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By Carl S ~

After all these centuries, there is still an implied respect expected for religious beliefs; no matter how ridiculous they are, they should be treated as sacrosanct, and gods forbid, never criticized. Recently, even the U.S. President went public to announce to the world that his country respects the Islamic faith, even as believers destroyed U.S. property abroad after hearing of a film trailer allegedly offensive about Mohammed. Yes, the President is supposed to represent every citizen, but obviously didn't at the time - we doubt most Americans "respect" Islam, since most of us don't have any idea of what it deeply implies, nor care to know. The Islamic believers probably have more knowledge of Christianity than the other way around.

While the world watched the hair-trigger reactions of those believers to a silly film trailer and silly cartoons, the smartasses who made them are in trouble? Something is wrong with this picture, if they are. What's scary is not that "God is great," but that god isn't, and "his" people are out there, again, doing "his" dirty work for him. Nope, no fiery rain from the skies or earthquakes swallowing up the enemies of god. Funny, isn't it, that words and sketches are more powerful than the all-powerful? All you need to do is start asking child-observation questions about particular beliefs, and the hairs stand up on the backs of believers. Some become militant, others just walk away, insult your character, morals, intelligence; in short, avoid answering. A little more civilized than firing up embassies, killing innocent people, but understandable to believers of faiths standing by, observing.

The English writer, Matthew Arnold, made a remark very heartening for us: "The freethinking of today is the common sense of tomorrow."I once wrote a letter to the editor about solutions. One of them pertained to problems in Islamic lands, namely sectarian violence. Why not, said I, all the sects meet together in a court, present their arguments and evidence for their truth-claims, and come to a meeting of the minds, and decide what they believe together is true? Surely, this would be better than killing each other. The letter was not accepted. Maybe he thought I was being a smart-ass. Maybe, though, it was too close to home. (Any believer could find his sect in that question.)

Religions in secular countries "agree to disagree,” in re beliefs. Sectarian strife has been replaced by a Christian militancy to dominate the ballot box, electing those who will do it's bidding, and for the rest of believers, well, it gets down to: believe what you want (anything), but believe in something. It’s important that you must believe; it doesn't matter WHAT that is. Think about it: that’s a faith in itself, having no more evidence for its claim than any other faith claim. All this is fine for the status-quo, but it leaves all non-believers out of the clique, second-class citizens, at best.

Enter the smartasses. We need to point out that, "Faith? Who needs it?" is real and works. Reason and logic do too, and there wouldn't be, for example, a United States if it weren't for those Enlightenment badasses in the first place. Thank badasses for voting rights, freedom of speech, all rights eventually fought for, one way or another.

It’s interesting to find out who your real friends are when you challenge ridiculous dogmas with logic and reasoning, and it tells you a lot about being an outsider to group-think. Nobody stones you to death or burns you alive, but you get the cold shoulder or anathema treatment just for pointing out something that doesn't make sense - even as the hearers know it doesn‘t. So, outside of the violent reactions in the Middle Eastern countries, the rationale is the same: faith prevails and the hell with your damned thinking and reasoning about things you really don’t understand because you don't have the true faith!

As the French say, "The more things change, the more they are the same.” Faith is the same everywhere. When it gets down to it, all faiths are true, right? They all want respect, obedience, no questions asked. If you challenge them, you are a smartass, and nobody likes smartasses. Or so it‘s claimed.

I like smartasses. They challenge conventional "wisdom," dogmas, traditions, the bland ordinariness of living without real change, coping, and thinking. George Carlin was one, Dawkins is another, and so was Darwin, and me, and probably, you. Nothing really gets changed that wasn't at one time or another instigated by a smartass to some degree. The reason I'm making such a big deal about this is, for one thing, religions are fragile and weak, albeit prevalent. Like all dictatorships, they are threatened by dispute and confrontation, the child-like questioning of them.

Notice that, for thousands of years, the smart alecks (as my mother called us), have been making progress as "freethinkers." The English writer, Matthew Arnold, made a remark very heartening for us: "The freethinking of today is the common sense of tomorrow." Sometimes, as in the scientific community with the announcement of a new theory, at first the challenger’s challenge is rejected, often ridiculed. Then the theory is gradually accepted, and then, the challenger is awarded merit. Such examples should embolden us to persist in our efforts to topple blind, irrational faiths and thinking.

As with new challenges to conventional scientific theories, challenges to traditional belief systems have been slowly but surely making their way into acceptability. We are living in an unprecedented point in human history, connected worldwide emotionally as well as by communication. The ridiculousness, hypocrisy, and dangers of religions are on display, and no one wants to be seen as close-minded, to themselves or others. There is hope in appealing to open-mindedness. All approaches are go: ridicule, reason, blasphemy, appeals to fairness, etc. ,whatever you think will get enough response to get people thinking rather than merely reacting. Use whatever you have, and hone your skills.

I'd rather get a reputation for being a smartass for challenging the status quo, as a gray-haired 74 year-old teenager, than be one of those really smartasses, in reality, who speak from the Vatican, the pulpit, the stages at Xtian rallies, the money-raking-in religion channels of religion, sold as "family" packages to Direct TV subscribers. They don't know, and embolden those who also don't know. All those quacks who represent thousands of years of strife with still NO proof of the existence of their god, whose god or Jesus never materializes, must be challenged, not respected. (What's with the "reverend" nonsense anyhow?) Let's keep making holes in the dam, and let them keep trying to plug them. Let's be kind and respectful of common sense, and never insult another's intelligence. Let us appeal to fairness and goodness towards one another, and thereby, gain respect and the trust we deserve. Let us make the indoctrination of unsuspecting children questionable - but let‘s not bite off more than we can individually chew. We can make, in our time, the freethought of today into the common sense of tomorrow Already it's happening for us.

As a smartass inheritor of the Enlightenment tradition, l persevere against ignorance and blind beliefs, as a missionary of freethought-freedom.