Reading through my notifications, I came across an article from the Morning Sun (Serving Central Michigan) that caught my attention by the outrageous title. It was Atheists are not monsters by Eric Baerren.
After commencing his piece by admitting he is an atheist (much to what I am sure must have been the stunned shock and surprise of many), he reports:
There will soon be a billboard in the Grand Rapids area advising motorists that atheists exist and aren't horrible monsters, as they are often assumed to be by many of the Christian majority.
I don't know about you, but this absolutely floored me. Not that atheists are not monsters. That's a given. But that atheists are "often assumed to be [monsters] by the Christian majority." Really? That's odd because as a member of the "Christian majority" I don't know a single Christian who thinks atheists are monsters.
But I guess my little slice of Christian America doesn't count because apparently there are "polls" that "regularly show" otherwise:
Polls regularly show that atheists have a public perception problem on par with child molesters and terrorists, but the real villains at work were, in this case, the victim. There was something about "ramming a set of beliefs" down someone's throat involved, for good measure.
Too bad he doesn't link to these polls. My quick research only found one such poll from the University of Minnesota in 2006 (rather than polls regularly showing these things) and this poll didn't say that Christians thought that atheists were monsters at all. It said that people felt that atheists didn't share their vision of America on par with Muslims and gays and lesbians. According to the report of the study:
Using data from a new national survey (2003, N = 2081), we show that Americans draw symbolic boundaries that clearly and sharply exclude atheists in both private and public life. From a list of groups that also includes Muslims, recent immigrants, and homosexuals, Americans name atheists as those least likely to share their vision of American society. They are also more likely to disapprove of their children marrying atheists.
So, I guess it is appropriate to suggest that atheists have a PR problem, but does that mean that many Christians think they are monsters? Hardly. But despite the fact that the initial premise that Christians think atheists are monsters has not been proven, Mr. Baerren pushes onward as if his claim is fact. He moves to the question of what atheists must do to improve on their monstrous image.
Well, if I understand things correctly, it is impossible to be both an atheist and an ethical person. The Bible, I've been told, is what makes people good. Without it, we're essentially all a bunch of fornicating savages who'd cut your throat for a pair of shoelaces.
No, Mr. Baerren, I don't think you understand things correctly. I think that most Christians (unless they don't personally know any atheists) instinctively understand that there is a difference between having no rational warrant for acting ethically (which is the case with atheists) and not acting ethically. I have met lots of ethical atheists -- I just have no idea why, in light of their atheistic beliefs, they are acting ethically. But that is a story for another day.
More importantly, Mr. Baerren's suggetion as to why atheists are held in such low regard is simply not the correct reason. It isn't that Christians think that ahtiests are "fornicating savages" (although I wouldn't be surprised if a tiny minority were fornicating savages) or some other monster unable to control his/her libido, but rather there are more obvious, in-the-news reasons that atheists are not well trusted among the broader populace. For those atheists who are reading this who have no idea why they are either disliked and/or distrusted by many Christians, let me suggest the following reasons (just as a sample -- not as an exhaustive list):
Atheists show a marked lack of respect for the firmly held beliefs of many of their fellow countrymen. Atheists can be seen regularly comparing belief in God to belief in Santa Claus, an invisible pink unicorn and something that they call the flying spaghetti monster (usually accompanied by wails of laughter something akin to Bevis and Butthead telling a toilet joke). Of course, if they reduce a trust in God (something that a believer holds to be near, dear and sacred) to being equivalent to these things, it is understandable that some Christians might hold an unfavorable view of atheists, is it not?
Atheists are spearheading the movement to remove all semblances of Christianity from public life. They have already successfully convinced some weak-minded judges to accept the premise that the Constitution requires that any mention of God is somehow a violation of the Establishment Clause (contrary to the practice of the founders which argues strongly that such a view is not consistent with the original understanding of the clause), and they regularly move for the removal of even the barest mention of God (such as the mere statement of "In God we trust" on our currency) as somehow an unconstitutional endorsement of theism that will sway untold millions to believe in God.
Atheists have been behind the removal of crosses from the cemetary of soldiers when those crosses are on public land -- many of which went to war to defend a country that largely and openly trusted in God.
Atheists denounce traditional Christian values and openly advocate for laws to be enacted that many in the Christian community find objectional (such as laws favoring abortion rights).
I could go on, but these are a sample of the positions taken by people claiming atheism as their driving motivation. I realize that not every atheist does these things, but these things are being done by atheists. Is it really any wonder that atheists (who obviously promote these anti-Christian positions) are mistrusted by a population that remains largely religious and largely nnominally Christian?
But here's the real newsflash: Not only are atheists not monsters, and not only is it not true that Christians think that atheists are monsters, but Christians actually want to love atheists. They can disagree with them and hate what they are doing, but Christians love you because God first loved you. We just want atheists to know the truth -- a truth that many atheists deny for the most shallow of reasons.
That's the real headline.