As someone who is hoping for a brighter and fairer future for my country, I found hope and reassurance in watching the inauguration of our new President and Vice President, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. But as someone who is not religious, and who knows all too well the harms of Christian Nationalism, I also found division and exclusionary language.
The Biden inauguration
For atheists looking forward to presidential inaugurations, we know we can almost assuredly expect to see the President being sworn in on one or more Christian bibles. I can’t confirm that doing so is unconstitutional, although it certainly puts the bible (literally) in a political place where it doesn’t belong. It’s worth noting that taking the oath on a bible is not required; two presidents in history have not used a bible. So why do we keep seeing it being done by Republicans and Democrats alike?
If you’re like me, then you voted for Joe Biden in large part as a way of fighting back against the Christian Nationalism that has more or less taken over the Republican party. And if you’re like me, then you probably took some issue with just how religious the inauguration was, far beyond the use of the bible for the oath. There were prayers, hymns, bible verses, and other religious language and references galore.
The most puzzling part of it all was how the “theme” of the whole event was unity. When you live in a country full of cultish Evangelical Christian communities and a growing population of apostates, what’s unifying about faith? Faith might unite Christians, but it ostracizes non-Christians, especially when it is being used in a context that is supposed to make everyone feel equally seen, equally valid, and equally American.
I could have written a whole post on why the religious parts of the inauguration got under my skin, but after reading Andrew Seidel’s article on it, I feel that he articulated all of my thoughts and then some, better than I could have.
The disadvantages of atheist anger
After reading the article, I did what I usually do these days, and I shared it on Facebook and Instagram. Since last July, I haven’t really held back in sharing my true and sometimes divisive beliefs on my personal social media accounts. But I couldn’t help but think of how my small, Christian-majority following viewed this post. I imagined that they thought, “What a surprise, that an atheist can’t just be happy about this. Atheists always have to get so upset any time there’s so much as a prayer at a government event. Just get over it.”
In reality, the problem is that allowing religious displays like this (and this) opens the door to and normalizes more egregious instances of Christian Nationalism. Democrats tend to be the ones fighting against religion-based laws like those limiting bodily autonomy and gender equality, so Christian Nationalism should be the enemy of all people who want a free and fair society, not just atheists. This is where I want to call on atheists to sow unity and not division.
Christians versus Christian Nationalism
In my eyes, there are two sides in the great American battle that is raging right now: Christian nationalists and everyone else. Specifically, and definitionally, Christian nationalists include only Christians. They can be any type of Christian, but they tend to be mostly Evangelicals. Now, here’s the important part: Christians can be just as against Christian Nationalism as everyone else, even atheists. Just ask Christians Against Christian Nationalism.
In my experience, it seems as though atheists are fighting the hardest against Christian Nationalism, and the general perception is that they’re the only ones who are bothered by it. I’m positing here that this isn’t because non-nationalist Christians don’t care, but that atheists have such a hard time uniting with them. Only when I was knee-deep in the Internet’s atheist communities did I discover that sometimes, atheists can be as exclusive as religious people are famed for being. Here’s an example that recently appalled me.
How not to fight Christian Nationalism
The other day, I was watching this video by Jesus Unfollower. His was a reaction to a video by another YouTuber whom I happen to also watch named Natalia Taylor. Her video was her story of converting from being an atheist to being a Christian. It was a kind of stereotypical story where she was in a dark place in life before converting, but she made it clear in the video that she wasn’t in that dark place because she was an atheist, and she has great friends who are atheists who are happy.
It’s also worth noting that she wasn’t making the video to justify why she was Christian, but just to tell the story of how she became one. Overall, I thought that she was very graceful in explaining that we shouldn’t judge someone based solely on whether they are a Christian or an atheist. (Kevin, who was making the response video, agreed.)
Then I went to the comments. Keep in mind that people who subscribe to Jesus Unfollower tend to be pretty firm atheists. Here’s what some of them had to say about Natalia’s story:
“She’s still delusional.”
“Talking snakes, magic trees, talking donkeys.”
“So this is the typical Christianity helped me get my life together story. That’s great for her but just because religion helped her get sober doesn’t mean the religious claims are actually true. There still isn’t any proof of any God or Gods.”
Reading these comments reminded me of a greater trend among many atheists: sowing division against someone for no reason other than that they publicly identified themselves as a Christian. I can’t understand why these comments are so focused on her reasons for believing rather than listening to her story. The video wasn’t about her making arguments for God. She wasn’t proselytizing, she was simply telling us who she was.
Many atheists have “come out” as such to friends or family. We, more than most, are familiar with trying to simply tell someone that we don’t believe, only to be asked why. We know—or we should know—that when coming out, you don’t have to explain your reasons. You’re allowed to say, “I’m telling you that I don’t believe, and I’m not justifying it at this time.” Why aren’t we giving her the same respect?
We’re stronger together
The reason that I bring this up is that it isn’t helping us, as atheists, to create such a barrier between all atheists and all Christians. I promise you that Christians aren’t our enemies, especially when they are going out of their way not to be divisive. If all we atheists do is divide people in an imaginary line between Us and Them (when in truth it is very blurred), we are being just as exclusive as Christian nationalists. Meanwhile, those same Christian nationalists are hard at work eroding the democracy, freedom, and equality that we all value. If we—atheists, non-Nationalist Christians, and non-Christian religious Americans—are so distracted by infighting, then before we know it, the extremist theocrats will have stripped us all of our freedom.
If we atheists want to have a fighting chance against Christian Nationalism, we have to work together with those Christians who hold the same democratic and progressive values that we do. We should not be making enemies of whose who are willing to fight with us.
14 thoughts on “Why Atheists Can’t Defeat Christian Nationalism”
Great post. I enjoy reading your article, even as I always lumped Atheists and Christians together. They enjoy the same tax exemption and are nothing but religious farms. My last book “Dysfunctional humans” explains why I have no intention of playing nice with a bunch of terrorists, even if, like you wrote, they are willing to fight with us. Birds of a feather flock together and I am not about to flock with these dodo birds.
Hearing Biden spout religious language made me glad (for once) to be British. Our Prime Minister may be a dork, but at least he generally keeps his language secular, and therefore inclusive. I wonder how much it’s down to Christian nationalism, and how much to pure ignorance – I suspect people like Biden don’t even realise that by saying ‘god bless you all’ they’re essentially insulting anyone who doesn’t follow their religion ( about half the population) by insinuating that their world view is mistaken.
With regard to Natalia Taylor, I think the point is not that she believes in a religion, it’s that she’s advertising the fact on a public-facing platform, effectively promoting her views, and thereby inviting criticism. This blog is doing the same for atheism – would you disdain any religious folk who were critical of the views it promotes. Having said that, the responses were rather pointless – more about re-stating the respondents’ own beliefs than instigating a worthwhile debate. They were ridiculing the blogger’s beliefs, which may seem rude, but I would say religion needs to be ridiculed.
Great post. I agree with you. However, it does sound a bit like you are complaining about people who complain.
I try never to say, “As an atheist” and this is why. It puts me in line with others who I only share a conclusion about any god. I argue (discuss) more with people of like mind with me, politically and spiritually. You are right, we cannot have both inclusiveness and exclusiveness at the same time.
President Biden is a devout Roman Catholic and it was HIS inauguration. Not mine. At least he did not say that we were probably not citizens of the country, as HW Bush did.
As penance for accepting things as they are, I will send a donation to FFRF.
As I was watching the inauguration, I noticed all the songs and references to Christianity or the Bible as well and wondered what non-Christians thought about it. I didn’t exactly mind it, but I did think it was odd given that ours is a country with religious freedom.
And yes, unity requires that we stop making enemies of those whose viewpoints, thoughts, and actions are different than our own. Thanks for your thoughts!
Between me and all the other nonbelievers I’ve seen, I think we were all bothered. At the same time I was thinking “This is the price we pay for not having a fascist anymore.” The options were pretty sad but hopefully we are in a place that we can at least work with.
Good article Rebekah. As a christian ( and I use the term loosely) I believe what you said is true, that we explain who we are but do not worry about trying to justify why. We can accept one another no matter what our beliefs are and no matter what ‘label’ is placed upon us. I am very much against christian nationalism. Even though I am not a Biden person, I voted for him because the so called ‘christian’ candidate was so terrible I could not be a part of getting him back into office. I am all for unity and in fact, I see more unity at times among believers and non-believers than I do among fellow christians. I also believe the far right evangelical christians are to be feared if they continue to gain power and acceptance. In my opinion, it will certainly be a good thing for those of us who are of the christian faith and those who are atheist work together to keep the christian nationalist out of the political arena.
Exactly. And Biden was not my first choice either, I just knew I had to vote for whoever had the best chance of defeating DT. But almost paradoxically, it feels nice that since Biden happens not to be a thought-policing dictator (it sounds harsh but I really don’t know what else to call it) it feels good to be holding accountable and criticizing the person I voted for.
I am an atheist. I voted for a Catholic. Elizabeth Warren is a Christian, also, but she was my first choice. I point that out because, that too, is a problem. If a candidate does not have religious credentials, they probably won’t make the cut. Protestant Fundamental Evangelicals preferred.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ” …
It is very clear that our constitution has been corrupted. The ‘wall of separation’ has several chinks knocked out and that began before our present nationalists began their initiative.
Perhaps Atheists cannot defeat Christian Nationalists, but it should not necessarily fall on us. The Christian community at large should not want their religion corrupted by those who will destroy it.
A very good post, Rebekah. Thanx.
I’m glad you specified ‘Christian Nationalists.’ For the same reason, we have to distinguish between Republican right-wing nationalists and Republicans.
If memory serves me right, you suggested your followers read a book by Katherine Stewart,” The Power Worshippers,” which I did, along with her first book, ‘The Good News Club.’ Both books deal with the Christian Nationalists and the way they have patiently wormed their way into our government and our schools. She was the first writer I have seen mention the “Dominionist” agenda in Christiandom.
The greater part of Christianity probably has little understanding of what it would mean if the ‘nationalists’ were able to establish the ‘Law of God’ instead of our constitution. They are not the right kind of Christians. The biblical idea of the Christian faith has nothing to do with the nationalists nor the dominionists. (Which are mostly one entity.)
I am an atheist. If by defeat you mean to halt and reverse their successes in using the government to further their agenda, then yes, I want to witness their defeat. If they were not trying to establish Christianity as the state religion, I wouldn’t have a problem with them. Some of my best friends are Christians. 😀
All that we witnessed on January 6th was a Christian Nationalist operation. On one of the tapes, as they poured into the House chamber, one of them can be heard saying, “let’s form a government.” There is little doubt of their intention. Their insidious assault on the wall of separation is the source of frustration for the rest of Christianity and all non-theists. Their idea of religious freedom does not include any other religions and few Christians.
The Christian influence on the inauguration is another indication of how easily acceptable it is. Of course, if we elected a Muslim, there would absolutely be no invocations of Allah and no hands on the Quran. Religious freedom applies only to select Christians and nobody has a right to be ‘none.’
This is so handy. I just got it from FFRF a day or so ago.
Even Gods must yield –
Religions take their turn:
‘Twas Jove’s – ’tis Mahomet’s –
and other Creeds
Will rise with other years, till
Man shall learn
Vainly his incense soars, his
Poor child of Doubt and Death,
whose hope is built on reeds.
—Lord Byron, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto Two” (1811)
Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor
This too shall pass. This latest iteration of man’s insult to intelligence. Christianity and Islam came into vogue pretty close together. But mankind being so feeble must have something to answer for its good and evil imaginings. So “other Creeds
Will rise with other years” until finally the vanity of religions will be realized. Leucippus has been supposed to be the first to develop the theory of atomism in opposition to the religious theory that some god from who knows where created the universe from who knows what source.
If we do defeat Christian Nationalism Dominionist grifters our future brothers and sisters may find the need to leave fig cakes at the foot of a comely tree and begin again to fashion a new god to suit the society that then exists. So, we are on asymptotic paths, but close enough to deliver the occasional jab to the ribs of an unworthy opponent.
Absolutely. I don’t know if non-nationalist Christians realize just how severe Christian nationalism is or that it CAN impede on their rights as well. At least in this instance I think they are on our side.
Very interesting article. I’m reading Siedel’s book right now. The founding fathers were NOT Christians. Deists is the best you could call them.
That said I’ve been an atheist most of my life. I see no reason to ever try to even believe in a deity.
This is an important point. When non-believers frame the opposition to religious establishment as a fight against religion, we effectively give up on a range of important allies, but believers too have good cause to oppose Christian nationalists of all stripes. We do ourselves no favors by pushing them to the side of a battle that concerns us all.
Yes! You summed up my idea better than I did, haha
It’s an issue I think about a lot. I used to moderate at the old Internet Infidels discussion form, and I was continually frustrated by the way some of the activists there would deliberately alienate liberal Christians, many of who were also against entanglement between church and state. I still remember watching a discussion in which several atheists blasted a liberal Christian for being unwilling to criticize conservative Christians on matters of Church and state. I knew the woman from Christianforums where she had been tirelessly arguing with conservative Christians for years. …Could not convince my fellow atheists that she wasn’t essentially on the conservative side. Drove me nuts!