Freedom of conscience
Separating public life from religious beliefs
Atheists and Other Freethinkers is a Sacramento organization made up of a local people with a variety of world views—atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, humanists and secularists, to name some. What they have in common is a naturalistic approach to understanding life and the world. The public issue that most concerns the group is the separation of public life—especially the government—from any set of religious beliefs.
Mynga Futrell, vice-present of AOF, answered our question, but emphasized that she was not speaking for the organization.
What do members of your organization talk about when they speak of the war from an ethical or spiritual perspective?
It’s hard for a person who has a naturalistic world view to speak on what God thinks. There are some atheists who think that God does not exist. The more common form is people who just go without a god belief. That’s what atheism means, from the root words—without god.
Most of our members, I think, would agree that it’s pretty unfortunate when God is included in political and foreign-policy decisions, and in domestic decision-making, also—how we care for the poor, how we plan for public education, how we care for the environment. We’d like the government to be very neutral in these areas, to care nothing for the conscience of the citizen. Freedom of conscience is a very precious idea to us. We believe, as the founders did, that people have a right to private and free conscience. That means a right to live without pressure to believe any specific thing. Government should operate on what’s best for the common good, taking into account everyone’s right to believe as they choose. We’re not anti-theistic—we’re not all Christopher Hitchens—we’re just people who want to be accepted equally with others. We certainly want others to have the right to believe as they choose.
On a personal note, I feel that where this war is concerned, we were sold a bill of goods. We are not aware of all the cultural complexity in the Middle East. We’re also not aware of our government’s own actions and we’re becoming less and less informed as journalism takes more interest in celebrity and less in the nuts and bolts of a complex world. There are people whose beliefs are mismatched to the complexity of the situation, and unfortunately we don’t know much about what is really going on with foreign policy.