Monopoly on god
Newdow may not be the nonbeliever he believes he
By Sankara Saranam
April 9, 2004
The word atheism has a peculiar edge
to it. But as hard as it is to imagine, there are millions of people
in this world who are
atheists but seek God. I am one of them. And in many ways, my God
is similar to Michael Newdow's. He has argued in front of the U.S.
Supreme Court that the words "under
the American Pledge of Allegiance are unconstitutional and offensive
to people who don't believe there is a God.
It took me a long time to realize
that most self-professed atheists were not so much rejecting
the idea of a uniting spirit to humanity or an underlying intelligence
in the cosmos as the idea of God promoted by organized religions.
The problem isn't with God. The problem is with theism, particularly
monotheism. And Newdow's argument is right, even if he carelessly
lumped monotheism in with God. Monotheism has historically been
the most exclusive and divisive definition of God we human beings
have come up with. And who can blame Newdow for lumping the two
together when monotheism in the Western hemisphere monopolizes
the word God?
Olson unwittingly points out theism's potential for misuse.
He said "that God gave them [America's Founding Father's]
the right to declare their independence when the king has not
been living up to the unalienable principles given to them by
Founding Fathers were fairly benign in their interpretation of
God, what with deep thinkers like Ben Franklin who was a Deist
and Jefferson who was disgusted with centralized religion.
once you go down the road of using God as a justification for
action, you'll one find yourself with all kinds of people who
their God gave them the right to do things like make preemptive
war on other nations, deny women their right to their own bodies,
or throw the environment to the wolves. And those are the tamer
God is always a reflection of our own sense of identity. It
can glorify our ambitions or inspire self-sacrifice. Still,
word is a neutral term that most secular humanists found distasteful
because it's been repeatedly used for personal advantage.
Marx may have been an atheist, but his God was humanity and
he did his best to come up with a way to live that reflected
spirit of universal love that might counteract the centuries
of hate in
the name of God.
Supre Court Justice David Souter pointed out that the phrase "under
God" has lost all religious meaning. Even monotheists are quickly
that while the God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims is the
same God on the surface, theologically and practically monotheism
has spawned three very different and conflicting gods. The
power of our gods has been lost because the word God has been
Today's definitions and usages of God still reflect times
when theologians and priests were not interested in uniting
all of humanity. Instead of nurturing the expansive faculty
heart, Joseph Campbell reminds us that religious leaders narrowed
the sense of identity in their followers to a little sect while
"deliberately directing outward every impulse to violence."
Newdow's arguments were on the mark by pointing out religious
divisiveness, and the Justices probably knew it. In fact, if
I were a monotheist, I would hope the Justices take those two
out of the Pledge lest the Supreme Court one day finds itself
with a majority who believe that laws are the way to regulate
But striking out those two words will not solve the
disease of divisiveness. It just addresses a fifty year-old symptom.
There is a principle at stake. The definitions of our gods,
our nations, and ourselves will reflect the same attributes,
they are divisive or expansive.
It will be a good day when
people can distinguish between God and theism, and not
recoil at the
words atheism or God, seeing them as perfectly compatible.
still have work to do in undermining the monopoly on God
presumed by organized religion.
Sankara Saranam is the founder of The
Pranayama Institute, an educational
public charity that reaches over 70 countries, a commentator
on religious affairs, and the author of God Without Religion,
available in August 2004.
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