her website here, and an interesting blog, especially this post on her beliefs. Carmen isn't one of the ninety per cent mentioned above, but one of the 4% of non-believing Americans. Here she talks about the isolation she felt at college regarding her lack of religion.

"...what isolated me most profoundly from my teammates was not my religion. The chasm I felt most sharply was my godlessness.

My teammates -- who were among my dearest friends, with whom I survived grueling workouts, logged up to 80 miles a week, and traveled to races in cities like Terre Haute and Boise almost every weekend – more or less despised what they termed “a person without faith.” I suddenly felt more was more non-Christian, and more Godless, then I had ever been.

And this was how I went in the closet.


I could confront my teammates – including the men’s team -- on their attitudes about homosexuality. I argued with them about abortion rights. I went to the mat defending Title IX protections of equal access for women’s sports. But asking them to comprehend, let alone, respect my atheism seemed too daunting.

Godlessness is the great taboo. According to a 2006 study of attitudes toward marginalized groups conducted by the University of Minnesota, atheists win the popularity booby prize in America. Asked which group “least shares their vision of society,” a shocking 40% of Americans picked atheists. We beat out Muslims (26.3%) and homosexuals (20%) by a landslide. We are also deemed the worst marriage prospects: Almost half (47.6%) of respondents also checked “atheists” in response to the statement: “I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group.” ( Muslims again followed suit, and as for gays, well that's barely legal in the first place.) A March 2007 Newsweek survey found that 62% of people would refuse to vote for any candidate admitting to being an atheist (and this is after seven years of seeing what havoc a born-again Christian president -- who claims his policies come to him from God -- has wreaked on the earth).


Last year, the Pew Forum on Public and Religious Life conducted another survey. They report that there has actually been a modest increase in those who state they are atheists, from 3.2% to 4.0%. This gives me hope that one day I will feel safer with my old teammates, and that this country will grow past our discrimination. That public universities will come to uphold the separation of church and state. That the burden of proof will not always fall upon those who do not believe in the supernatural.

I know it will take a long, long time. But I’ve got faith."


mark page said...

Have you heard the one about The dyslexsic, agnostic,amsomniac, he stayed awake all night wondering if there was a DOG...........

colin pantall said...

Hi Mark - If you're doing that, then surely I can do the What's Green and sings? Elvis Parsley one!

Elizabeth Fleming said...

Just read an article by James Wood in the New Yorker where he reviews the book "God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer." The article offers a truly intelligent argument for us atheists out there. I've always felt that it was more moral to live a good life merely for the sake of it rather than out of fear that one will be punished in the afterlife. Having had some thoughtful discussions with people who are very religious, in all honesty they've never been able to give me a good answer as to why it's so important to them that I believe as they do, and yet they still pray for my soul. But I'm at a point where if they'd like to pray for me then I'll take it as a sign of their caring, and leave it at that. Where I get all hot under the collar is when evolution and scientific illiteracy come into play. But that's another topic entirely...Thanks for the post. And here's a link to the article:


colin pantall said...

Thanks for the comment and the link, Elizabeth. There are many shades to everything. The UK is basically non-religious so I think we can treat these things more lightly here (Richard Dawkins notwithstanding - don't like him either) but the scientific illiteracy and the onus on suffering, guilt and self-fulfilling prophecy do it for me too. Nice work by the way - keep on!

Elizabeth Fleming said...

Thanks for the comment on my work. It's funny in some ways that I decided to post on a non-photo related matter when I'm actually a big admirer of your images, particularly the sofa portraits. I find little photography currently being made about life with children that strikes me as unique and inspiring, but yours is, and I find its quiet complexity remarkable.



colin pantall said...

Thanks for that, Elizabeth - quiet complexity is exactly what I am aiming for so I'm delighted it's hitting the spot. I'll be posting some new work up soon which I hope ties in with the sofa portraits, so do let me know what you think.