Dec 072006
Authors: Shannon Black, The Pitt News

(UWIRE) PITTSBURGH – The Rocket Man hates religion.

In a recent interview with Observer Music Monthly magazine, Elton John alleged that religion serves only to turn its followers into “hateful lemmings” and to perpetuate homophobia.

By taking a look around and seeing excellent examples such as Fred Phelps and suicide bombers, it is easy to see why Elton John would draw this conclusion about religion. And as an atheist, I should be delighted that someone finally had the guts to speak my deepest desire.

But despite the bad reputation of atheists, I honestly don’t want to completely annihilate all religions. Banning people from worshipping and believing whatever they want is just as tyrannical as forcing religion onto people. It’s not possible to liberate one set of people by simply turning around and dominating the other group. It is a bit hypocritical to be upset about religion creating hatred and then suggesting forbidding people from worshipping their god.

While it is easy to agree with Elton John’s stance that organized religion does not always promote the love and peace it promises, banning religion is the not the answer to the problem. Religion does not automatically create hatred as Elton John suggests, but it can when handled incorrectly or when not fully understood. Some religions have a rather violent history, especially when mixed with any sort of government. But so do more secular governments. Instead of banning religion, people should try to erase the stigmas of being of a different faith or no faith at all.

The animosity between different religions doesn’t allow people to try to consider their options, and they instead stick with what they know rather than exploring the many choices they have. Atheists only make up 3 percent of the population but are considered the most-hated minority, according to a study done a few months ago by the University of Minnesota. That doesn’t give anyone who doubts his or her faith incentive to even think about becoming an atheist.

Religion is a way of life that should be given as much thought as possible. It’s hard to do that when a person has been ingrained with one specific religious dogma since birth. While it is understandable that parents want their children to follow what they consider to be the “right religion,” being born into a religion does not always have to mean living with that religion. I was raised in a very religious household and even went to Catholic school. Telling my parents that I wasn’t a Christian was one of the toughest things I have ever done in my life, but I would never try to tell them that they should also stop believing in God.

Parents should try to wait for their children to mature a bit before they begin to inform them of all the religious doctrines they should follow. This would allow children to decide on their own whether or not a religion makes sense to them. Children really can’t be expected to fully understand the intricacies of religious dogma, and this is the part where Elton John’s complaint about “hateful lemmings” appears. While not every parent teaches his child that his god hates certain groups of people, it would be more prudent to wait for a child to mature enough to understand the religion before completely enveloping them in it.

Whenever I tell someone I am an atheist, I am met with mixed reactions. Sometimes people don’t even blink an eye, while others laugh nervously to hide their shock. Many were not raised to believe that no matter the faith of a person, she is above all a human being who deserves respect so most don’t know how to treat me. Should they assume that by being an atheist I’m an evil, godless heathen, or should they continue to treat me the same way they did before the issue of faith was ever raised? Rather than raising children to believe that the religion of their parents is the absolute and correct one, parents should stress that this is the religion they believe but there are many good people out there who just happen to disagree. Maybe then no one would be confused about how to react to a friend announcing his alternative faith or belief system.

I’ve been asked whether I plan on raising my future children as atheists. If I ever do have children, the answer is no. It took me years to garner enough courage to blurt out to my mom that I didn’t want to go to Sunday mass anymore, so the last thing I would want to do is have my children go through the same torment. If my child ever has a question about different religions, I will answer the best I can and inform him of all of his options. I want to raise children who are fully aware that faith has many varieties — even no faith at all — and that every faith should be respected. The last thing I want to do is create a bunch of hateful lemmings who just happen to be atheists.

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