Friday, August 30, 2013

Atheist Propaganda

Does anyone actually remember the God Warrior?  No?  Am I the only one who watches crappy television?
I wanted this blog to be a positive place where I didn’t talk about books that I dislike (That’s what Facebook is for), but I was recently reminded of something that happened a few years ago: I read this poorly-written, tedious young adult book.  One day, I was in the book section of the grocery store.  They had a big display for this book.  Two women walked past the display, and one of them said something like this:
“That book is nothing but an author forcing his atheist propaganda down the throats of children.  I wrote a letter to the publishing company to let them know that it’s unacceptable to publish atheist books.  I will never buy one of their products again.”

The women walked away.  I rolled my eyes.
In this book, the teenage boy main character meets the hottest girl on Earth (in his opinion).  She’s an atheist.  He’s not.  He’s never met an atheist before because he lived in a small town where everybody believed the same thing.  He’s intrigued.  She spends one poorly-written, tedious chapter explaining what atheists believe.  He tells her that he’s not an atheist and explains his beliefs.  They’re cool with each other’s beliefs.  They continue their poorly-written, tedious romance, and religion isn’t mentioned again (in this book.  I believe there are sequels.  I’m not going to read them.)  The end.
People are entitled to their opinions.  You’re allowed to choose what you and your children read.  You have the right to recommend books to friends.  However, I don’t believe that you have the right to ruin things for everybody else.  You wouldn’t want someone deciding which books you or your children are allowed to read, so please don’t try to make that decision for other people.
It’s probably obvious to a lot of you why I found the woman’s comment irritating, but I need something to blog about, so I’m going to discuss it in list form.

1.        Talking mice and serial killers.

Authors are not their characters; characters are not mouthpieces for their authors.  (Well, unless the author is Ayn Rand, maybe.)  Any author can tell you that characters often do things that the author would never do in real life.  You can probably tell what subjects interest an author based on what they write, but you probably can’t tell much about an author’s religion, lifestyle, economic status, sexuality, education level, gender (especially if they use initials or a pseudonym), etc.
It’s incorrect to assume that the author is an atheist because one of his characters is an atheist.  I read his website, his Wikipedia page, and several author interviews, and his religious beliefs aren’t mentioned anywhere.
If an author wrote a story where all of the characters were talking mice, I hope that you wouldn’t assume that the author was a talking mouse.  If an author wrote a story about a murder, I hope that you wouldn’t assume that the author was a serial killer.  Assuming that the author is an atheist because of the beliefs of a fictional character is silly.  Most of the characters in the book weren’t atheists, but it would be equally wrong to assume that the author shared the religious beliefs of any of those characters. 
It seems as if the woman in the store latched on to the author being an atheist because she needed a reason to be outraged.

2.        Atheists are people, too.

Flip through a copy of Writer’s Market, and you’ll find hundreds of Christian/spiritual/religious publishing companies.  There’s a good reason for this.  The Bible is the #1 bestselling book in the history of books.  The Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed on a printing press.  I’ve heard that religious books are the second-fastest growing category in publishing, behind children’s/young adult.  It makes financial sense that there are a lot of religious publishing companies.   I’ve never seen an atheist publishing company—possibly because it wouldn’t be profitable—but there are atheists who want to read about atheist characters, just like there are Christians who want to read about Christian characters.
About 2.01% of the world’s population is atheist, and 9.66% of the world’s population is non-religious.  Non-religious is one of the fastest growing “religious groups” in America.  Nineteen percent of Americans say that they are skeptical about the existence of God.  If the growth of the non-religious “religion” continues, 1 in 4 Americans will be claim to be non-religious within the next 20 years.  I know that non-religious doesn’t necessarily mean atheist, but a lot of these people can probably relate to an atheist character more than to a religious character.  I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with giving these people a character who shares their beliefs.

3.        Propaganda?

According to my dictionary:
“Propaganda is the organized dissemination of information, allegations, ideas, or rumors to assist or damage the cause of a government, movement, person, group, institution, nation, etc.”

The atheist character in the book explained her beliefs.  She didn’t use them to attack or attempt to convert (de-convert?) the non-atheist character or the reader.  I don’t think that’s propaganda.  It’s a conversation.  There’s nothing wrong with an honest conversation about religion, especially if you want to start a romantic relationship with someone who believes differently than you.  

4.        It’s not a book’s job to raise your children.  

If it’s important that your children share your religious beliefs, then it’s your job to teach them your religious beliefs.  Take them to church.  Raise them in a community of people who share your beliefs.  Practice what you preach and let them see you living according to your beliefs.  Talk to them.  If your children are strong in their beliefs, they will not be corrupted by a poorly-written, tedious, fictional atheist.  Or any other atheist for that matter.

5.        Religious tolerance isn’t a bad thing.

The characters in this book were able to look past their religious differences.  No matter how much you shelter yourself, you still have to share the world with people who believe differently than you.  This book shows characters of different faiths working together to accomplish a goal.  I wish that more people knew how to do that.

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