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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

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.

16 comments:

The research I've done on atheists and self esteem, studies by Francis and others, I can see why atheists have this persecution complex.

First of all there's a real basis for. I was an atheist at one time. My freshman philosophy class was in 1975. I was sitting in that class and some red neck cowboy type (University of Texas at Arlington--little town between Dallas and Fr. Worth) says "are there really people who actually don't believe in God?" A couple of others said "I don't believer atheists really exist." One in the battleground muttered "not in foxholes."

I said, not in a daring provocative or nasty way, "I'm an atheist." there was an upraror with half the class offering to fight me right then and there. some of them were saying "you bastard!"

I was a high school debater and at that time a college debater so I made a little speech about how beating wouldn't make me believing in God it would make doubt the veracity of Christians becuase they don't seem to listen to Jesus much.

I said a bunch of good stuff about Jesus so they decided "he can't all bad." It was dealing with natives in the jungle.

Aside from that, the studies show atheist tend to have have low self esteem. Other studies show that people with low self esteem tend to have negative images of God.

I think people with low self esteem tend to feel persecuted. I do there is some prejudice against atheist but they are really most upset about the rancidity of Christian bleief in America. they can't really ever break out of the 3% and since they actually do believe the majority is right they have to explain it as some kind of failing of society to think properly.

Atheists aren't monsters most of the time, except when they shift on a full moon.

Yeah, why Christians would hold atheists in low regard is a mystery. It's not as if the main figureheads of popular atheism have been spending the past few years ridiculing and mocking Christians in particular and religious people generally or anything. Or that 'national blasphemy day' fiasco.

I notice that these kinds of "Atheists aren't monsters!" thing always tends to come hand in hand with overlooking or ignoring that kind of behavior. It's like they want to both be able to mock Christians in the most vulgar ways, yet still be seen - by Christians! - as great people who they can get along with.

Full disclosure here, I'm a humanist, but I'm not far from agreeing with you on the basics of this post.

If you tell someone that the deeply held faith that has seen them through lifes joys and sorrows is the epistemological equivalent of the tooth fairy, people are going to call you a monster, and, if you prefer those tactics, then you should be ready to be called a jerk, because you're acting like one.

That being said, we are obviously going to have vehement disagreements and arguments about moral and political issues, and it's not fair to call someone a jerk because they think using tax payer dollars to maintain a public space to put up what is at least arguably an advertisement for a particular religion violates the establishment clause and free speech. That is, in my opinion, a sincere disagreement as opposed to mockery. (I'm not talking about "put a Flying Spaghetti Monster next to it," which IS mockery)

Personally, I've never had much taste for those tactice in a dialogue with a believer, though I'll admit to engaging in my share of mockery among disbelievers.

Humanists, in my humble and probably incredibly unpopular opinion, need to focus on building a public profile that defines them as something other than simply opposed to religion-- which is bound to be nothing but offensive and ineffective.

Christians, on the other hand, need to understand that thinking a nativity scene doesn't belong in front of city hall is not the same as saying you believe in Santa Clause, burning Christians, taxing or closing churches or otherwise persecuting the faith.

If we could extend each other a little credit, a little benefit of the doubt, we'd go a long way towards being both better humanists and better Christians.

Alejandro,

That being said, we are obviously going to have vehement disagreements and arguments about moral and political issues, and it's not fair to call someone a jerk because they think using tax payer dollars to maintain a public space to put up what is at least arguably an advertisement for a particular religion violates the establishment clause and free speech.

Come on. The past half decade of the atheist movement has been one not only of mockery, but of atheists tolerating that mockery.

Where were the atheist condemnations for, what was it.. National Blasphemy Day? To use one example.

Humanists, in my humble and probably incredibly unpopular opinion, need to focus on building a public profile that defines them as something other than simply opposed to religion-- which is bound to be nothing but offensive and ineffective.

What makes you think humanism and atheism are interchangeable? As small as they are as a group, atheists seem to outnumber humanists like crazy.

I'm not saying there hasn't been mockery or that there have been atheists publically condemning that stuff. There has been mockery, and National Blasphemy Day is a good example. I'm agreeing with you and saying that atheists need to seriously rethink those kinds of tactics if they're going to turn around and say "Hey, we're not monsters."

But, again, I think there's a difference between National Blasphemy Day and something like objecting to a nativity scene in front of city hall. The former was a deliberate and sophomoric attempt to provoke and offend religious people, while the latter has to do with a sincere difference of opinion about a Constitutional issue.

If you wrote a post calling atheists a bunch of jerks because of National Blasphemy Day, I wouldn't argue with you. If you wrote a post on the First Amendment Establishment Clause, I'd engage you in a discussion about your position, it'd probably get heated since the issues a dear to each of us, but I don't think it would be personal and I doubt either of us would think the other was a jerk at the end (assuming we didn't insult each other).

As for humanists and atheists being interchangeable, I think that gets a little mucked up by the fact that a lot of atheists consider themselves humanists and accept that as a accurate description of themselves. Me, I usually self identify as a humanist, because it characterizes a worldview I hold as opposed to one I don't have. At the same time, I don't reject the label atheist, because... well, because I am one.

Alejandro,

Thank you for the tone of your comment. I think it speaks well for you.

Having said that, I want to make it clear that I think you are missing at least some of the point. I did not call anyone a "jerk". What I said is that this particular atheist (and apparently the atheists in Michigan) seem to think that they have to counter the viewpoint that people think that they are monsters. But there is no evidence that people think that they are monsters. Rather the evidence is that they are mistrusted because they don't share the overall public's vision of America.

When you say that you disagree that we should put a creche in front of a courthouse or that we should have crosses on public land, no one is saying that you are a monster. They may be saying you're a jerk, but that is because you are saying that you don't agree with their vision of America.

So, at the CADRE blog we welcome fair minded debate. You are certainly welcome to press your view (when appropriate to the post) for a greater separation of church and state than what I think is warranted by the language and ideas of the founders. But if you think that any type of gentle urging in this way will make people think that you don't share their vision of America any less, then I think you are ultimately decieving yourself.

BK,

I don't think gentle urging will change anybody's mind about my having a different vision of America. That wasn't my point at all. We DO have different visions. My point was just that I don't see why disagreement over that has to result in mistrust or that it's at least unfortunate that it often does.

In other words, I think it's unfortunate that someone would think I'm a jerk for holding the position I do about the First Amendment, because I don't think anyone who disagrees with me on it is necessarily a jerk.

If anything, it's my hope that by "gentle urging" (as you put it) we might come to understand that we can have these disagreements and heated arguments without making personal judgements about each other-- even, perhaps especially, regarding intractable and emotionally charged issues like the ones we tend to clash on.

Whether that's self deception or optimism about our ability to get along in spite of serious disagreements, I'll leave for others to judge, but I'm holding out for optimism.

In any event, I just wanted to put my two cents in. Thanks.

But, again, I think there's a difference between National Blasphemy Day and something like objecting to a nativity scene in front of city hall. The former was a deliberate and sophomoric attempt to provoke and offend religious people, while the latter has to do with a sincere difference of opinion about a Constitutional issue.

How can you tell the difference, when the most prominent atheists seem unable to tell the difference? Why should I assume the latter is "a sincere difference of opinion about a Constitutional issue" rather than view that as the cover story for a bunch of people looking to find some way, any way, to attack religion and religious belief?

As for humanists and atheists being interchangeable, I think that gets a little mucked up by the fact that a lot of atheists consider themselves humanists and accept that as a accurate description of themselves.

I think there is a popular habit online of many atheists calling themselves humanists, but so far it seems like little more than a very loose label used by people who think (secular) humanist is just another word for 'atheist' anyway.

Don't get me wrong. I think your tone is reasonable. But I also think the problem runs deeper than you're admitting. Like I said: It wasn't just that National Blasphemy Day happened. It's that it happened, and if any prominent atheists opposed it, they did a good job of hiding it. Where were the "humanists" then?

I'm sure there ARE some out there. The "Atheism 3.0" sorts, for example. But man, they are underrepresented.

Here's Metacrock, a member of this blog, who indeed seems to think that atheists are monsters...

"I think if most of these atheists on message boards had their way all Christians would rounded up and killed."

@Crude:

You can tell the difference between a reasonable disagreement about a Constitutional issue and an "attack on religion" (or claim that "atheists are monsters") by listening.

If I say a creche has no business on public property, I'm not saying that god is a fairy tale or that people who believe in god are just intellectual toddlers who need to hear a nice story before they go to bed at night. I'm not even saying that this is not a christian nation! Demographically, it is, has been and probably will remain. I'm just saying that we have a secular government. I don't want to derail this thread by getting into that argument further, but the point is I'm not saying anything against religion or religious belief. I'm saying something about the nature of our government, and, while we will no doubt disagree on that, I think the nature of that disagreement is qualitatively different than something like National Blasphemy Day and any thinking person should be able to tell the difference.

Personally, I wish some non-believers would be a little more vocal about disagreeing with the nasty tone of the public debate over this. I believe there are some such folks out there, but they're small in number and certainly won't get the attention some of the more outspoken "New Atheists" get. But that would be a far more productive step towards improving our public image than setting up a straw man who calls atheists monsters without considering the deeper issues about why the public mistrusts atheists.

@ a-hermit:

I'd be curious to read that statement in context and see exactly what was being written by atheists on those message boards. For that matter, I'd also be curious to see what Meta-crock has to say about that comment in light of this thread.

I read that quote though, and it's a jumping off point for a discussion.

What is it about what Meta-crock saw on those message boards that made him feel like atheists want to round up and kill christians? Perhaps he was being oversensitive, but it's just as likely that atheists on those boards were saying some angry, hateful things. Maybe there were some self fulfilling prophecies at work on both sides?

Maybe I'm too much the middle child, but I think too many theists mistakenly assume atheists want to round them up and kill them and too many atheists assume theists are heaven-bent on theocracy.

If we talked and listened to each other every now and again and treated each other with patience and a charitable spirit, we might learn to our surprise that we're both missing a much bigger picture.

I know, I know... Pollyanna!

You can tell the difference between a reasonable disagreement about a Constitutional issue and an "attack on religion" (or claim that "atheists are monsters") by listening.

You misunderstand my problem.

Considering that the same people who boost Blasphemy Day and like attacks also tend to support these 'Constitutional Challenges', why should I assume that their motivations are reasonable concerns about Constitutionality? As opposed to simply wanting to strike at any Christian influence, anywhere, at any time, by any means? By how much they curse or rant when offering the specific argument?

When atheists behave as the way they have the past few years - attacking religion and religious people in the most vulgar terms, explicitly claiming that they intend to shame people or use cultural pressure (in other words, forgoing reason and logic and reasonable argument) to eliminate Christianity in particular... and more importantly, when there's practically zero resistance to these moves by any major atheist leader, speaker, or organization... why should I give them the benefit of the doubt on a sub-argument?

Again, I'm not condemning you personally. Hell, you sound reasonable. But you are very, very alone, and the people you decry are - at least in terms of atheist numbers - popular and prominent. What you're asking me to do in essence is assume that the atheist equivalent of Westboro Baptist is motivated by reason. Except the difference is that enormous numbers of Christians condemn WB. You yourself seem to admit that the number of atheists condemning moves like Blasphemy Day is small.

Cursing and ranting would probably be a pretty good indicator!
Seriously though, I do think part of it comes down to the arguments being made and the manner in which one makes them. The other part is atheists making the effort to build a little credibility by not engaging in these forms of self amusement at the expense of those we expect to not resent us.

So, I see your point, and I don't blame you or anyone else for mistrusting atheists based on things like the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Blasphemy Day. I see how that gets lumped in with atheist views on First Amendment issues as well. The burden of undoing that sort of mistrust rests squarely on atheist shoulders.

My point, and maybe it's even more of a disclaimer, is that dropping objectionable tactics doesn't necessarily mean that atheists won't have their positions on public issues that arise just as naturally from our secular convictions as yours do from your religious convictions, and it's my own personal hope that we can have that argument in an environment where atheists aren't considered necessarily un-American and believers aren't all lumped into the category of theocrats.

I don't know if we're going to resolve that issue here-- in fact, I'm quite sure we won't-- but I'm glad to hear you out and I think I know where you're coming from.

Haven't felt condemned at all.

Well, I think more needs to be done than "not engaging in". We're back to the issue of casting a blind eye. And if the answer is, "Look, we'd condemn it, but we don't want to cause rifts among fellow atheists" then even the 'nice' atheists have me spooked.

As for atheists having political opinions? Well sure, no doubt. Can they arise from legitimate concerns? Absolutely.

I'm not much for the "we don't want to cause rifts" motif.

My own guess is that the kinds of atheists who find those tactics a turn off are probably not the kinds of folks who are heavily involved in "the movement" to begin with, and those that are find themselves, as you put it, "very, very alone."

A pair of atheists published an article in Free Inquiry a few years ago entitled "Atheism is Not a Civil Rights Issue," arguing that atheism's real problem comes down to public relations. Well... let's just say it went over like passing gas in an elevator.

Same goes for a speech by, of all people, Sam Harris at an atheist convention where he suggested atheists might do well to stop standing around in hotel rooms commiserating about disbelief and just go about their lives as secular people. Being good, going to work, and speaking your mind about your beliefs and the important issues of the day, he said, would do more to promote a positive image of atheism than attending the equivalent of meetups for those who do not collect stamps. This was promptly followed by another you-know-what-storm in the atheist blogosphere.

Go figure. Nice talking to you.

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