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[Ilya Somin (guest-blogging), April 3, 2006 at 10:42am] Trackbacks
Hostility to Atheism - The Last Socially Acceptable Prejudice?

A new study by University of Minnesota sociologists Penny Edgell, Joseph Gerties and Douglas Hartmann confirms the longstanding research finding that public hostility towards atheists is considerably more widespread than that towards any other ethnic or religious minority group. Edgell, et al. conducted a survey of American public opinion on attitudes towards different groups and found that prejudice against atheists topped the scale. For example, almost 40% of respondents characterized atheists as a group that "does not at all agree with my vision of American society." Note that the question did not ask whether the respondent disagrees with atheists on some issues (which would be a perfectly understandable and noninvidious view), but asks if they are a group that does not at all share his views.

The figures for other groups on this question (with rounding to whole numbers):

Muslims: 26%

Homosexuals: 23

Conservative Christians: 14

Recent immigrants: 13

Jews: 8

Scholars have long recognized that a key indication of tolerance for a group is willingness to accept intermarriage with its members. Here too, intolerance for atheists leads the pack. Below are the percentages of respondents stating, with respect to particular groups, that "I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group" (rounded to whole numbers):

Atheists: 48

Muslims: 34

African-Americans: 27

Asian-Americans: 19

Hispanic-Americans: 19

Jews: 12

Conservative Christians: 7

Obviously, some people simply oppose intermarriage with any religious group other than their own. However, this cannot explain the high opposition to intermarriage with atheists, as it is clear from the results that numerous non-Jewish and non-Muslim respondents are willing to accept intermarriage with Jews and in some cases with Muslims, but unwilling to do so in the case of atheists. A particularly interesting point is that hostility towards Muslims on both this question and the previous one lags well behind hostility to atheists - even despite 9/11.

The Minnesota results are consistent with other survey evidence going back for years. For example, atheists consistently score at the bottom when respondents are asked whether they would be willing support a "qualified" presidential candidate nominated by their party who was a member of a particular group (even homosexual candidates, the next most unpopular, are less widely rejected).

Other, more qualitative, indicators of prejudice also point to widespread hostility towards atheists, even as compared to other relatively unpopular groups. For example, despite considerable antagonism towards homosexuals in many quarters, there have been quite a few openly gay members of Congress, including even some conservative Republican ones such as Rep. Jim Kolbe and Rep. Steve Gunderson. By contrast, there has never been, to my knowledge, even one openly unbelieving congressman or senator, despite the fact that atheists and agnostics are roughly 3% of the population (about the same as the percentage of gays, and a bit larger than the percentage of Jews). Nor has there ever been an openly atheist president, vice-president, governor, Supreme Court Justice, or member of the Cabinet. While I certainly would not argue that justice requires proportional representation of atheists in these bodies, the absence of even one open atheist in high political office is still striking.

Similarly, organizations such as the Boy Scouts have taken considerable flak for their refusal to accept gays. But the Scouts have gotten far less criticism for their equally categorical rejection of atheists. As in the case of intermarriage, I have no principled objection to groups limited to people who share their particular religion (e.g. - an all-Catholic or all-Jewish group). The Scouts however, accept members of any and all religions - no matter how odious their beliefs on various issues may be - but reject all avowed atheists and agnostics. I am not arguing that the government should force the Boy Scouts and other similar groups to accept atheists. In my view, it shouldn't. However, that should not stop us from criticizing their bigotry.

A common argument for various forms of discrimination against atheists is the claim that atheism is a belief system, not an involuntary identity like race or homosexuality. It is indeed sometimes appropriate to show hostility towards people because of their reprehensible beliefs (e.g. - in the case of KKK members). But we generally reject such categorical hostility towards members of most religious groups such as Jews or Catholics. The same principle should apply to atheists - especially since atheism, unlike some religions, is actually compatible with a very wide range of views on moral and political issues. For example, there have been prominent socialist atheists (e.g. - Marx), prominent libertarian ones (e.g. - Ayn Rand), and even notable conservative atheists such as Whittaker Chambers. The only common belief that all atheists share is denial of the existence of God, and that should not be a sufficient reason to hate them or discriminate against them as a group.

To avoid misunderstanding, I am NOT suggesting that the position of atheists in the United States is worse than that of homosexuals or African-Americans. In fact, I believe the opposite is actually closer to the truth. However, the data do strongly suggest that hostility towards atheists is more widespread (even if perhaps less intensely felt) and considered more socially acceptable than racism and homophobia. Even if the survey results are biased by the unwillingness of some respondents to admit racist views, it is still noteworthy that fewer people seem to have such inhibitions about admitting hostility towards atheists.

NOTE: the link to the Minnesota data above is to a summary on an atheist website because this is the most thorough description I was able to find on the internet. However, the study itself was not conducted or funded by any atheist organization.

CORRECTION: After checking, it turns out that I was wrong to say that Whittaker Chambers was an atheist even after becoming a conservative. However, I stand by the broader point that atheism is compatible with a wide range of moral and political views, including conservatism. Thus, hostility towards atheism on the grounds of its alleged political and/or moral implications is unjustified.

Baronger (mail) (www):
On the inter-marriage of Athiests and believers, there is one detail that was not brought up. Is it that believers won't marry athiests or that athiests won't marry believers.

I think that most of the hostility towards athiests is in fact due to a perceived hostility of athiests towards believers. Athiests that I have known, can be extremely hostile towards believers. Though this is anncedotal, it might explain some of these figures.

Overall I feel that most Christians today are taught tolerance as part of the basic relegious belief. Athiests on the other hand are more strident and intolerant. The attacks by Athiests and the ACLU on Christmass displays, only fuels the intolerance towards them.

In short it is hard to be tolerant towards someone who is intolerant of you. Which of course begets a feed back loop.
4.3.2006 11:56am
LG:
Great post! The apparently visceral hostility of many Americans (mostly, but not all, on religious right) to the notion that non-believers may be capable of behaving morally and ethically is troubling, indeed. The patronizing post-modernism on the secularist far-left (here and abroad) is at least partially to blame for the chasm. The histrionics on both sides are deafening. Will there ever be an atheist Jackie Robinson?
4.3.2006 11:56am
claritas:
I think you have conflated the meaning of "prejudice" and the meaning of "justifiable discrimination." Is it any accident that, in a country where 90% of the citizens belive in God, and where a substantial portion of those citizens orient their lives and belief systems around their faith, majorities consistently refuse to elect people who admittedly do not share those views? And people consistently choose to make their most intimate association, marriage, with someone who shares their beliefs? Your argument is akin to saying that a state where 60% of the people are Democrats, and that consistently elects Democrats to Congress, is "prejudiced" against Republicans.

I don't see this changing any time soon, nor should it. If you want to prove prejudice, show me data on physical assaults, employment discrimination, and so on. Don't show me decisions that are entirely justifiable on their own merits.
4.3.2006 11:57am
Tennessean (mail):
This is really non sequitor, and I apologize, but I still have yet to hear a compelling explanation of the source of morality for atheists who, presumably, live in the absence of the Paulian fidelity to a fact.

I'm told R. Rorty makes such a case; I just have yet to read it.
4.3.2006 12:01pm
Ubertrout (mail) (www):
Your comments about there never having been an openly atheist congressman, senator, et al seem a bit overbroad. I can't claim encyclopediac knowledge of this, but in my own research I've come across a congressman from Indiana from the 1840s named Petit who was an atheist.
See The Farmers' Cabinet.; 1844-04-11; Vol: 42; Iss: 34; Page: [2].
4.3.2006 12:01pm
cirby (mail):
Funny you should mention the Boy Scouts, when Penn and Teller have a new episode of their show ("Penn &Teller: Bullshit!") tonight at 10 PM EST on Showtime, on the Boy Scouts and intolerance.
4.3.2006 12:03pm
Ilya Somin:
Although some atheists are unduly hostile to believers, I don't think that widespread public hostility towards atheists can be ascribed to this cause. Anti-atheist hostility goes back for decades, and - according to surveys - was even greater years ago, long before the Christmas display battles and other similar controversies. And however, obnoxious some atheists might be, very few would categorically refuse to vote for a believer for public office, oppose intermarriage with believers, and so on.

It may be true that most Christians are taught tolerance towards other religions. But whether they are taught tolerance towards atheists is a different matter.

Finally, the lawsuits against Christmas displays, whatever their legal merits, are not attacks on religion but merely on government endorsement thereof. And the ACLU is not an atheist organization. Many of its members, probably the majority, are religious believers, albeit liberal ones.
4.3.2006 12:06pm
Justin (mail):
First of all, I second IS's post (no pun intended).

Second, I do want to wonder if most people really see the "absence of belief" as "another form of belief." I think one can rationally say, "I believe in God. While I choose to pray to God in the form of X, I understand that other people pray to God in the form of Y or Z. That's okay. But not praying to God at all, that's a different story."

The first sentence is how I view my own religion. While I do not agree with the next two sentences, I don't think it's that much of a logical leap. While this doesn't condone anti-athiest prejudice, it may explain why anti-athiest prejudice is more condoned than other forms - because, to some degree, it looks on its face less like a religious argument and more like a political argument. This might explain/contribute to the explanation as to why athiests have gotten an unfair stereotype as being hostile to religion, as well.
4.3.2006 12:17pm
Baronger (mail) (www):
To paraphrase Colbert, "It is the Truthiness of the matter that is important."

It is a matter of marketing. Though the ACLU is not an atheist organization and the lawsuits were based on first amendment rights, it is the perception that actually matters. What people perceive is that their relegion is being attacked, and not that the first amendment is being enforced.

Yes hatred and intolerance towards Atheists did go back decades (well actually centuries). However, in recent decades it seems most of the population has adopted a, "live and let live," philosophy. Yet when the atheists themselves are perceived as not following this philosopy, you get hostility.
4.3.2006 12:18pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Ilya Somin:

Finally, the lawsuits against Christmas displays, whatever their legal merits, are not attacks on religion but merely on government endorsement thereof.

True as that may be, these suits are perceived largely as attacks on venerable and innocuous accomodations of majority perspectives - an already unpopular minority attempting to silence expression that the majority holds dear.

Bear in mind that people don't get their views on atheism from reading McCreary County. They get it from Bill O'Reilly, the most popular cable news host today, if not ever. Many people who live between the coasts don't think they ever met an atheist. They are informed solely by O'Reilly, et. al.
4.3.2006 12:20pm
Gordo:
As a former Boy Scout leader, the group's religious litmus test is about as mild as it can get. I attended an Eagle Scout Board of Review many years ago where the candidate stated that he believed in reincarnation. The Board Chairman turned out to be a Unitarian, and she engaged the young man in an interesting discussion on the subject.

The Boy Scouts rejects atheists, I think, because atheists tend to believe either 1) that each person controls his or her own destiny, which doesn't even work for the alleged Howard Roarks and John Galts of this world, much less the rest of us, or 2) each person has no control over his or her own destiny, which means that we are all just "dust in the wind." Both philosophies are destructive to any society, much less ours.

And that, in a nutshell, is how I explained to a scout who once asked me why the Boy Scouts rejects atheists.
4.3.2006 12:23pm
Gordo:
To follow up, perhaps the two alternative results of atheism aren't necessarily destructive to society. They are, in my experience, almost certainly destructive to young men who follow them. And the primary mission of the Boy Scouts is have boys grow into non-destructive men.
4.3.2006 12:25pm
Jared_:
By the time Chambers became a major figure within the conservative movement, he was anything but an atheist, as his book Witness would attest.
4.3.2006 12:28pm
Joel B. (mail):
The "prejudice" against athiests is entirely justified. A publicly declared athiest is one who has declared that they are for all intent and purpose not bound by any type of higher law. Thus, there can be no rational purpose except the maximization of personal well-being, in whatever way that individual defines it. There is nothing to order this individual except their own laws and decrees.

Now it may be, that many of their laws and decrees are ones that in an ordered society work just fine. The dictum "do what puts me at the least risk for greatest reward" will generally in a society with just laws and penalties work out just fine. But in a society without such foundation the athiest is far more free in a multitude of activities. The athiest is fundamentally unpredictable, he might be a reasonable decent young man one moment, but then the bases by which he calculates may change, an opportunity worth taking may arise and he would do it. If, for example, adultery is not objectively wrong by some higher standard than how can we ever be sure that the athiest would follow a convention as such if he knew he could never be caught. We can't.

The problem is, for athiests, is that 90% of the world knows how they would think, if they were athiests, and they rightly fear someone who would so willingly declare themselves as such.
4.3.2006 12:28pm
Teddy Roosevelt (mail):
I find this invocation of Boy Scout prejudice absurd. It's perfectly reasonable for an organization that wants God-fearing boys to be raised a certain way to want to exclude atheists.

I don't see how this is different from an all-Jewish dating group excluding Catholics even if most of the Jews in the group are non-observant and don't even mind eating pork. Consistency isn't the issue but rather the right of the group to self-define.

If this is a definiton of intolerance, then we have long past fallen down the slippery slope and it is an indication that social conservatives should have been more resistant in the past to tolerance of atheists, divorcees and homosexuals. If being tolerant, means being damned as intolerant for holding to one's views then fine, let there be prejudice and intolerance!
4.3.2006 12:30pm
Taimyoboi:
"However, this cannot explain the high opposition to intermarriage with atheists..."

I think it can explain more than the study or the post is allowing. If I marry someone that believes in God, but not the same religious tenets, that's overcoming a difference of degree. Marrying someone that does not believe in God is a difference in kind.

There is a lot less of a hurdle to overcome in convincing someone of the correctness of your particular religion's doctrines, than convincing them of the underlying assumption that God indeed exists.

Did they also include less mainstream religious beliefs? Like wiccans or something?
4.3.2006 12:32pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):

The "prejudice" against athiests is entirely justified. A publicly declared athiest is one who has declared that they are for all intent and purpose not bound by any type of higher law.

Not true. There are many atheist philosophies that provide perfectly acceptable codes of morals. Objectivism, for instance, can be justified entirely without theistic reference.

Moreover, in practice, religious people prove no better than their atheist counterparts. People, in the end, are flawed regardless of what theistic adherence, or lack thereof, they espouse.
4.3.2006 12:33pm
uh clem (mail):
If you met me in person you probably would never find out that I am an athiest; like most non-belivers I don't tend to talk about it very much (on-line annonymous posts excepted). My hunch is that there are far more of us than you would imagine, and that eventually it will become more acceptable for us to come out of the closet. Until that day, most of the athiests you encounter will be the loud mouthed, screechy variety ala Madeline O'hare. Not a representative sample.

BTW, athiesm is not a religion. I don't collect stamps either but that doesn't mean that not stamp collecting is my hobby.
4.3.2006 12:39pm
Sam Wilkinson (mail) (www):
Wasn't Minnesota's own Jesse "The Mind" Ventura an atheist? I'd swear he got in hot water by calling religion a crutch on some late night talk show? Regardless, even if he is an atheist, or an agnostic, that's one of a huge number of religious politicians.

But perhaps more to the point, why doesn't this survey take into account people who simply don't care? I neither know, nor care, if there is or isn't a God. There are atheists who are table-pounding disbelievers in God, and then there are the rest of us who simply have neither the time, nor the energy, for the intensity of religious belief in this country. We ought to be counted too.
4.3.2006 12:44pm
Hoya:
I am not sure why not wanting one's child to marry an atheist is a sign of bigotry. If one's child is a religious believer, and one thinks that it is extremely difficult for folks with radically different world views to share a common life (including the raising of children), then why would it count as bigotry to want one's child not to marry someone with whose beliefs about the source of meaning in life the atheist's were bound to be radically at odds?
4.3.2006 12:45pm
Taimyoboi:
I couldn't find a link to the study, but did they include a religious control other than Judaism, Islam and Christianity?
4.3.2006 12:45pm
Patrick Sarsfield (mail) (www):
Whittaker Chambers embraced Mennonite beliefs as he rejected Marxism. He developed a Christian faith gradually, but by the time he rejected Marxism he was probably an agnostic or proto-Christian rather than an atheist. At least that is my reading of Witness.
4.3.2006 12:45pm
uh clem (mail):
The "prejudice" against athiests is entirely justified. A publicly declared athiest is one who has declared that they are for all intent and purpose not bound by any type of higher law.

There is quite a large body of ethical philosophy that is entirely secular. I would recommend acquainting yourself with it. You might learn something.

"Because my religious leader said so" is probably the worst reason to do anything.
4.3.2006 12:46pm
CEB:
I second Mike's refutation of JoelB's claim. I am an atheist, and adhere to a moral code that turns out to be roughly similar to religious moral codes. Here is a summary: There is no god who will help my fellow humans and see that justice prevails; therefore, that duty falls to me.
I think that most prejudice against atheism is caused by the association of atheism with communism, so it is not an entirely irrational or unwarranted prejudice, though it is wrong.
4.3.2006 12:47pm
Muddy:
Trying to divine what "atheists believe" is absurd. The

I think, because atheists tend to believe either 1) that each person controls his or her own destiny, which doesn't even work for the alleged Howard Roarks and John Galts of this world, much less the rest of us, or 2) each person has no control over his or her own destiny, which means that we are all just "dust in the wind." Both philosophies are destructive to any society, much less ours.



Trying to divine what "atheists believe" is absurd. The definion of atheism (a=without, theos=god) is based only on what they DONT believe in, not what they do believe in... I think you are mixing up atheists with nihlists or something...
4.3.2006 12:47pm
NaG (mail):
Obviously, Joel B. is flat-out wrong in his view of atheistic morality. There are some atheists that focus on their own well-being, but most do believe in higher concepts (like justice, truth, freedom) and work for the betterment of all, even if they don't attribute a spiritual source for these things.

In fact, I think many atheists are more sensitive to the need for justice than those who are theistic. I do not mean this as any kind of attack on believers -- consider this: A religious person has adopted some form of belief concerning what happens to us after we die, and almost invariably what occurs is a kind of accounting over our life. If we have led a good life, we are rewarded in some way (either with Heaven or a better next-life, etc.); if we have led a bad life, we are punished (Hell, or we come back as a lesser life form, etc.). So if justice is not meted out during our lives, don't worry -- the uncaught murderer is going to Hell anyway.

The atheist has no such comfort. Stalin died peacefully in his sleep after having ordered the deaths of millions of people, and that's all he'll ever get. The atheist sees no punishment in his afterlife. We have forever lost the ability to make him accountable for his actions. And that makes the atheist feel that if we don't nab the murderer, there truly will be no justice. Hence, the justice we have here is all we'll ever have, so we'd better do our best to apply it while we can.
4.3.2006 12:48pm
Huh:
I see this argument all the time: athiests have no higher law. They have no source or proof to support their morality. But in the absence of proof of God, there's not much support for anyone else's morality either. There's simply a tradition of religious belief, and in some cases a liturgy. And even these are subject to the whims of man (e.g., Muftis, Popes).

To an Athiest (or even an agnostic like myself), the circularity of drawing moral authority from religion is overwhelming.

Someone explain this argument to me, again. And I don't want the short conclusory form. I want a link that explains how religious persons, in the absence of any proof of God, have managed to affirmatively prove a first source for morality.
4.3.2006 12:49pm
Huggy (mail):
Yes all throughout history people who publically challenge cherished beliefs held by others have always been welcomed and thanked for their warm discourse. I know I always have been.
4.3.2006 12:51pm
EricK (mail):
Was this study really done by the U of M? Last time I looked (which is every day) the StarTribune isn't filled with anti-atheist editorials, letters, and political cartoons.
4.3.2006 12:52pm
JDNYU:
I want to second Mike's point. Particularly the empirical point that atheists don't behave worse than believers. I'm not familiar with Joel B.'s wild and unpredictable atheists, but I have known a few (ostensibly) God-fearing adulterers.

It's worth pointing out that while almost all religions have evangelical aspects to them (since religions that succeed must grow, and growth is achieved through procreation and conversion), unbelief, by itself, does not. To restate the obvious, atheism isn't a religious belief system, it's the lack of one.

Obviously there are loud and strident atheists, but a big majority of us don't feel a need to discuss it unless it comes up.
4.3.2006 12:52pm
Karl:
This posting board seems like it was designed to confirm the data cited by the poster. Let's try to break some things down here:

On Morals: Regardless of where you think your and my system of morals comes from, the reality is that they are a result of one's upbringing and society. In the real world, atheists behave largely the same way as Christians do. As an atheist, I have no trouble living by the policy of "do unto others as you would have done to yourself." I don't live this way because of any higher authority (though I do make every effort to obey the law), but because I feel that it is the right way to live one's life and be a good member of society.

Christians are no different. People today do not live with the moral systems presented in the bible, save for a few passages that are bandied about as so many others are ignored. Rather, the rules of modern society (both written and unwritten) are what govern their lives.

What's more, countless numbers of supposedly God-fearing Christians commit (sometimes unspeakable) crimes. Be it the Catholic child-raping priests or the ruthless and oft-times illegal business practices of Pat Robertson and many other powerful religious politicians, or anything else, being a Christian makes you no more or less inherently trustworthy than anyone else.

This post is getting long. I'll answer other things that need answering in further posts today.
4.3.2006 12:56pm
Tom952 (mail):
Joel B, Tennessean:

The source of morality for an atheist can and should be logic, reason, and facts.

Religion is based of course on faith and belief. No religion can be supported with facts and evidence. It is supposition. If any religion could be proven, well then we could unite all people under the new truth and end all religious strife in the world forever. As it is, all we know for sure is that if any one of the competing religions is actually correct, then all the rest are wrong.

Intelligent persons with deep scientific knowledge may find it impossible to accept the proposition that the scriptures are the infallible word of the creator of the universe and that there is an invisible puppet master in the clouds directing events on earth, precisely because they are thoughtful and rational. It is reckless and wrong to categorize all these people as immoral and worthy of disdain.

Atheists are not a homogeneous group. Like any other group, there are atheists that are good neighbors and citizens, and some who are not. The most outrageous, outspoken atheists seek the spotlight and get the press coverage, while intelligent thoughtful scientists and engineers who are atheists avoid controversy.

The study seems to show that those with religious beliefs are quite intolerant of the alternate viewpoint. It would be interesting to poll atheists and measure their level of tolerance for members of the various religious groups.
4.3.2006 12:57pm
Mark B. (mail) (www):
It's interesting that a post about discrimination against atheists has produced comments which show discrimination against atheists. Look at the following:

"Athiests that I have known, can be extremely hostile towards believers."

"I still have yet to hear a compelling explanation of the source of morality for atheists who, presumably, live in the absence of the Paulian fidelity to a fact. "

"perhaps the two alternative results of atheism aren't necessarily destructive to society. They are, in my experience, almost certainly destructive to young men who follow them."

"A publicly declared athiest is one who has declared that they are for all intent and purpose not bound by any type of higher law. Thus, there can be no rational purpose except the maximization of personal well-being, in whatever way that individual defines it. There is nothing to order this individual except their own laws and decrees."

Now let's have some fun: replace Atheism with Judaism or Hinduism!

"Jews that I have known, can be extremely hostile towards Christians."

"I still have yet to hear a compelling explanation of the source of morality for Hindus who, presumably, live in the absence of the Paulian fidelity to a fact. "

"perhaps the two alternative results of Judaism aren't necessarily destructive to society. They are, in my experience, almost certainly destructive to young men who follow them."

"A publicly declared Hindu is one who has declared that they are for all intent and purpose not bound by any type of monotheistic higher law. Thus, there can be no rational purpose except the maximization of personal well-being, in whatever way that individual defines it. There is nothing to order this individual except their own laws and decrees."

Aren't those statements overly broad, based on limited personal experience, discriminatory, when applied to Jews and Hindus? Why is this not also so for atheists?

I agree with the statement above from "uh clem" regarding this. My atheism is not a secret or a shame, but I don't tend to just bring it up in conversations, either.

--Mark, an atheist married to a Catholic and doing just fine morally and ethically, thank you.
4.3.2006 12:57pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
More on the criticism of atheists as morally unreliable/uncontrollable. This argument reeks of the assumption that the atheist embraces the worst of Darwinism - the 19th century perverted sort - the kind that says, "we can pay our workers in the buttons they make, because natural selection justifies it."

Natural selection doesn't justify anything. The same evolutionary process that moves forward by inadvertently creating a dog-eat-dog order, is the same process that gave us minds capable of setting our baser and more selfish needs aside, of thinking in moral terms, of surviving as a society and not as individuals. A belief that evolution got us here does not compel or necessarily connot the belief that chelovek cheloveku volk, (rus - man is wolf to his fellow man).
4.3.2006 1:02pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
To the extent I was taught anything about atheists, it was that they are unimportant.

The study, as is usual in these studies trying to find yet another set of victims, insists that any feelings short of postive admiration are evidence of bigotry. Ho hum.

My suggestion is that atheists who have a problem just do as conservative students at liberal universities are advised to do, and suck it up. After all, atheists are crutch-free and that must mean they're stronger than practically anybody else. Who better to suck it up and march on?
4.3.2006 1:02pm
Randy R. (mail):
The list of atheists is long, such as Thomas Paine, who wrote the pamphlet that got the American Revolution going, and Voltaire and many of the french enlightenment authors. They certainly did believe in something, something higher, and they argued cogently for it.

I can't believe the breathlessness at which some people dismiss atheists based on incorrect information. This just proves a larger point: Most discrimination, hatred, prejudice and so on is based on lies, ignorance or falacious beliefs. If people have a dim view towards ANY grouping of people, it's probably because they know next to nothing about that group. Worse, they are likely told what to think about the group by ignorent men.
4.3.2006 1:05pm
frankcross (mail):
Statistically, there are fewer atheists in prison than in the general population.

This thread is rich in irony, as so many of the posters are proving the point they purport to refute.
4.3.2006 1:06pm
Joel B. (mail):
I don't hold to the belief that in the main athiests behave worse than believers, they can and often do behave better than believers, but the problems lie in the fact that there is no objective meaning for virtues the athiests themselves draw up, what is "justice, fairness, etc." The athiest must define these for themselves, which some do fine, but what stops the athiest from changing their personal definition of morality. One can have an ethical system without relying on God, but what ethical system, the Aristotilian ethic of moderation/justice is certainly wise in many respects but it is also hard to define a more strict code of ethics.

I do not know how theists in themselves behave, but I know what they themselves profess to attempt to achieve as far as a moral law.
With athiest I know how they behave at the moment, but I do not know what they profess to attempt to achieve as far as a moral law for themselves. There is no way to know except from the individual athiest, the moral law that individual athiest himself is ordering his or her life by. It makes a systemic prejudice against athiests rational. Prove to me your moral bases are reasonable rational, and relatively immutable, and we'll go from there.
4.3.2006 1:07pm
K Parker (mail):
Uh, uh clem:

<

i>BTW, athiesm is not a religion. I don't collect stamps either but that doesn't mean that not stamp collecting is my hobby.


You just need to substitute "worldview" for "religion". This actually makes sense--there's nothing, for the seriously religious, that more strongly informs their worldview than their religion.
4.3.2006 1:10pm
Anomolous:
Huh wrote:

Someone explain this argument to me, again. And I don't want the short conclusory form. I want a link that explains how religious persons,
in the absence of any proof of God, have managed to affirmatively prove a first source for morality.


Err. I think you might be searching for quite a while, since I think you'll find many/most/all religious believers have "proof" in the form of having had a religious experience.
Other than that, you might try Thomas Aquinas.
4.3.2006 1:10pm
Baronger (mail) (www):
True there is hostility towards Athiests as has been shown. However, I still feel that it is currently based on the basis of Atheist attacks against believers.

The classic Atheist attack is perceived as: "How can you be so stupid and superstitious enough to believe in God."

Believers therefore feel that they have had their intelligence, rationality (sanity), and basic belief system attacked all at once. This is bound to generate atipathy.

It is interesting that Agnostics are not mentioned. This is another group which is discriminated against. My old university discriminated against them as general policy. What is more threatening someone who who says, "there is no God(s)" or "there may or may not be God(s), I just don't know."
4.3.2006 1:11pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Joel, you make the oft-heard criticism of atheist morality, in that is subject to abuse of human misinterpretation. Well, OK. Can you, with a straight face, exonerate religion of the same charge? Assuming arguendo that, say, the Bible, is divine in origin, it has been quite open to corruption and perverion over these last two millenia. And don't get me started on the Koran.
4.3.2006 1:11pm
uh clem (mail):

My suggestion is that atheists who have a problem just do as conservative students at liberal universities are advised to do, and suck it up. After all, atheists are crutch-free and that must mean they're stronger than practically anybody else. Who better to suck it up and march on?

Good advice. And I think that's what most of us do, actually.

That said, it would be nice to have a few people in elected office who are equally crutch-free and clear headed. (Actually, I think we do, they just know enough to keep their mouths shut)
4.3.2006 1:13pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
What point are you trying to make with your statistical analysis, Frank? That society is generally less prejudicial towards atheists or that atheists are better people?

Think carefully about racial prison demographics before you answer.
4.3.2006 1:13pm
Donald Kahn (mail):
"[in]capable of behaving morally and ethically" (LG) and
"have yet to hear a compelling explanation of the source of morality" (Tennesseean]? Really? Including Socrates, Plato and Aristotle? No, the Greeks and Romans did not have personal Gods who regulated their consciences; in fact ethical behavior would have been, to act as little as possible like their pantheon of rascals. See also, the Gods of Valhalla.

This atheist's viewpoint is that the monotheistic religions are based on ridiculous fables; and that, in fact, monotheism is the most destructive force ever unleashed on the human race. See Iraq. See the Thirty Years War. See the horrifying events of the Indian partition.

However, the antics of the ACLU are intended to enforce compulsory atheism in the public sphere, and I find the ACLU utterly contemptible. It should be obvious that (except to our highest judges) that the First Amendment means just about the opposite of their interpretation - mandating the freedom of religion.

I see that, at least among the devotees of this website, that I shouldn't have many friends. On the contrary: I have all the friends I can use, and am widely believed to lead a "moral and ethical" life.
4.3.2006 1:14pm
Bruce Webster (mail) (www):
First, I don't believe the semantic and logical leap from "doesn't share my views at all" and "wouldn't want my child to marry one" to "public hostility" is valid. "Hostile" is a very active, emotionally-invested term--it strongly suggests active dislike and even hatred rather than intellectual disagreement and a lack of desire to bring a member of said group into the bosom of one's family.

I personally have friends and associates about whom I could say that their vision of what Amercian society should be and mine have very little in common, and I'm not sure I'd want one of my children to marry them--but we remain friends and associates, and I'm certainly not hostile towards them.

Beyond that, polls such as these have a fundamental flaw in that they ask the respondant to opine regarding an abstract representative of a class, typified (in their minds) by publicly visible figures. So when they hear "atheist", they likely don't think of their doctor or their grocery clerk or the kid who delivers their paper [hey, I was an atheist from age 10 to age 13], they think of the late Madalyn Murray O'Hair and/or Michael Newdow (of the 'Pledge of Allegience' lawsuit) and other such visible figures, all rolled up into one. And because those figures are the visible, public ones, they are seen (consciously or not) as representing the "atheists as a group"--much as liberals see Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell as representing all Christians, or at least all conservative ones.

So, their answers are really more along the lines of "Does someone like Michael Newdow agree at all with my vision of American society, and would I want him to marry my daughter?" That's not public (collective) hostility towards a group; it's widespread individual dislike of one or more very visible representatives of that group.

Even with that, I think the reality is a bit more along the lines of the devil Wormwood's disgust with the English people during WWII as described in _The Screwtape Letters_: "They are creatures of that miserable sort who loudly proclaim that torture is too good for their enemies and then give tea and cigarettes to the first wounded German pilot who turns up at the back door."

I strongly suspect that if you took the 40%/48% of respondants who answered against atheists and sat them down for a few hours with a dozen or so actual atheists chosen from their neighborhood/community/workplace (so as to screen out other differentiating factors), then ask the same questions again, you would get profoundly lower values than the 40%/48% cited above. You'd also get a lot of surprised comments ("_She's_ an atheist? I never would have guessed.")

Beyond that, I think it's hard to talk about polls such as the ones above demonstrating "public hostility towards atheists" when there is a complete lack of corroborating evidence showing discrimination and hate crimes against atheists. As noted above, it's more like irritation towards a few public figures.

On a slighly different note: check out the wonderfully-named Godless Americans Political Action Committee (GAMPAC) at http://www.godlessamericans.org. I ran across them when they endorsed Kerry/Edwards in 2004. I almost sent them a contribution back then, not because I agree with them, but because their PAC name was such an honest and refreshing change from the fuzzy-but-meaningless names of most PACs. GOMPAC might be the best people to ask if they know of any openly atheist Congresspeople. ..bruce..
4.3.2006 1:14pm
Joel B. (mail):
Mike,

No, I can not exonerate religion from the same charge. Misinterpretation in religion is frequent and often destructive. The difference I suppose, is at least there is something to interpret, with the individual athiest I have to discover for myself what it is their interpretation of personal morality is. Now, once that's established that's fine, I have no problem with athiests personally, many are quite fine and decent, but as a systemic heuristic, one that establishes, don't trust initially, determine trustworthiness, etc...seems reasonable.

Now any rational person would do the same to the theist, except that they would probably trust that hey, I can expect that in the main, the protestant Christian, will probably live in a way that I would expect a protestant Christian too, base his or her life around a protestant Christian morality.

Do I think this is unfair? Not particularly so.
4.3.2006 1:17pm
Aultimer:
I fear theists who can't comprehend reasons other than God to behave morally much more than I fear any athiest.
4.3.2006 1:19pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism

Joel, you might find this informative. (I did).
4.3.2006 1:20pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Frankcross writes:


Statistically, there are fewer atheists in prison than in the general population.
But is that because atheists are less likely to become criminals, or because people in prison often turn to religion as solace? I don't know the answer on this, and I would rather suspect that you don't know, either.

I really wish that I could say that hostility to atheists is because their morality is so much lower, but I haven't seen any sign of atheists being less moral (in any measure) than believers. (Nor have I seen any indication that they are any more moral, in spite of generally being much better educated.) Of course, a lot of people that claim to believe in God would be hard pressed to distinguish from atheists in their level of church attendance, piety, or promotion of their religion to their kids. For a lot of people in America, religion is more a default setting than a consciously affirmed position.

However: there is no question that the immorality of certain categories of atheists plays a role in provoking hostility towards them, especially in public office. The Soviet Union, People's Republic of China, and the Khmer Rouge were all fiercely and loudly atheistic societies, and even genocidal states like Nazi Germany gave clear indications that God was window dressing to fundamentally Social Darwinist beliefs. What the National Socialists of Germany did with a pre-World War I slogan is quite instructive. Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Gott! emphasized that Germany (only unified in 1870) was one nation, one people, with one God (because Protestants, Catholics, and Jews all worshipped the same God). The National Socialists replaced "Ein Gott" with "Ein Fuehrer." This was idolatry every bit as much as calling Mao Zedong "The Great Helmsman." (There are capitals there for a reason. See Nien Cheng's Life and Death in Shanghai for a discussion of how the Communist Party appropriated language associated with religion and God.)
4.3.2006 1:21pm
frankcross (mail):
My point was that atheists are not especially immoral, or they would more frequently occupy prisons. And the international evidence is consistent. Some nations, like S. Korea and Sweden have extremely high atheist populations and are not especially out of control immoral places.

I think Joel B. is naive if he expects protestant Christians to base their lives around a protestant Christian morality. I think they have a disproportionately high percentage of prison inmates. And then there's the issue of what a protestant Christian morality entails -- I don't see many giving the poor the shirts off their backs.
4.3.2006 1:23pm
Anomolous:
Donald Kahn wrote:
This atheist's viewpoint is that the monotheistic religions are based on ridiculous fables; and that, in fact, monotheism is the most destructive force ever unleashed on the human race. See Iraq. See the Thirty Years War. See the horrifying events of the Indian partition.


Most. Destructive. Force. Evar? Are we forgetting communism here? You know, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc?
4.3.2006 1:26pm
Karl:
With respect to the relative dearth of violence and other such active bigotry towards atheists:

Most atheists don't wear their beliefs on their sleeve. Our lack of religious beliefs isn't central to our lives. If someone asks me what my beliefs are, I'll probably tell him, but it's not something that is brought up often. Atheists who are more forward with their beliefs (and yes, some are quite rude in this regard- another thing atheists and theists can have in common) are running a risk of retaliation. An atheist who wears a shirt saying "there is no God" is much more likely to be assailed than a Christian who has a Mark 14:16 shirt. Similarly anti-religious bumper stickers are a great way to get one's car keyed or tires slashed. This is in a country where the freedom of one's speech is an enshrined right.

Yes, the atheistic world-view is inherently incompatible with that of say, a Christian, but so too is the case with different faiths that are not so universally reviled.
4.3.2006 1:29pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

My point was that atheists are not especially immoral, or they would more frequently occupy prisons. And the international evidence is consistent. Some nations, like S. Korea and Sweden have extremely high atheist populations and are not especially out of control immoral places.
You might try controlling for racial minority status, and see if this changes your results. Prison populations in the U.S. are very disproportionately black, partly because of drug laws, and partly because blacks are typically 40-60% of all violent felons. Race, for whatever reason, seems to be largest determinant of incarceration status in the U.S. South Korea and Sweden are somewhat different in that respect, being racially much more homogenous.

I think Joel B. is naive if he expects protestant Christians to base their lives around a protestant Christian morality. I think they have a disproportionately high percentage of prison inmates.
Please provide statistical backing for this. I know that Islam is one of the fast growing religions in prison.

And then there's the issue of what a protestant Christian morality entails -- I don't see many giving the poor the shirts off their backs.
You might see what organizations like World Vision and the Salavation Army are doing around the world, along with many other Christian relief organizations. Who do you think provides their funding?
4.3.2006 1:32pm
Brock (www):
Even Archie Bunker allowed his daughter to marry an atheist!
4.3.2006 1:40pm
frankcross (mail):
Well, you can't control for both atheism and race because the data aren't there but it couldn't mathematically explain the whole difference. The percentage of atheists in prison is only around 5% of their population percentage. But the argument I'm responding to is that atheists have no moral foundation, and race shouldn't really matter for that. I suspect that if you controlled for everything external, you'd find that imprisonment rates would be pretty similar for atheists and believers.

I don't have updated figures, and Muslims may be disproportionately high.


You might see what organizations like World Vision and the Salavation Army are doing around the world, along with many other Christian relief organizations. Who do you think provides their funding?


I agree that many Christians are very charitably generous. I disagree that this is an across the board characteristic of Christians, so that you can reason (a) he is a protestant so therefore (b) he donates a great deal to charity. Which was the implication to which I responded.
4.3.2006 1:47pm
A. Friend:
This reminds me of something Nabokov said: the only topic other than pedophilia that is taboo to write about in America, would be the story of an atheist who lives a long and prosperous life and then dies at a ripe old age peacefully in his sleep.
4.3.2006 1:48pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Are you saying that 5% of prison inmates are atheists or that only %0.15 of atheists are in prison?

"The percentage of atheists in prison is only around 5% of their population percentage" seems to imply the latter (accepting the post's claim that atheists are 3% of the population), but I doubt that's what you meant.

If you meant that only %5 of prison inmates are atheists, then that's disproportionately high.

Do you actually have any basis for these statistics anyway?
4.3.2006 1:54pm
Sigivald (mail):
I'm an atheist, and considering how the most vocal atheists comport themselves, I doubt I'd vote for them either, or want my (notional) child marrying one of that subset. But that has little to do with their atheism, and everything to do with how their presentation of it reveals their character.

And that subset, being vocal, can easily create an impression that covers the less vocal set of everyday atheists who, as others have mentioned, don't make it obvious that they are such (because there's no reason to bring it up, and they're not obsessed with Being An Atheist).
4.3.2006 1:56pm
Alfalfa Male:
Although he wasn't "openly" atheistic as president, Abraham Lincoln was most likely an atheist for most of his life. You can read a little bit about this here
4.3.2006 1:58pm
Gordo:
Back to the Boy Scouts: I stand by my statement that any teenage boy who has thought about the subject and then openly declares himself an atheist is either into 1) Howard Roarkism, or 2) Nihilism. A mature adult who comes to an atheist worldview and a non-destructive (to himself or society) moral compass after reflection is not a problem.

I would be interested in an atheist's thoughts on the success of 12-step addiction programs, the only proven effective method of combatting addictions (especially now that A MILLION LITTLE PIECES has been proven a fraud.
4.3.2006 2:19pm
ray_g:
I have been an atheist for most of my life, and except for the circa 1975 "born again Christians" (not my label, that's what they called themselves) I met in college I have not personally experienced any prejudice or animosity. I have no interest in being another class of "victim", I can take care of myself quite well, thank you. Also, I'm not going to get into the debate about atheism and morality, other posters are doing that. I only ask that you please do not blame atheists for the actions of the ACLU.
4.3.2006 2:25pm
plunge (mail):
Ah, atheism. The damned if you do, damned it you don't quandry. Ask me if I believe in God, and I can say, nope, I don't. But then that same person will, in contradiction to all sensible logic, accuse me of holding a positive faith belief that there is no God and assuming that I must spend my days hating God.

The problem with atheism is that there are huge double standards. If we even note our existence, we are being rude and pushy. If we point out that some reason for belief is unconvincing, we are thought to be monsters. And yet, it's perfectly okay to run around telling us that we are all doomed to eternal suffering. People can tell us this to our faces, without provocation, and any reaction other than silence to this sociopathy... would be rude. But THEIR behavior isn't rude, oh no. THEIR implication that we are evil nasty people: that's not "rude." Oh, not at all.

The attitude of most believers towards atheists is that we should be neither seen nor heard while they attack and preach at and insult us as people. And you know what? Most of us atheists just sit and take it, and don't make trouble.

That's why people pointing out the "vocal" athiests as some bad thing doesn't really impress me much. By and large, most of us don't bother to get into it, or object to even clearly rude and rights-infringing assaults on us. We're not after a fight, we just want to live our everday lives, get on with our friends and families and causes and values that we have like everyone else. I doubt one belivier in a thousand could put up with what we happily put up nearly with everyday.

I'm also an Eagle Scout, and, now, and atheist. I have to say that the basic anti-atheist principle in scouting doesn't per se bother me as much as the anti-gay prejeduce. Scouting is supposed to be non-denominational, but of course that's not true in practice: there are plenty of denominations that accept homosexuality, but since Mormanism isn't one of them.... out the gays go!

However, scouting is a religious organization. If you're really an atheist, it makes about as much sense as joining a church. Of course... most churches wouldn't turn away an atheist, and the whole concept of turning anyone away (especially if you think you have a good message to spread!) is silly.
4.3.2006 2:26pm
Timothy (mail) (www):
Having become an apostate in recent years, and joking with my coworkers that I gave Christianity up for Lent, I can see both sides of this. I do think the public perception of atheists has a lot to do with things: flag salute suits (I absolutely and categorically, even when religious, refused to participate), the insistance that "freedom of"="freedom from", and on and on. It's hard to find someone who, on a personal level, is more hostile toward superstition than I am, but I can't stand those people. I also find most believers perfectly fine, so long as they leave me alone about it.

What I think gets left out is that, at root, we are all agnostics (a - without, gnosis - knowing): whether or not God(s) exist(s) is impossible to know in the way we know that water is wet or photosynthesis powers plants. Even the religious will tell you that proof denies faith, or that they take it on faith, most will admit that they do know know and that there is really no way to.

To me, if you can't know the answer the question is useless, so I ignore it, assume chance is more likely than some sort of child-like retributive skyfriend who desires my worship, and go on about my day.
4.3.2006 2:34pm
ray_g:
Gordo: I came to my atheism as a teenage boy,(perhaps earlier) and I was and am not into either of those things. As for 12-step programs, I have objections to those which have nothing to do with religion. Your statement "the only proven effective method of combatting addictions" is far from proven. I am aware of non-religious alternatives, but I have no details on them.
4.3.2006 2:35pm
pedro (mail):
I am an atheist, but Gordo's analysis fails miserably for me, as it does for most of the atheistic scientist colleagues I have gotten to know over the years. It is decidedly neither the case that we believe that fate is entirely in the hands of the individual nor that we embrace the contrary statement. Much to Gordo's bewilderment, let me tell you that I did quite well this year on the academic job market with Catholic institutions, and this was a consequence of a remarkable ideological convergence on matters of social justice.

Like Ilya Somin, I believe that we atheists have it much better--in spite of the widespread prejudice against us--than other minority groups. We are well represented in the Academy, and even more so in organizations like the National Academy of Sciences. (Unitarians and Jews are also sensationally well represented.) We do not run for office, or we keep in the closet if we do, it is true. But that kind of political prejudice against us has less dire consequences on our livelihood as individuals than the kind of discrimination that African Americans, Hispanics, gays, etc., endure.

On the other hand, it is no surprise that atheists (even those of us who have nothing but respect, admiration, and even aesthetic appreciation for some religious traditions) are perceived as being hostile to religion. When people of all religious backgrounds make you the putative enemy (standing in for ancient doctrinary rivals), it is very easy for you to feel invited to hold it against the generality of religious people.

But things are more complicated than that, of course. I, for example, would love to be Jewish, not only because this would allow me to stop my parents in law from inundating me with unwanted Christian paraphernalia during Christmas, but also because I love Klezmer, I enjoy some Jewish rites, I have made the strongest personal connections with Jewish people (including a friendship with someone who died three years ago, and after whom I will name my first-born son, due later in July) and I have nothing but admiration for the Jewish intellectual tradition. It is rather sad that one cannot choose one's ethnicity, and a consequence of it, in my case, is that I will always be taken for Catholic. If I have to live in the metaphysical closet, I'd rather spend my life disguised as a Jew. (Incidentally, this makes it especially ironic when the occasional clueless cyber-interlocutor calls me an antisemite, simply because I have qualms with Israeli policy towards Palestinians.)

I refuse to believe that I am all that strange a case for atheists. Nearly all of us have strong personal connections with people who are believers (my beloved Catholic grandmother, for example). I earnestly wonder if there are serious differences (in attitudes towards others) among right-wing and left-wing atheists. I imagine left-wingers are more likely to detest Christian conservatives, and that right-wingers are more likely to be Ayn Rand acolytes, i.e. virulent critics of altruism in all of its manifestations.
4.3.2006 2:35pm
jimbob (mail):
This post is absurd. If religious people refuse to marry an atheist it's probably because they have fundamentally different views of what marriage is. If I think marriage is a holy union blessed by God, I'm certainly not going to marry someone who simply wants to file joint tax returns.
4.3.2006 2:37pm
BobN (mail):

The problem is, for athiests, is that 90% of the world knows how they would think, if they were athiests, and they rightly fear someone who would so willingly declare themselves as such.


I would point out that this appears to say more about the inner desires of the 90% than it does about atheists...
4.3.2006 2:37pm
plunge (mail):
"However, the antics of the ACLU are intended to enforce compulsory atheism in the public sphere, and I find the ACLU utterly contemptible."

Bull. The position of the ACLU is that the _government_ should not be out promoting any religious viewpoint in the public sphere. It has no objection, and in fact even defends, private individuals who want to promote religion three. I would say that the ACLU is far closer to the understanding of the founders on this than anyone else. The whole idea is that ALL powers of a limited government are things appropriated from the people. But religious belief is something no government has any right to. That power is retained 100% for individuals: none of it was or is ceded to the government. We don't elect our leaders to preach at us because we are already free to listen to any preacher we wish. We pay them to deal with our politics precisely because we are perfectly capable of handling and policiing our religion as individuals, communities, and in the founders time, states.

"I don't hold to the belief that in the main athiests behave worse than believers, they can and often do behave better than believers, but the problems lie in the fact that there is no objective meaning for virtues the athiests themselves draw up, what is "justice, fairness, etc." The athiest must define these for themselves, which some do fine, but what stops the athiest from changing their personal definition of morality."

It's this lack of understanding of morality that's most troubling to me about the way believers see atheists. I mean, you'd have to be really clueless about morality to think that anyone just sits around "drawing it up." That's not how morality works for anyone: that wouldn't BE a morality. I would wager to say that despite all the hubbub about God having something to do with morality, even for most believers, God doesn't. They'd believe the exact same things were wrong or right regardless of whether God existed. And why? Because no one can make any sense of how the existence of God is supposed to transform the amoral into evil. Would rape be okay if God said it was cool (well, heck: like God basically does in the Bible several times?) No. So why are atheists held to account for having "changeable" values? Heck, this coming from a religion who's founding tenet is that at one point in history, many basic moral norms changed all of a sudden without warning or any coherent explanation as to why something that once offended God would now be just fine.

"With athiest I know how they behave at the moment, but I do not know what they profess to attempt to achieve as far as a moral law for themselves. There is no way to know except from the individual athiest, the moral law that individual athiest himself is ordering his or her life by. It makes a systemic prejudice against athiests rational. Prove to me your moral bases are reasonable rational, and relatively immutable, and we'll go from there."

I think this speaks for itself. But, oh no, it's not rude or bigoted. It's "rational." Because we might spin around and eat a baby all of a sudden, unlike those trustworthy to a fault believers. I mean, you never know.
4.3.2006 2:43pm
bcnd:
It is not the topic of this post, but I think the last socially acceptable prejudice is the prejudice against poor white people ("rednecks"). I'm not sure how this developed, but if you took any one of the things said about rednecks and inserted any other race/ethnicity, it would be considered "racist."
4.3.2006 2:46pm
Riskable (mail) (www):
I've read all the comments and I didn't see a good response to this bigoted and biased statement by Baronger:

Athiests on the other hand are more strident and intolerant. The attacks by Athiests and the ACLU on Christmass displays, only fuels the intolerance towards them.


Please point me to some story, somewhere, that demonstrates Atheists--or the ACLU for that mater--attacking Christmas displays. Your statement brings forth imagery of a McCarthy-like atheist leader with his arms raised decrying the horrors of nativity scenes everywhere. Perhaps even a small group of ski-mask-wearing atheist thugs breaking into a church to steal a baby Jesus?

The truth is that the "attack" was not on Christmas displays, but on government-run and sanctioned (and often paid-for with atheist/Muslim/Jew tax dollars) Christian religious displays. I don't know of one Christian that would stand by and accept their government spending tax dollars on, say, decorations of a Wiccan naked dance/magic mural outside the local courthouse (with exposed body parts censored of course). It would be inappropriate and an extremely biased waste of government money. Not only that, but it would be an unconstitutional recognition of an establishment of religion.

So next time you see an atheist fighting against a Christmas display paid for by citizens, thank your deity that people like atheists are around to keep religion out of government. Next time the issue comes up, your particular religion might not be so popular. Or even worse, it might have become too popular--transforming normally moral and good-willed citizens into blood-thirsty fundamentalists who answer criticism with stones and nooses.

FYI: Wicca is the fastest growing religion in the U.S.

-Riskable
http://www.riskable.com
"I have a license to kill -9"
4.3.2006 2:47pm
CJColucci (mail):
Shorter comment section: Yes, we're prejudiced against atheists -- and damn it, we're right to be!
4.3.2006 2:47pm
frankcross (mail):
I can't recall where I read the numbers in print, but google turns up this:

http://holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm

The number of atheists in the population may be hard to measure. As I recall the number of people who self-identify as atheists is quite low, under 1%. However, the people who self-identify as "secular" or "areligious" is around 13%. I assume the self-identification is affected by the prejudice against atheists discussed here.
4.3.2006 2:47pm
pedro (mail):
"The problem is, for athiests, is that 90% of the world knows how they would think, if they were athiests, and they rightly fear someone who would so willingly declare themselves as such."

I would point out that this appears to say more about the inner desires of the 90% than it does about atheists...

I contend that the datum doesn't say much about the inner desires of that 90%, but that it does say quite a bit about its lack of imagination. It is easy to make misguided and utterly ridiculous statements about what one would be like if one believed X or Y. It takes intellectual courage to accept that one actually doesn't know exactly what one would be like if one believed X or Y.
4.3.2006 2:48pm
plunge (mail):
"It is interesting that Agnostics are not mentioned. This is another group which is discriminated against. My old university discriminated against them as general policy. What is more threatening someone who who says, "there is no God(s)" or "there may or may not be God(s), I just don't know.""

Just a note: most athiests are agnostics. And most agnostics are atheists. Knowledge and belief are different measures, and you can claim one or not claim one without claiming or not claiming the other.
4.3.2006 2:48pm
Fishbane (mail):
I can't believe the breathlessness at which some people dismiss atheists based on incorrect information. This just proves a larger point: Most discrimination, hatred, prejudice and so on is based on lies, ignorance or falacious beliefs.

I've noticed this too. Overcoming that incorrect information is hard, but I've done it with a few of my theistic friends. Anecdote is not data, but the ones who can see clear to what I really believe instead of persisting to tell me what I believe and advocating against that strawman tend to be the ones most comfortable in their own faith. And I'm continually amused by the projection involved in assertions that I can't be trusted not to rape and kill because I don't have a god holding me in check.

That said, while my lack of faith just isn't that important to how I live my life, I consider it a very personal matter. I don't really discuss it with people I don't know well. I find the loud atheists just as obnoxious as the evangelists who don't know when to quit - same vice, really.
4.3.2006 2:57pm
Pyrrhus (mail) (www):
Jimbob:


This post is absurd. If religious people refuse to marry an atheist it's probably because they have fundamentally different views of what marriage is. If I think marriage is a holy union blessed by God, I'm certainly not going to marry someone who simply wants to file joint tax returns.



Your assumption that atheists only get married for tax reasons is a perfect example of the sort of the sort of reflexive anti-atheist hostility that this post decries.
4.3.2006 3:05pm
Justin (mail):
On a related note: I know there's a way to read Volokh without seeing the views of certain Conspirators. Is there an exclusion method to avoid reading the posts of certain commenters as well?
4.3.2006 3:06pm
Medis:
The false stereotypes about "atheists" in this thread are probably representative of the sorts of widely-held beliefs and attitudes that are driving these poll results. But I suspect that sort of misconception of "atheists" is inevitable, given that "atheism" is a category defined by a negative, and so invites the notion that all atheists are simply nihilists who are actively hostile to religion.

Indeed, I wonder if the poll results would be the same if some sort of positively-defined but secular worldview was used in the place of "atheism" (eg, something like "secular humanism" or "ethical naturalism"). My guess is no--I bet a lot more Americans would be favorably inclined to such people simply in virtue of the fact that the term in question was based on a positive description of belief.
4.3.2006 3:09pm
C. Gray (mail):
Surveys like the ones mentioned on this blog entry and the subsequent comments should be taken with a grain of salt. A very LARGE grain of salt. Questions about religious faith, like those about sexual behavior and hygenic habits, are particularly unlikely to recieve honest responses.

People know what answers will make them look boorish, uncivilized, uncouth, immoral or depraved. And absent very powerful incentives, they will lie to make themselves "look good", _especially_ to anonymous strangers.

And, as a practical matter, who in the right mind would respond honestly to a _telephone_ survey about religion? Odds are it would be part of an effort to market a religion (or atheisism). The last thing most Americans want to do is listen to a telemarketer, let alone a missionary trying to change their religious opinions.
4.3.2006 3:09pm
plunge (mail):
Heck, talking about atheists as a group is a bit like talking about non-racecar drivers as a group. Most of us don't even pay our "non-racecardriver" monthly dues.
4.3.2006 3:12pm
Gordo:
Pedro: The average mature scientist coming to a reasoned atheistic viewpoint on the "meaning of life" is quite different from a 16-year old boy coming to an atheistic viewpoint on the meaning of life.

When I was at the end of my teenage years I read first "The Fountainhead" and then "Atlas Shrugged," and saw myself as the next Howard Roark/John Galt, as I'm sure millions of others have done. Upon mature reflection, I have realized the utter hokum of this philosophy (while still enjoying the books as fun reads). Despite ray_g's apparent maturity beyond his years, my belief is that any 16-year old Eagle Scout candidate who openly declares himself an atheist has most likely come to the same conclusion I did (the nihilist half of the teenage atheist male population aren't Eagle Scout candidates). That boy needs to be disabused of this notion before he goes out and starts ruining other people's lives and then his own.
4.3.2006 3:15pm
Anomolous:
Timothy wrote:

To me, if you can't know the answer the question is useless, so I ignore it


This has nothing to do with religion (or lack thereof), but questions without answers are some of the most interesting (see stuff about Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem and others).
4.3.2006 3:21pm
Randy R. (mail):
One thing I do find amusing is people like Tom Delay, who insist that without God in our lives, we would all be raping and pillaging and so on. I would like to ask those types, you mean that you think you could really do all sorts of bad acts, and the ONLY reason you are not is a fear of God? If so, then I think these people have a lot more to worry about than atheism. Or gays.
4.3.2006 3:25pm
Medis:
Gordo,

I think generalizing from your own individual experience to all other teen "atheists" is an obvious mistake.

Suppose, for example, that two secular humanist parents raised a secular humanist son. I think it would obviously be a mistake to assume that a teen male who had become an "atheist" through that mechanism would somehow automatically have the exact same beliefs as a teen who followed your path.

Of course, all this really should be obvious, and I again attribute these pretty absurd stereotypes of "atheists" to the fact that "atheism" (unlike, say, "secular humanism") is defined solely as a negative.
4.3.2006 3:26pm
Whatever:
I was raised atheist, by atheists, and frankly it was rarely ever a topic of conversation... Except for the few times that my lack of religion became a problem (notably when I was a cub scout), my family never saw fit to discuss it... I am not, and my family is not, anti-religious... We don't go around proclaiming the futility of life... I have never read any Ayn Rynd, mainly because everyone I have ever met who takes Ayn Rynd seriously has been a real ass...

I'm not some kind of nihlistic social darwinist, I have a plenty developed set of morals, I married the woman that I love spontaneously on a beach in the Carribian, without even considering the possible tax benefits...

Really, until I started reading this thread I had never given my atheism much thought, and presumed that no one else gave my atheism much thought either... I'm kind of taken aback by the about of ignorance and knee-jerk hostility that the very mention of this (rediculous) study elicited...
4.3.2006 3:27pm
BobN (mail):
That boy needs to be disabused of this notion before he goes out and starts ruining other people's lives and then his own.


Uh... by their own policies, the Boy Scouts preclude themselves from having a positive influence on this imaginary boy.
4.3.2006 3:29pm
Hoya:
After reading through this thread, I think that my self-knowledge has improved: I wouldn't want my children to marry appallingly poor spellers, and I have a hard time imagining that I share my world view with appallingly poor spellers.
4.3.2006 3:32pm
Randy R. (mail):
Gordo:
The same should also be said of any 16 year old who holds firm belief in his own religion. Anyone that age is way too young to assume that they know all the answers to morality, God or non-God, the proper way to lead a life and so on. There are plenty of kids who follow in their parents fundamentalist footsteps and never learn about the real world out there.

The best course of action for any teenager is to have some beliefs, if they must, but be open to challenging them and the possibility of change. When I was a teenager, I was a fully committed Catholic. Now at age 44, I don't believe in even half of its teaching, and that's after doing plenty of research into the history of the church, attending services of other faiths, listening to athiests and agnostics, doing my own thinking and so on.

My favorite quote comes from Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Only through growth, change and progress, can true security be found. It there is one belief system I subscribe to, it is that.
4.3.2006 3:32pm
Randy R. (mail):
Social scientists have long wondered about the correlation between Bible Belt believers in protestant religions, and their higher divorce rates and domestic violence. Clearly, just being 'relgious' doesn't necessarily make either the person or the society better.

Perhaps a strong does of atheism in the south would make those men less likely to hit their wives? Just a thought....
4.3.2006 3:35pm
Karl:
Gordo: You are making a very serious mistake by assuming that any and all (or even a majority of) teenagers who become atheist do so for sake of Objectivism or destiny.

In fact, as one who became atheist as a teenager, and one who knows several others who did the same, I can safely say that you are completely off the point. Atheism isn't tied to any one philosophy. It merely occurs when one takes a critical eye to the assertions of religion(s) and decides that those assertions are unlikely, impossible, or even absurd.

I think that this is what a lot of people don't seem to understand about atheism. It isn't a concerted effort to go against popular belief, but merely a rejection of beliefs that are to us, unbelievable.

Allow me to frame it in a way that Christians might understand. Take some supernatural thing, such as Voodoo or the Greek gods. My guess is that you think these things are utter baloney. Why? After all, there have been many people that believe in these things. Is the fact that you don't believe in them an intentional assault upon them? Or, is it the case that you don't believe in them because you simply don't think they are true?
4.3.2006 3:55pm
Karl:
To all those who think that we need a higher authority to have true morals:

What is worse, an atheist who lacks this higher authority, or the Christian who knows that he is going to heaven because he loves Jesus Christ? After all, neither have anything to fear after death. Further, the Christian, confident in his future life, may not feel that he needs to be so careful in this one, whereas the atheist knows that this life is the only one he has, and that he must make the most of it.
4.3.2006 4:02pm
Joel B. (mail):
I may have to some extend sounded directly hostile to athiests, I apologize. I didn't mean to, although I can certainly see how it would come across that way.

My point, is that for one who declares, "I'm a Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, etc." One can generalize out from that, one can develop an expectation of behavior, why? Well, we have expectations of how the genuine believer should behave in each religion. Basically, from their declaration I have a general idea of why and how they should behave on a number of levels.

Now, to the athiest, one who declares as such, can not be known until you know him or her personally. One can not know what the moral code they are claiming to follow may be just from that declaration, they are an unknown. Now, can an athiest be a morally upright decent person...Sure, but can I know that's what they're (at least) aspiring to when they declare themselves to be an athiest? No.

So what's the prejudice,? People tend to fear and dislike the unknown, I have a hard time faulting individuals for this, as long as they are willing to reevaluate each individual. When someone professes the belief of "I don't believe" it just means that one can not know much about what they think they should do. At least with the declared religious individual, one can know what it is they think they should be doing. They could be lying, and after that trust would be broken, but I can say "I should expect X from him, because he claims to believe in a belief systems that expects him to do X."
4.3.2006 4:05pm
taalinukko:
I might have an interesting perspective on this whole thing I grew up as a member of a minority religion, an Episcopalian, in a town dominated by an aggressive missionary religion (90%). In order to protect the innocent I won't say which one, but I have encountered a number of different religions that behave the same way later in life so I am sure it is not particular to just that one.

After growing up amongst the godly, I would 100% trust an atheist before anyone professing their faith. I might rightly say that the most evil memories of my childhood have been perpetrated by devout christians. It wasn't the atheists who uninvited kids from their birthday party after learning that the invited kid's parents went to the wrong church. One of my sister's longtime boyfriends broke up with her in high school because his (church officer) told him to, because she didn't look like she would convert. [Even if that was just his lame excuse, I am happy to not count him as family as a result.]

In that environment social interactions were always kind of weird since the town was large enough that there were several physical churches for the dominant religion, so if you met someone new you could not know if they were a member at another "branch". The usual pattern is that you could meet people, get along swimmingly and then flunk one of the "secret handshake" tests. Things like are you going to event X, did you do Y or something of the sort. At this point the relationship almost invariably changed as you we being recruited to join, it was terribly transparent. Finally they would lose hope for converting you and you would be cut off as a friend or acquaintance, these have been some really bizzare conversations when they happened, "You know I really like you but I cannot associate with you because you are not a blank" IT was doctrinal not to associate with us heathens if there was not hope of saving us, it is still weird to think that so-and-so's religion said they can't be friends with me.

Now I have moved to the city and am in a different mix of people I still react viscerally to the code words and the petty mind games of aggressive religions. For instance my wife called a plumber recently who left his business card with one of the little Jesus fish on it. I see that as a proclamation that "I am in the club and all of you bigots, (sorry devoutly saved or whatever) that could not abide a non-christian plumber in your house can feel safe calling me." He will not get my business in the future, since I was raised as one of the unwashed, a lowly Episcopalian, and yes I am bitter. The reason we have the first amendment and freedom of religion in this country is to protect us from even those petty abuses that I suffered as a child. Now I am not discriminating against him based on his faith but rather on his pandering to those who do discriminate.

Now, I am sure that there is some sampling bias in my life story. If a high percentage of the people in your community are devout then the odds are that a high percentage of the scoundrels that you encounter will be also. But from my sampling there is a very high correlation between being devout and viciousness, deceitfulness, and just being plain evil. Now it may also be that those people were not "true" believers and where just hiding their innate sliminess within the trapping of religion. That may be the case but then it makes the proxy of religiosity to morality or trustworthiness even more suspect.

Someone who claims to be an atheist is almost by definition someone who is thoughtful about the matter, that alone is a big step up the ladder of human quality. Additionally, as I watch my kids grow up the fact that adults can assert that they are only "behaving" because god will get them if they don't scares the life out of me. My kids behave because they are good kids, they don't fear God's wrath they do what is right because it is right. Most adults are the same way I hope, I certainly am, but to hear so many proclamations that effectively say "I am a sociopath save for what I learned in Sunday school." Does make we worry a bit about those people around me.
4.3.2006 4:06pm
Karl:

Allow me to frame it in a way that Christians might understand. Take some supernatural thing, such as Voodoo or the Greek gods. My guess is that you think these things are utter baloney. Why? After all, there have been many people that believe in these things. Is the fact that you don't believe in them an intentional assault upon them? Or, is it the case that you don't believe in them because you simply don't think they are true?


I apologize for sounding presumptuous. Many Christians do of course understand this. The first sentence would better read, "Allow me to frame it in a way that Christians who misunderstand atheism might better understand."
4.3.2006 4:06pm
cmn (mail) (www):
Gordo:

Let me preface this by saying I don't really regard myself as an Objectivist, and have serious doubts as to whether the moral tenets Rand espoused can really be derived strictly from the philosophical premises she claims to start with. Nevertheless, it seems to me that your statements about what it means to "view yourself as the next Howard Roark/John Galt" don't really do justice to the moral worldview Rand did project and that for this reason your dismissal of the possibility of meaningful atheist morality is off mark. Since you've read Rand's works, you know that her ideal of the "virtue of selfishness" is a far cry from the unfettered pursuit of one's immediate interests without respect for others, yet you seem to be perpetuating this caricature in your statements. In fact, Rand's heroes believe there are plenty of things worth giving their lives for, and exhibit a degree of self-restraint in the name of integrity and principle that rivals that of the most religious martyr. They do not believe in a "higher power," but they certainly believe in higher principles that give their lives meaning. Again, I don't know whether one can really get to Rand's moral vision strictly from her premises--but people who espouse a morality based on pure faith in God certainly have no ground to criticize her on that score.

My son is a scout (who says he does not believe in God though he has not yet read Rand), and so I am familiar with the tenets of the Scout Law. If I had the time and inclination, I have no doubt that I could go through Rand's writings and find passages intepreting and espousing each of them, albeit perhaps in some cases with a somewhat different spin as to how they should properly be interpreted and applied. (Alright, for a few of them like Kind and Courteous I might have to turn to David Kelley &co., but that should be okay if Christians are allowed to rely on Paul as well as Christ...)

Anyway, my point is that morality has to do with a belief that one's character is as important to one's happiness as the satisfaction of immediate desires, and its goal ultimately is to tutor the desires so that they become consonant with good character rather than restrained by it. Belief in God is a device that certainly helps in this endeavor, but I don't think you've shown that it is either a necessary or a sufficient one.
4.3.2006 4:07pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Where's the Bible Belt, Randy? Just curious...

I once read an AP story that referred to a town in Europe as "Bible Belt."
4.3.2006 4:07pm
Gordo:
Karl, the Boy Scouts don't require any boy to believe in any particular religion (I can't say the same for individual troops, such as the ones run by Mormons, which is a minority of troops). The Boy Scouts wouldn't disqualify an Eagle Scout candidate because they believed in reincarnation, or voodoo, or the Greek/Roman pantheon of Gods. The requirement is to believe in a higher spiritual power, no more. And any 16-year old boy who, as opposed to questioning or doubting the existence of such a power, has decisively rejected it entirely to the point of shouting it out to an Eagle Scout Board of Review is on the wrong path in life.
4.3.2006 4:08pm
Closet Libertarian:
The survey is flawed because it doesn't have mutual exclusive exhaustive categories for people you don't want your child to marry? Where is the "white" category? They assume discrimination only goes one direction. The results should also be broken down by how the respondent identified themselves.

The discussion of secular morality is interesting but most religious people I know don't take the Bible literally so it can't be an absolute source of morality, just a guide. How many Catholics use birth control? How many Jews eat pork? Many that I know of. So they apply their own judgement to which moral mandates to follow. Thus, the distinction between secular and religious morality is not as great as first seems.
4.3.2006 4:09pm
pedro (mail):
Gordo: I am flattered by your response, of course (I don't say this facetiously), but, like Whatever, I am an example of the hypothetical raised by Medis. I was raised by two secular humanists (who like me, incidentally, would have no use for Ayn Rand), and I was never taught to hate religion or religious people. In fact, much to the contrary: my parents were very supportive of my decision to become a Catholic at age seven, a decision to which I came on my own, influenced by my admiration and love for my grandmother, who is very devout. So I had my first communion, and I was a devout Catholic for about three months, after which I came to the view--on my own--that I couldn't believe the sort of stuff the cathecists were telling me, and that I found their answers to my questions to be not only hard to swallow, but actually hard to make sense of morally. I imagine the average Ayn Rand teenage acolyte has a very different profile, of course.
4.3.2006 4:11pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Also, please define "divorce rate" for us. My guess is that your "social scientists" are bunk.
4.3.2006 4:11pm
plunge (mail):
"My point, is that for one who declares, "I'm a Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, etc." One can generalize out from that, one can develop an expectation of behavior, why? Well, we have expectations of how the genuine believer should behave in each religion. Basically, from their declaration I have a general idea of why and how they should behave on a number of levels."

Do you? So all Jews, Hindus, sikhs, Christians, Buddhists: they're all equally trustworthy and teir behavior equally predictable within their group? What if they're lying about what they believe, as people do all the time?

"So what's the prejudice,?"

In believing that someone is more or less trustworthy or predictable based on their metaphsyical beliefs or lack thereof. You've offered no evidence or reason for this prejudice.

"At least with the declared religious individual, one can know what it is they think they should be doing. They could be lying, and after that trust would be broken, but I can say "I should expect X from him, because he claims to believe in a belief systems that expects him to do X.""

Why can't you just treat everyone as people, and ask them what they think is wrong or right outright if that's what you care about?
4.3.2006 4:20pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
I think most of what needs to be said has been aired here (i.e., the fact that atheists can be moral persons, the fact that enforcing a strict separation of church and state is not the same thing as enacting atheism as the state religion), but I would add that the one argument above all others I really don't buy is this notion that atheists are these obnoxious creatures who are forcing it down everyone's throats.

This is wrong on all sorts of levels. First, most atheists keep it to themselves, both because they have no desire to "convert" other people and also because disclosing it can subject an atheist to discrimination and ridicule.

Second, a lot of people obviously conflate strict advocates of separation of church and state, some of whom are atheists but others of whom (like Barry Lynn) are not, with atheism. This is fanned by right wing media outlets (e.g., Bill O'Reilly) who make it sound like every attempt to keep government from endorsing religion is some sort of attack on believers and their right to express their religious beliefs. Indeed, as Professor Volokh sometimes points out, the ACLU and some other advocates of separation of church and state take their share of cases involving the right of individual religious believers to express themselves. The line they tend to draw is between individuals and the government, not between religion and nonreligion.

Third, and most importantly, it seems to fly in the face of reality to argue, in a world where prosletyzation is ridiculously common (and sometimes obnoxious and unwanted), that it is atheists who are trying to impose their views on everyone else. Indeed, many Christians believe they are commanded by Scripture to do exactly that. And it shows-- how many atheist athletes use post-game interviews as a platform to deny the existence of God? How many atheists at work have invited you to a group study of the works of Nietzsche? How many Campus Crusades for Darwin are there nationwide? How many college students insist on giving every public speech in their undergraduate speech class on the topic of the nonexistence of God? How many atheists have knocked on your door in pairs asking to talk to you about nonreligion?

By mildly ridiculing those who prosletyze, I am not saying that they do not have the right to do so. Indeed, the right to prosletyze is a crucial part of the right to religious expression, and those who don't want to hear the message must understand that hearing unwanted messages is one of the inevitable consequences of living in a free society. Nonetheless, to those who say that it is ATHEISTS who are obnoxiously promoting their beliefs, I just have to say, what planet are you living on? Because here on earth-- and as a predictable result of both a greater societal tolerance for the expression of religious as opposed to nonreligious beliefs, and also because of the specific religous command to evangelize and "spread the word"-- it is almost always religious believers who are pushing their message on those who do not wish to hear it.
4.3.2006 4:22pm
Fern:
It doesn't seem that either data set proves or disproves hostility towards atheists. Since when is bigotry equated with acknowledging that you don't have very much in common with a certain group of people? I don't have very much in common with male Southern Baptists, so does that mean that I am hotile towards them?! Likewise, I don't see how a preference for your child marrying someone with similar values is bigotted? Most parents (atheists and religious folks) probably prefer that their child marry someone with values similar to their own. And if that isn't possible, then someone with as similar as possible values. I would imagine that a Christian parent would prefer that their child marry a Jew before they married an atheist not because they hate atheists but because Jews and Christians share a lot more theologically than do Christians and atheists. Marriages based on common values and beliefs are more successful, generally speaking, than marriages between people who have radically different beliefs.

What's really alarming about the study's results is that there is approximately 1/4 to 1/5 of Americans that don't want their child to marry a person based solely on that person's ethnicity. Also, why didn't the study ask if someone would prefer that their child not marry a white person?
4.3.2006 4:25pm
Colin (mail):
Gordo:

And any 16-year old boy who, as opposed to questioning or doubting the existence of such a power, has decisively rejected it entirely to the point of shouting it out to an Eagle Scout Board of Review is on the wrong path in life.

So, assuming that deceiving a review board isn't an acceptable alternative, your Everyboy is required to believe in some sort of higher spiritual power to be on the right "path in life"? Why is it so hard for you to picture a decent human being who simply doesn't share your faith?
4.3.2006 4:28pm
Zubon (mail) (www):
Original:

And any 16-year old boy who, as opposed to questioning or doubting the existence of such a power, has decisively rejected it entirely to the point of shouting it out to an Eagle Scout Board of Review is on the wrong path in life.


Alternate:

And any 16-year old boy who, as opposed to questioning or doubting the existence of such a power, has decisively accepted it entirely to the point of shouting it out to an Eagle Scout Board of Review is on the wrong path in life.


How has the truth value of this assertion changed, that is not based upon the assumption that the default position for all thinking beings is theism? Is there some epistemology that is only available to 16-year-olds in one direction?
4.3.2006 4:28pm
CEB:
Gordo,
Way up there, you asked about atheism and recovery. I am an atheist, and an alcoholic who has been sober for over 11 years, thanks to AA. Of course it varies from group to group, but the "higher power" that recovering alcoholics speak of is not always dogmatically held to be a deity. For many people like me, the "power greater than ourselves" is the AA group, the wisdom and common experiences of humanity, or an intuitive strength of indeterminate origin. I know that sounds a little flaky, but there is much to humanity that is "not dreampt of in our philosophy" nor accounted for by logic.
4.3.2006 4:31pm
Medis:
Gordo,

Not to pile on, but why should we be more concerned about the youthful certainty of an "atheist" in his beliefs, as opposed to an equivalent certainty by any other sort of believer at that age? Take your hypothetical believer in the Greek pantheon--would a teen who was certain about the existence of such gods somehow be showing a more reflective and mature state of belief than a teen who was equally certain that such gods did not exist?

Indeed, it seems to me you have a clear double-standard: teens with secular worldviews must be skeptical about the truth of their beliefs, whereas teens with religious worldviews can be as certain about their beliefs as they please. Personally, I'd support encouraging all teens to be skeptical about their beliefs, but I don't see a certain youthful hubris when it comes to such matters as unusual or troubling.
4.3.2006 4:31pm
Taimyoboi:
"After all, neither have anything to fear after death. Further, the Christian, confident in his future life, may not feel that he needs to be so careful in this one, whereas the atheist knows that this life is the only one he has, and that he must make the most of it."

Karl, I could just as easliy paint generalizations that tip the field in the believer's favor:

Since the atheist doesn't get an eternity of bliss, he devolves into nihilism in this one to take full advantage of it. The Christian, confident in the presence of an afterlife, but not confident that he will get there, lives his life imitating Jesus'.

Unless you were also trying to make the point that appealing to generalizations is hazardous.
4.3.2006 4:32pm
Karl:
Gordo:

I'm not sure if this is important to the discussion, but I was a scout for my entire childhood and teenage years (and was an assistant scoutmaster for a year after that). My scoutmaster knew that I, and a couple others in the troop were atheists, and he had no problem with it. Mind you, were weren't going around trying to convert the others, just minding our own business in that regard. Even though we have opposing views on the supernatural, I have nothing but the utmost respect for him and how he ran the troop.

I never ended up before an Eagle Scout review board. I was in the scouts because I liked camping and spending time with my friends there, not because of an interest in being recognized.

Let's pretend that I did end up before an Eagle Scout review board, and that they asked me about my religion. What should I have said? I could lie, and say that I am a God-fearing Christian (hardly very scout-like), or I could tell them the truth. Ironically, the more moral thing to do in this case is the one most likely to get you spurned.
4.3.2006 4:33pm
Karl:
Taimyoboi:

For what it's worth, you answered a different question than I asked. The Christian in my scenario was sure he was on his way to heaven (I have met people who think this), not the more common breed of Christian that feels he has to work for it.

I was essentially trying to cast doubt upon the idea that you can assume a Christian is working towards being a good person. Of course I feel that making generalizations like these for or against atheism, Christianity, or any most any religion are silly.
4.3.2006 4:39pm
Colin (mail):
Joel B.,

My point, is that for one who declares, "I'm a Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, etc." One can generalize out from that, one can develop an expectation of behavior, why? . . . Basically, from their declaration I have a general idea of why and how they should behave on a number of levels. Now, to the athiest, one who declares as such, can not be known until you know him or her personally. One can not know what the moral code they are claiming to follow may be just from that declaration, they are an unknown. . . . So what's the prejudice,? People tend to fear and dislike the unknown, I have a hard time faulting individuals for this, as long as they are willing to reevaluate each individual.

So you don't fault people who fear and dislike atheists, because atheists don't fit into neatly prepackaged stereotypes? Yikes. The fact of the matter is that you can make the same sort of assumptions about your average atheist as you can about your average Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, or whatever. People are generally just people, and neither faith nor the lack thereof instills any magical adherence to ethical or moral standards.
4.3.2006 4:41pm
Medis:
plunge,

To be fair to Joel B., I think asking people to self-identify their central behavior-governing beliefs in some way is not completely pointless. Sure, they could be lying, and any shorthand declaration ("I am an X" where X is a single word) is necessarily going to provide very limited information. Nonetheless, even such a simplistic declaration can provide a great deal of general information, and one can discount for the possibility of the declarant lying in the normal ways.

In that sense, I do think "atheists" might want to think about adopting shorthand declarations for their various central beliefs (eg, "humanist", "rationalist", "empiricist", "naturalist", and so on). And as I have argued above, I think "atheists" might find a lot of people will respond more positively to such self-identifications, and I don't think that is an entirely irrational response on their part.
4.3.2006 4:45pm
Aultimer:

Gordo:
And any 16-year old boy who, as opposed to questioning or doubting the existence of such a power, has decisively rejected it entirely to the point of shouting it out to an Eagle Scout Board of Review is on the wrong path in life.

That's both stupid and bigoted. A boy who's managed to do all the required things to reach the scout review board has done many worthwhile things for himself and his community. He's also spent enough time doing those things to keep himself out of the trouble that's inevitable on the really "wrong" path.

As for the bigotry - unless you're suggesting all Eagle Scouts should profess Agnosticism (or other traditions of doubt) how can decisive atheism be worse than religous "confirmation"?

I also note that those prejudiced against athiests likely have no clue about the central tenents of religions they find acceptable (like Unitarianism, modern Buddism, Quakerism and the flavor of Chritianity run by the Church of Christ and Mennonites).
4.3.2006 4:47pm
CJColucci (mail):
Joel B.
You seem to be a sincere, thoughtful fellow who simply doesn't know -- or more accurately, doesn't know he knows -- any atheists, so I'll try to meet you halfway.
You say you have some basis for predicting how a person of a particular religious belief will act (though you recognize that sinful humans don't always act consistently with their beliefs) but that you can't predict how an atheist will act. That, you say, is a reasonable ground for regarding theists and atheists differently.
But I submit that the grounds of your ability to predict are not what you think they are. Most religious traditions and most non-religious moral traditions, in their current forms, agree on 90% of what constitutes a proper way to live: Robbing, raping, and killing is bad. Some sort of concern for the unfortunate is good. Honesty is, usually, the best policy. Leave aside ritual concerns (don't eat pork, don't drink) and a few marginal moral issues concerning consensual sex, and it would take a far more profound grasp of theology and comparative religion than just about anyone has to predict how adherents of one religion can be expected to behave as opposed to adherents of another. Participants in our common culture mainly believe the same fundamental things concerning right and wrong, whether they are Presbyterians, Zoroastrians, or atheists. And they mainly believe them (whether, as a biographical matter, they got them from the gospels, the Talmud, the Koran, Kant, or Spiderman comics) because those beliefs make sense in getting us through the kinds of lives we live. What justifies your predictions in one case equally justifies them in the other, once you recognize what you're really predicting.
4.3.2006 4:47pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
The idea that atheists are disproportionately obnoxious, so much as to incur the disdain of society at large, is completely ridiculous. People don't like atheists because they don't like atheism. This should be completely obvious to anyone who is remotely intellectually honest about it.

When was the last time an atheist came knocking on your door trying to convert you? When was the last time they stopped you on the street? Atheists don't do this. In addition to being the most hated, atheists are almost certainly the least vocal minority in America. The vast vast majority of atheists completely hide their lack of religious belief.

There are extraordinarily more prominent bad actors in virtually every religion than there are for atheists.

The fact that people are willing to say that the disdain for atheists results from their boorish behavior shows just how ridiculously weak and non-vocal the atheist lobby is. Atheists are disliked exactly for what they believe, or don't believe.

It's kind of funny though, that half the deniers seem to say "No we don't dislike them; we just disagree with them," while the other half say "Why should we like them? They're a bunch of jerks!"
4.3.2006 4:48pm
Joel B. (mail):
Thanks Medis, you said, probably far more eloquently than I could have, the general point of what I am trying to get across.

Colin, my point in not faulting someone is simply recognizing that it is a normal and safe response, to view with hesitation the unknown, I'm not going to fault someone with what is likely the 'rational' default position to take.
4.3.2006 4:49pm
rayabacus:
Atheists, like Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddists, etc. come in all shapes and sizes, many carrying their baggage with them. I became an Atheist through the study of Christianity, certainly not the result I was looking for! Other Atheists, as noted in this thread, took different routes. As most have said, this is not something that you go around advertising. You certainly do not have a fish on your car within a circle with a slash through it. However it is certainly not anything I am ashamed of and I will discuss it if encouraged to do so.

I have tolerance for the religious views of others. I do not judge them as individuals based on their religion. In my 58 years on this planet in a variety situations and loci I have met and interacted with a rather large number of people, most of whom belong to some religious sect. I have met People of sterling character and integrity and have met people who are character deficient and have a reprehensible moral code of conduct.

I can honestly say that both the most moral person and the most immoral person I have known professed a belief in God. Most Atheists that I have met also fall into a pattern. Young Atheists have a disdain for religionists, believing them ignorant and unintelligent. Most "seasoned" Atheists have a high tolerance level for religionists, believing that they are just "wrong".

I can say that I do not feel like I am a victim of some type of discrimination or bigotry. I have spent many wonderful evenings engaged in Theological debate with many of my religionist friends.
4.3.2006 4:49pm
uh clem (mail):
Gordo RE The Boy Scouts: The requirement is to believe in a higher spiritual power, no more.

The requirement is to believe in a higher spiritual power or keep your mouth shut. If asked directly, the requirement is to actually believe or to lie about it.

What a terrible dilemma for a young person to face. Better to encourage honesty than mindless decietful conformity
4.3.2006 4:51pm
frankcross (mail):
Catholics are less likely to divorce but rates for Protestants and atheists are pretty similar. Data are here:



I just don't see how knowing a person's religious affiliation tells you that much about their behavior. Or even their beliefs. I know very conservative Baptists and very liberal Baptists
4.3.2006 4:51pm
Medis:
Colin,

The thing is, no individual really fits neatly into "prepackage stereotypes" of belief. But some amount of typification of persons is a necessary component of social interaction, because we simply do not have the time to get to know everyone we meet intimately and in detail. In that sense, I do think "atheists" would be wise to adopt whatever declaratory label they think suits them best (with qualifiers as necessary--eg, "I'm more or less a humanist" should be fine). And I don't think "atheists" should consider themselves immune to a pluralistic society's need for such labels during many interactions.
4.3.2006 4:54pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I would be interested in an atheist's thoughts on the success of 12-step addiction programs, the only proven effective method of combatting addictions (especially now that A MILLION LITTLE PIECES has been proven a fraud.
There is no evidence that 12-step programs are more effective than other addition treatment programs.
4.3.2006 4:56pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Public displays of religiosity are the worst predicter of moral behavior, ever.
4.3.2006 4:57pm
uh clem (mail):
Public displays of religiosity are the worst predicter of moral behavior, ever.

ITYM Public displays of religiosity are a good predictor of the worst moral behavior.
4.3.2006 5:04pm
Riskable (mail) (www):
Daniel Chapman, the Bible Belt is "an area in which Evangelical Protestantism is a pervasive or dominant part of the culture.":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_Belt

There's an excellent map on that page. To break it down, it covers the following states:

Alabama 5.4
Arkansas 6.2
Florida 5.1
Texas 3.9
Georgia 2.5
West Virginia 5.2
Virginia 4.2
North Carolina 4.5
South Carolina 3.4
Louisiana -- (no data)
Tennessee 5.1
Mississippi 4.9
Oklahoma -- (no data)
Kansas 3.6
Missouri 4.0
Kentucky 5.2

The numbers next to the states are their divorce rates. Taken from here (for that person that was asking).

...and the Bible Belt does have the nation's highest divorce rate:

http://www.ncpa.org/pd/social/pd111999g.html

This page has divorce rates broken down by religion:

http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_dira.htm

Comparatively speaking, Atheists and Agnostics have a lower divorce rate than Christians of all sorts as well as Jews.

-Riskable
http://www.riskable.com
"I have a license to kill -9"
4.3.2006 5:05pm
Mycin (mail):
For the purposes of this post, I'll define 'athiesm' as the belief that there is no higher power, and 'agnosticism' as the lack of belief in a higher power.

With that said, 'athiesm' is most definately a belief system, if not an out-right religion. It is not logically possible to prove a negative, so believing categorically that "there is no God" is expressing a faith at least as strong as the most devout Baptist in the bible belt. After all, it is at least logically possible for proof in God to show up some day, but proof that their is no God is impossible. This type of athiesm is also an extremely arrogant view, to believe that mankind is the highest form of intelligence in the Universe.

I suspect that most people who claim to be athiests would fall into my definition of 'agnostic', which I and, I suspect, other believers have much more sympathy for. Few believers are without their periods of doubt, after all. Indeed, most of the 'athiests' in this thread (as best I can tell) probably fall within this group. However, the ambiguity of the terms might account for much of the disconnect between what 'athiests' claim to believe and what others expect them to believe.

FWIW, in all my years of surfing the web, I have seen many, many more posts that mocked/belittled religious belief than posts that mocked/belittled athiesm/agnosticism. Anecdotal, I know, but the smug, self-satisfied ass chuckling about and belittling all the "ignorant rubes that really believe all that religion stuff" does not appear to be an endangered species. These jerks give the rest of you a bad name, just as Falwell, et al, harm the image of believers.

Finally, the idea that the ACLU is just trying to keep tax money from paying for religious expression (as one of the previous comments suggested) doesn't hold water. Anti-Christian expression is just as religious in nature as pro-Christian expression (the first amendment says "concerning" religion, not "supporting" relgion). So for this argument to hold up, the ACLU would have to object to NEA funding of, say, "Piss Christ" and other anti-Christian 'art'. If they do so, I haven't heard of it.

Since they primarily attack Christian expression, and do so with a zeal seldom matched by the most fundie of Baptists, no one should be surprised that the ACLU has a reputation for being anti-Christian. What they say is barely relevant -- it's their actions that matter. They've earned this distrust through decades of hard work.

The argument that some ACLU members are leftist Christians sounds similar to the old racist objection that "some of my best friends are ..."
4.3.2006 5:06pm
Irensaga (mail):
The "last socially acceptable predjudice?"

No, not really. It's still quite acceptable to attack Mormonism in many circles and has been ever since the religion was founded.

To a certain extent, racism towards Asians (of all stripes) is also often accepted.
4.3.2006 5:08pm
Colin (mail):
Medis,

I think that you place too much emphasis on the social lubricant effect of labels as a signifier of values. I certainly understand your point, and agree with you to a very large extent, but in the end I don't believe that it's actually useful to ascribe useful and valuable information to such broad (and loose) terms as "Christian" or "Muslim."

First, I doubt that those terms are actually provide significant information. I do not believe that self-identification as a "Christian" makes a person less likely to commit acts that I would call unethical or immoral. It does carry some information--how likely is this person to freak out if I say "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"?--but not enough to justify giving atheists the hairy eyeball because they don't pick a label and stick with it.

Second, as for the "humanist" label you propose, I specifically doubt its usefulness. I'm a big fan of secular humanism, but the term is used as a bogeyman by the very groups that atheists most want to reach out to (to the very limited extent that atheists want to reach out on this issue at all). I believe, purely as a matter of faith (that is, without any evidentiary support whatsoever), that there would be a very significant overlap between the people who reacted with hostility to the concept of "atheism" and those who would react with equal or greater hostility to the specific label "humanist."

As for the need for general need for labels, I agree completely. It would be pretty hard to have this conversation without them. But "atheist" should suffice, unless there is an actual need for more specificity; if the listener reacts with hostility because he fears the unknown quantity of someone who doesn't subscribe to a clear and well-defined organized faith, then the atheist is not at fault--it is (or should not be) incumbent on any person to carry a particular label in order to allay unreasonable xenophobia.
4.3.2006 5:12pm
Luke R. (mail) (www):
I have noticed from both theist and atheist sides of this discussion (but especially the former) a distinct hostility to the ACLU. For what it's worth, here is a list of cases in which the ACLU provided assistance to Christian people, churches, or organizations. I couldn't find such a list that included all religions, however.

To put in my $0.02, I would like to add that atheists themselves bear some of the blame for this hostility. Please see this article. As some of the commenters on this piece noted, if athesists are going to criticize the religious (and I do not think that they should), it should be with an outstretched hand, not down an upturned nose.
4.3.2006 5:16pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
I knew you'd cite that study, Randy... it was touted a couple years ago by the DailyKos crowd. Trouble is, it figures 'divorce rate' by dividing the number of divorces by the total population while completely ignoring the fact that you can't get divorced without getting MARRIED first.

Coincidentially, all of thse "bible belt" states with the high divorce rates also have much higher MARRIAGE RATES. Places like Massachusettes, DC, and Connecticuit have the lowest rate of people getting married in the country, so of course they have fewer divorces per capita.

Your statistics are meaningless.
4.3.2006 5:21pm
Taimyoboi:
"Comparatively speaking, Atheists and Agnostics have a lower divorce rate than Christians of all sorts as well as Jews."

Riskable,

To extrapolate from the a general class to a particular subset is not a good idea. Simply because a state has a high divorce rate does not mean that evangelicals residing within the state do as well.

Now if you were to provide statistics of divorce rates for practicing Christians/Jews (as defined by something like church/synagogue attendance) then you might have a point.
4.3.2006 5:21pm
Colin (mail):
Excuse me, I mistyped the last sentence of my last post. It should read, "it is not (or should not be) incumbent on any person to carry a particular label in order to allay unreasonable xenophobia."

While I'm posting, I'll note in response to Mycin:

Since they primarily attack Christian expression, and do so with a zeal seldom matched by the most fundie of Baptists, no one should be surprised that the ACLU has a reputation for being anti-Christian.

I'm certainly not surprised at the reputation, given the enormous echoing repetition of the allegations that the ACLU is anti-Christian. But it is not a deserved reputation, and it is not true that "they primarily attack Christian expression," as has been discussed and demonstrated more than once on this very site.
4.3.2006 5:21pm
Gil Milbauer (mail) (www):
As another data point, see this page for a first-person accout of then Vice President (and presidential candidate) George HW Bush saying:

"I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God."

Apparently there's a document in the Bush Library confirming this exchange as well, but the FOI request is still in the queue.
4.3.2006 5:21pm
SLS 1L:
I have to agree with the other posters who say that large amounts of this comment thread are proving the original point. Seriously, how many Christians love their neighbors as themselves? (Matt. 22:29) Or pray in secret rather than making public displays of piety so that others can see them doing so? (Matt. 6:5-6) Or refrain from casting the first stone unless they are without sin? (John 8:7) You object, perhaps, that these are hard things to do, but how many Christians are even making a serious effort? Not many, as far as I can tell.

Those are all eminently good and moral things to do, I think (aside from praying in secret, since there's no God to pray to), but it just goes to show that knowing what's written in someone's holy book tells you very little about their actual belief system.
4.3.2006 5:22pm
gwangung (mail):
Finally, the idea that the ACLU is just trying to keep tax money from paying for religious expression (as one of the previous comments suggested) doesn't hold water. Anti-Christian expression is just as religious in nature as pro-Christian expression

I think you might be a bit mixed up on this. Particularly since your example was meant the exact opposite of what you said it was.
4.3.2006 5:26pm
Peter Wimsey:
Similar to what a couple of other posters have said, I believe that the sole remaining acceptable prejudice is against people from the south, especially "rednecks." If a TV show wants to demonstrate that someone is stupid or backwards, they often give them a southern accent, for example...and there are many other examples.

Similarly, when discussions of racism come up - even on this blog - someone will always mention southerners as if they have a particular affinity for racism absent in the rest of the country. This would be laughable if it weren't so prevalent. Not that southerners are free from racism - southerners are as racist as anyone else in the US. But not, I think, more so.

To be nominally on topic - being a quiet atheist, I'm not particularly surprised that some people have negative views toward atheists...unfortunately, I believe that's because most of the atheists one hears about in the media are involved in something that can be perceived as "anti-Christian." Atheists just living their lives aren't newsworthy, I suppose.
4.3.2006 5:36pm
plunge (mail):
"For the purposes of this post, I'll define 'athiesm' as the belief that there is no higher power, and 'agnosticism' as the lack of belief in a higher power. With that said, 'athiesm' is most definately a belief system, if not an out-right religion. "

So, because you define something the way you like it, it is.

In other news, "wallow in the mud" now means "fly" which will be great news for pigs.

"It is not logically possible to prove a negative,"

This has to be the single most ironic thing anyone can say. So it's not possible to prove that something is not possible? Okay, smart guy. PROVE IT.

"so believing categorically that "there is no God" is expressing a faith at least as strong as the most devout Baptist in the bible belt."

Unfortunately, a single metaphysical opinion, whether justified or not, is hardly enough to call something a "religion." If that were true, most people would have 10-30 "religions" since they hold any number of metaphysical beliefs that, if found in isolation, you'd label as a religion. There's also the problem that of the few atheists that claim this, they do so NOT by citing faith, but rather deductive arguements. I don't think those arguments hold water, but you can't dismiss them out of hand either and claim that they are faith rather than a mistake in reasoning: not the same thing.

"This type of athiesm is also an extremely arrogant view, to believe that mankind is the highest form of intelligence in the Universe. "

Another tired straw man. Not believing that there is a God is not the same thing as believing that single individuals are the most intelligent or most important things in the universe. For all we know, humans are the most intelligent beings out there: in which case it would simply be a fact, not arrogance. Mostly, people just don't know what's out there.

"I suspect that most people who claim to be athiests would fall into my definition of 'agnostic', which I and, I suspect, other believers have much more sympathy for."

Perhaps that's a clue that your definition, not theirs, is silly?

"However, the ambiguity of the terms might account for much of the disconnect between what 'athiests' claim to believe and what others expect them to believe. "

The problem is really not our fault. If you ask me if I believe in god, I'll say no. It is someone like YOU that would then call me an atheist. But then you'll turn around and claim that I definitively assert that there are no Gods. This illogic is not my doing, or my fault.

"Finally, the idea that the ACLU is just trying to keep tax money from paying for religious expression (as one of the previous comments suggested) doesn't hold water."

Really? So the ACLU has never taken cases defending street preaching? Allowing students to have Bible quotes in their yearbooks?

"So for this argument to hold up, the ACLU would have to object to NEA funding of, say, "Piss Christ" and other anti-Christian 'art'. If they do so, I haven't heard of it."\

That would be assuming that your argument makes sense. It doesn't. The NEA doesn't contract for pro-religious or anti-religious anything. It gives out grants to artists who express themselves. I haven't heard the ACLU protesting grants to religious artists either, so your point is moot.

"They've earned this distrust through decades of hard work."

...of dishonest hyperventilating activists who don't like the idea of someone preventing their abuses of power.
4.3.2006 5:43pm
rayabacus:
Atheists just living their lives aren't newsworthy, I suppose.

No we aren't. And for the most part they aren't "anti-Christian" either. Most Atheists I know are tolerant of religionists.
4.3.2006 5:43pm
dry martini:
Better examples of atheist/agnostic conservatives might be Sidney Hook and Max Eastman, in their later incarnations.
4.3.2006 5:46pm
plunge (mail):
African americans are disproportionately represented in prison. They are also disproportionately highly religious. Marriage/divorce rates both tend to be high in areas with lots of and widespread poverty. Hence, the south. Figuring out what causes what is not something a few statistics can show.

Atheists are not demonstrably less moral or less dependable than anyone else. That's as far as one needs to go.
4.3.2006 5:47pm
jimbob (mail):
Pyrrhus:

Surely you realize that I didn't imply atheists only marry for tax reasons. The distinction was made to highlight religious reasons for marriage from secular reasons.

Care to address the merits of my comment? Why should a religious person's refusal to marry an atheist (a person who doesn't share the same ideas about the marriage) akin to prejudice, bigotry, or hostility?
4.3.2006 5:52pm
Aultimer:

Mycin:

For the purposes of this post, I'll define 'athiesm' as the belief that there is no higher power, and 'agnosticism' as the lack of belief in a higher power.

With that said, 'athiesm' is most definately a belief system, if not an out-right religion. It is not logically possible to prove a negative, so believing categorically that "there is no God" is expressing a faith at least as strong as the most devout Baptist in the bible belt. After all, it is at least logically possible for proof in God to show up some day, but proof that their is no God is impossible. This type of athiesm is also an extremely arrogant view, to believe that mankind is the highest form of intelligence in the Universe.


Strawman. "Atheism" can mean (according to my dictionary) a lack of belief in God, which is quite different from a belief in no God.

Your definition is as useful as defining "Christian" as someone who believes every word of the bible as the true word and commandment of God. It's fine as definitions go, but irrelevant to the study at hand and to the discussion as well.
4.3.2006 5:55pm
Cornellian (mail):
I wish the study had gone further into the basis behind this negative view of atheists. I'm inclined to think it's based on erroneous assumptions about what atheists believe or how they behave. Certainly the comments posted so far lend some credence to that idea. One cannot assume that a self professed atheist will be immoral anymore than one can assume that a self professed theist (pick your religion of choice) will be moral.
4.3.2006 5:58pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Social scientists have long wondered about the correlation between Bible Belt believers in protestant religions, and their higher divorce rates and domestic violence. Clearly, just being 'relgious' doesn't necessarily make either the person or the society better.

Perhaps a strong does of atheism in the south would make those men less likely to hit their wives? Just a thought....
As last the 1820s, the South was the least churched part of the United States--and as bad as things are there today, the discrepancy with the rest of the U.S. was even worse back then. My book Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic: Dueling, Southern Violence, and Moral Reform (Prager, 1999) might interest you.

The spread of evangelical Christianity into a place awash in mayhem and murder over the most trivial of insults was and is widely recognized as improving the morals of a bunch that makes the modern Bible Belt seem like a bunch of choirboys.

By comparison, much of the Northern U.S. has been civilized (and strongly churched) from the beginnings of settlement. It shows in much lower violent crime rates.
4.3.2006 5:58pm
ray_g:
Mycin: I can't let that go unchallenged. The old canard that atheism is also a religion or is based on "faith" is bogus. Yes, one cannot logically prove a negative, but that is way too high a standard to disallow saying "there is no...". If someone said "there are no pink elephants", would you say they are logically incorrect, or that they have a religion of non-belief of pink elephants? Of course not, you would interpret them as saying that all evidence known to them leads them to the conclusion that there is a very high probability that pink elephants do not exist. So, I can, without inconsistency, say that I believe there is no god, and still say that if you could show me credible, convincing proof of a god's existence, that I would acknowledge it. If you show me a non-genetically altered, non-alcohol induced pink elephant I'll acknowledge it's existence too.

You said: "This type of atheism is also an extremely arrogant view, to believe that mankind is the highest form of intelligence in the Universe. "

What about:
"Religion is an extremely arrogant view, to believe that mankind is so unique that a supernatural being was required to create it".
4.3.2006 5:59pm
SLS 1L:
To the people arguing about semantics: I think the most common use of 'atheist' by people who don't self-identify as atheists is to mean "people who actively disbelieve in God," contrasted with 'agnostics,' taken to mean "people aren't sure whether or not there's a God." (The idea that there's a middle ground between "active disbelief" and "don't know" is, in this way of viewing the world, not considered.) Of course, 'atheist' is also used to mean "people who lack a belief in God," but the question about whether one or another definition is "right" is without content.

I suspect that the survey results are best interpreted using the "active disbelief" definition, which means people like me.
4.3.2006 6:02pm
plunge (mail):
Again, how many times does it have to be pointed out that the statement: "logically, one can never prove a negative" is self-contradicting?

Establishing the non-existence of something _inductively_ is effectively impossible. But that's not the same thing as saying that you cannot prove a negative. Stop saying the latter.. It's totally insane!
4.3.2006 6:03pm
Pendulum (mail):
Joel B.,

I fear that your claim that declarating a religion implies moral behavior will leave you very vulnerable to hucksters and charlatans. You might be overly comforted by Jim and Tammy Faye's proclamations of Christianity, or think that Jack Abramoff's strong Orthodox values made him a trustworthy business partner!

By the way, I began strongly doubting the existance of God at 14, and became sufficiently sure of God's non-existance at 16 to be comfortably calling myself an atheist. I'm not a 'nihilist', a Randian, or a violent misanthrope. Rather, I try to treat people with kindness and dignity. I now realize that this is a "skewed moral system", and will try undermine society more in the future.
4.3.2006 6:04pm
anon6:
I don't have much to comment on, except for the old "atheists can't be moral" quip. It is utter nonsense. How many times have you heard of a criminal, when asked why he committed his crime, said "because I don't believe in a vengeful deity!". I've personally never heard this sentiment, and I would imagine that its rate of occurence is very rare to non-existent. We do hear about murders being justified (at least in the minds of the murderers and their supporters) by religious belief all of the time, however.

There's a real simple reason as to why we don't hear about crime done in the name of godlessness: atheists tend to be smart, thoughtful people who know that its not morally right to commit crimes, regardless of whether the threat from a vengeful deity is real or not. Morality has been around much longer than religion has, and it is likely that evolution selected for moral traits in humans, since the reciprocal nature of morality is also conducive to surviving in groups, tribes, societies, etc. So, if you want to hold religious beliefs, fine, and if you want to try to convince me that your religious world-view is correct, this is also fine. Quit claiming the moral high-ground though! It is neither accurate as a matter of fact nor in practice.
4.3.2006 6:08pm
plunge (mail):
"To the people arguing about semantics: I think the most common use of 'atheist' by people who don't self-identify as atheists is to mean "people who actively disbelieve in God," contrasted with 'agnostics,' taken to mean "people aren't sure whether or not there's a God."

Unfortunately, this definitional schema is logically incoherent. People who aren't sure generally still don't believe in god (though calling that lack of belief "active" is bizarre). Whether you are sure or not, you still either believe or not. Belief, unlike knowledge, is a binary proposition. Fidelists are more than not sure: they know that they don't have any good reason to believe. But they choose to still believe anyway. Knowledge and belief are indepedent of each other.

"Of course, 'atheist' is also used to mean "people who lack a belief in God," but the question about whether one or another definition is "right" is without content."

Sure. I would just point out what I did before: the inconsistency with which people use the definitions. People when told that I do not believe seem to think that this qualifies me as an atheist, even though by their own CLAIMED definition, this is insufficient. So their actual usage differs from their ideology. What do we make of that? The problem with definitions is not that there is any objective "right" one, but that you CAN use definitions that are confusing and poorly thought out.

Personally, if I need a word, I start with "non-believer" or "non-theist" simply to avoid pointless confusion.
4.3.2006 6:10pm
SLS 1L:
jimbob: I think the issue is that relatively few religious people are getting married for "religious reasons." Most people, religious or not, get married because they love one another, want to share a common life and raise a family together, are socially expected to marry, and so forth.
4.3.2006 6:11pm
Randy R. (mail):
Chapman;
Actually, I DIDN"T quote those stats on divorce, someone else did. But no matter. You say the stats on divorce are meaningless, but hardly so.

Even if what you say is correct, that more people get married in the Bible Belt south than do in other parts of the country, the issue here is divorce. Most of the far right protestant religions, as well as Catholic, condemn divorce. Yet, you admit, that of the people who get married, more get divorced in the south, which is contrary to their religion. And regardless of how many people are belong to any particular church, it is well known that people living in Bible Belt is quite proud of the fact that they are more religious than the rest of the country. (As an aside, my uncle is a bishop for the Mormon church, and for years he did all the finances, and he knows plenty of people around town. He tells me that the greatest amount of fraud and embezzlement occurs with church funds. Why? Well, because everyone thinks that if you are handling the church finances and pray every Sunday, they can trust you. They shouldn't)

My point is that people are claiming here on this post that being religious means you can determine what a person is like. I say baloney -- being religious does NOT correlate with less divorce, less domestic violence, higher morals or anything of the sort. Nor does a lack of religion correlate with lower morals. In fact, on an individual basis, we can see from the experiences of people who have posted here, that religious people can be as nasty or nastier than non. And non-religious people can be just as loving or moral as those who are.

So....only a fool would believe that a person claiming a particular religion, or any religion, is automatically entitled to greater trust
4.3.2006 6:12pm
Medis:
Colin,

If we agree that labels are useful, then the question becomes what labels "atheists" should be using (either because they are socially-helpful, or just because they would benefit "atheists" to use them). Personally, I see an obvious problem with the label "atheist"--it is a purely negative concept, and says nothing about the actual beliefs of the person in question. Such a label is thus not particularly helpful for others, and indeed I think it invites the sort of damaging assumptions people tend to make about "atheists" (namely, that they are nihilists and actively hostile to religion). Indeed, imagine what we would think of someone who defined themselves as something like a "non-Jew" or "non-Buddhist"--it seems to me that "atheist" is nothing more than a more general version of such a concept.

Anyway, that is why I am suggesting "atheists" instead choose a label that reflects what they actually do believe, not just something that they don't believe. Obviously, not all "atheists" would choose the same label, which itself is an indication of why "atheist" was a pretty poor label in the first place.

As an aside, I am aware that in certain circles, "secular humanism" does indeed have strong negative associations. But I really do wonder if "secular humanism" would actually poll as badly as "atheism" among the general population. In any event, such a comparison would tell us a lot about whether I am right about the potential effects of a negatively-defined term like "atheism".
4.3.2006 6:14pm
Fern:
This conversation seems to have gotten off on a tangent of whether you can predict someone's behavior by the group with which they self-identify. But who really cares? For the sake of discussion, let's assume that all religious people have identical values and character traits to all atheist people and that the only difference is the source of their values. Why is it inherently wrong for a person to want to marry (or want their child to marry) someone who has the same reasons that they do? Why is it wrong that you want to present a "united front" to your children? Why is it wrong for someone to enjoy singing hymns in church that uplift their spirits and want to do that with their spouse?

In my mind the above outlined "wants" are not bigotted. We all have things we like and are looking for in our spouse. What matchmaker would ever pair an avid outdoorsman with a woman who is allergic to every known pollen on the planet? Or an anarchist with a staunch Republican? Or an academic with a grocery clerk. Yes, there are probably happy couples out there who fit all of those molds, but the majority of happy people are married to people who share a substantial amount in common with their spouse, be it philosophical viewpoints, hobbies, or lifestyles. So why is it so abhorrent for a parent to say to their deeply religious child that they might be happier married to someone who is also deeply religious?
4.3.2006 6:14pm
Joel B. (mail):
Pendulum-

No doubt that a heuristic that claims "religious people good, irreligious people bad" exposes one to charlatans and frauds. One of the South Park episodes I really enjoyed is the one were Cartman starts a Christian rock band to go platinum before Kyle (only to end up going Myrrh).

There's a lot of bsing that goes on, and all are at risk of being sold a false bill of goods. I suppose I see that as one advantage of religion. I can see the behavior of one, contrast it with what I expect and feel comfortable determining that one is a fraud or charlatan. That is very hard to do with an athiest, it's hard to claim an athiest is ever being hypocritical, because there's little belief for one's actions to contradict.

If one claims that through faith in Christ by grace salvation comes, then simultaneously saying, oh but also mail me a check for $50 to set your place right...then I'm going to be a lot more suspicious. But it's very hard to determine an athiest to be hypocritical or a fraud because there's nothing to hold him too. "See you faith says this and you do this? Why?" But asking such a thing of an athiest tends to be highly illogical."
4.3.2006 6:14pm
SLS 1L:
plunge: I am having trouble following your argument. By "actively disbelieve in God," I mean "believe in the nonexistence of God," which characterizes e.g. me. I think when you say "I don't believe in God," people are understanding this to mean "I believe there is no God," rather than "I lack a belief in God." Usually people who lack a belief without believing the opposite will say "I'm not sure" or something like that rather than "I don't believe." When someone says "I don't believe Bush's tax cuts have been good for the economy" they usually mean they're pretty confident that they haven't been good for the economy; otherwise they'd say "I have no opinion," "I'm not sure," or something of the sort.
4.3.2006 6:19pm
Brett Bellmore (mail):
Speaking as an atheist, I think most of us regard religion with about the same tolerant amusement any rational person extends to the newspaper horoscopes. The problem is indeed that the visible atheists like O'hair are quite different sorts.

It's so embarassing when I see some loon claim to be horribly affronted by simply seeing a display of the Ten Commandments on government owned ground. As I tell my friends, I'm not a vampire, I don't catch fire if you splash me with holy water, and I don't recoil from religious symbols.

And anybody who does needs psychiatric treatment, not ACLU representation.
4.3.2006 6:21pm
plunge (mail):
"But it's very hard to determine an athiest to be hypocritical or a fraud because there's nothing to hold him too."

Uh, how's about: his values? Same as for everyone else?

"See you faith says this and you do this? Why?" But asking such a thing of an athiest tends to be highly illogical."'

Why? Athiests have and express values. You can hold them to them just as easily as a religious person.

I just don't get it.
4.3.2006 6:21pm
Nevermind (mail):
Are you all aware that "atheist" has very particular connotations in many areas, including where I live (the South)? The very same neighbor who has told me she would never vote for an "atheist" has also told me that "nah, my brother doesn't really believe in God either." But that doesn't mean that her brother is an "atheist." "Atheists" (to them) are those people who shove their non-belief down your throat and think they are better than believers, and are constantly suing in court to prove it. So if you ask a lot of Southerners if they would vote for an atheist, you're getting a lot of political baggage with it, since "atheist" means "person whose agenda is anti-religion."

An "atheist" politician may never get elected but one who doesn't really believe in God can be.
4.3.2006 6:26pm
ray_g:
About the ACLU: criticize their actions all you want (I do), but don't blame it on (or credit it to) atheism. As an atheist I am offended that you assume I always agree with the ACLU. But seriously, I always thought that the point of separation of church and state was not to protect atheists and agnostics from theists, but to prevent any particular set of theists from using the power of the state against other, differently thinking theists. I mean, wasn't that the point of the Pilgrims voyage, one set of Christians getting away from the influence of the Church of England?
4.3.2006 6:26pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Mycin,

FWIW, in all my years of surfing the web, I have seen many, many more posts that mocked/belittled religious belief than posts that mocked/belittled athiesm/agnosticism. Anecdotal, I know, but the smug, self-satisfied ass chuckling about and belittling all the "ignorant rubes that really believe all that religion stuff" does not appear to be an endangered species. These jerks give the rest of you a bad name, just as Falwell, et al, harm the image of believers.


I avoid ass-chuckling, but I've probably done it on occasion. I think it's a poor comparison to Jerry Falwell, though. If Jerry Falwell made fun of atheistic beliefs, I'd make fun of him in return, but I wouldn't get my panties in a twist. The problem with Falwell is that he actually wants to dominate the country with his brand of Christianity.

Atheists -- at least some of us -- ridicule religious faith, because we constantly see the ways in which it warps our social policies. For isntance, you may have noticed that we have a completely incompetent president, essentially because the country felt that his religious conviction was more important than whether he was intelligent or knew what he was doing. Of course, that doesn't explain every Republican who voted for Bush, but it explains enough to make the difference. I consider that a problem.

If I can't challenge the underlying faith that causes people to make these decisions, then I'm stuck having pointless arguments about peripheral things that nobody actually cares about. Particularly when the efforts of religionists to expand and convert are so extraordinary, I don't think that's a realistic limitation.
4.3.2006 6:44pm
Nevermind (mail):
Quick follow-up to my point above: the reason that atheist implies "militant atheist" is because the only time most people ever hear the word on TV, it's connected to some court case or another. It's not a word that gets commonly dropped in conversation otherwise.
4.3.2006 6:45pm
Apollo (mail):

the data do strongly suggest


For God's sake, the word's entered the English language, treat it like a singular group noun. The word datum doesn't have a functional use in English (its nearest synonym would be "datapoint," which should show you how widely used datum is).

Unless you're the jackass in meetings who insists on moving on to the next "aggendum."
4.3.2006 6:46pm
jimbob (mail):
SLS 1L:

I agree that people generally get married because they love each other. I didn't mean to suggest otherwise. But I think marriage generally means something different to religious people than it does to atheists. A Catholic who believes God created marriage as a sacrament would probably not consider an atheist as a likely mate. Why would this be equated to hostility, prejudice, etc.?
4.3.2006 6:47pm
Colin (mail):
Medis,

I think we can agree, more specifically, that some labels are useful. I agree also that there is a strong advantage for atheists in using descriptive, specific, and accurate labels.

As an aside, I have one reservation. If atheists are interested in resisting prejudice and reaching out to the theistic community––and this is not necessarily so for many or most atheists––then there is also a value in using a single, overarching label. Agnostics and atheists may share many of the same stigmas, for instance, so there might be some utility in not splintering the self-identification of non-theist groups. Solidarity, as it were. But that is supposing some sort of organized or vital resistance to theistic prejudice, which I do not believe exists. I only mention it as a quick thought.

And even if there is a value to banding together under the label “atheist,” I certainly agree that there are problems with that word and that more specific descriptors are necessary to allow more specific engagement with people who are hostile to atheistic values. My concern is merely that I don’t know what those terms could be. I’m not sure that most atheists or theists could give you a rigorous definition of “humanist,” or of any other descriptor that I can think of off the top of my head. As an illustration of my point, on this very thread people are debating the meaning of “atheist” versus “agnostic,” which are perhaps the two simplest terms in the most common parlance.

So while I agree that “atheist” is too generic to be really useful––again, see the arguments just upthread about whether the community in question is made up of atheists or agnostics or both––I don’t know what more specific terms would be more helpful. I also doubt that many atheists would be able to identify a single label to hang upon themselves; I’m sure (especially in a college town) that you could find some Ethical Humanists, or Secular Humanists, or Confucians, but I suspect that most atheists would simply say, “I’m an atheist.” And if pressed for specificity, I think most atheists would start to discuss the specific grounds for their atheism and/or ethics and morality, rather than identifying with a specific group. But that’s just a guess.

I suppose my point is that while I agree that specific terms would be best if they were applicable, the community of atheists isn’t large or granular enough to make such terminology really useful. I wish that it were; I think that theistic prejudice would be significantly reduced if there were more visible organizations helping to communicate various (and maybe even competing) sets of atheistic values. But again, reading from this thread alone, the most common response of the self-described atheists seems to be that they just aren’t interested in engaging in that debate, or defining specific self-descriptive terminology.

Thank you for your responses; I have always enjoyed your comments on the Conspiracy.
4.3.2006 6:47pm
Fern:

A Catholic who believes God created marriage as a sacrament would probably not consider an atheist as a likely mate. Why would this be equated to hostility, prejudice, etc.?

Exactly!!! Not considering atheists as marriage material has nothing to do with intolerance and everything to do with wanting to marry someone who sees the world, marriage and child rearing as you do.
4.3.2006 7:08pm
Porkchop (mail):
Fascinating discussion. Leaving aside the "aggressive" atheists, has it occurred to anyone that a reason that religious folks (broadly defined) are offended by atheism is that the entire matter of "God" and religion is simply irrelevant to the atheist?

I don't spend time thinking about "God," and I share the same tolerant amusement as Brett Bellmore. But, what could be more insulting to a true believer in any religion than tolerant amusement? If you argue doctrine and religion, it means that, although clearly wrong in the eyes of your opponent, at least you take these issues seriously. There is hope that someday you might see "the light." No such hope exists for those who don't even see that there are issues, let alone take them seriously.

Having made the "leap" to atheism (and leaving aside the tiresome nature of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and others who show up at my door with literature and the assumption that I have been living in a stuffy, lightless closet for the past 55 years), I simply leave others to their beliefs. I no longer bother to argue, and if pressed, explain that I don't care. On the other side, however, we have a person with a deeply held belief about something that is (or is supposed to be) the single most important thing there is. When I (and others like me) don't immediately slap our foreheads and exclaim, "How could I have been so blind!" the proselytizer takes it as an insult, a belittling of his deeply held beliefs. It's on a par with drawing a cartoon of Mohammed for some.

When revealed truth is so obvious and so important to the believer, any failure to accept it is insulting. Even worse is than not accepting it is my opinion that it is not even important. The very idea that I would not want to be proselytized is offensive to one whose religion holds proselytization to be one of the highest obligations of the religion.

And, for the record, I don't care, I have no criminal record, I pay my taxes, I'm happily married, and I'm considered a good citizen in my community. (My daughters don't lack for dates, either. WAnd, while I have preferences as to the type of men they might marry, I figure that whom they marry is their business, not mine, anyway. I'm not providing a dowry, so I've got nothing to say about it.)
4.3.2006 7:17pm
Porkchop (mail):
Apollo wrote:



the data do strongly suggest


For God's sake, the word's entered the English language, treat it like a singular group noun. The word datum doesn't have a functional use in English (its nearest synonym would be "datapoint," which should show you how widely used datum is).

Unless you're the jackass in meetings who insists on moving on to the next "aggendum."

1. Taking the Lord's name in vain? That's not going to sit well with the God-fearing.

2. That would be "agendum."

3. Data are!

:-p
4.3.2006 7:27pm
frankcross (mail):
I failed at the link before. Here is a conservative Christian site that indicates that protestant and atheist divorce rates are similar

http://www.barna.org/
4.3.2006 7:37pm
Medis:
Colin,

I guess I don't see the self-descriptive problems of "atheists" being any worse than usual in those regards. Such labels are always rough at best, and prone to controversy--indeed, consider similar political terms, like "conservative" or "liberal". Still, it seems to me like "atheist" is such an awful label because of its purely negative nature that it should be easy to do better. Again, imagine someone defining their political views as something like "antiliberal" rather than "conservative"--even though "conservative" is vague and prone to controversy, it is still better than "antiliberal".

Still, I agree that many "atheists" may not really care about these matters. But for those who do, I think that actively looking for new, positive, labels for their beliefs--as rough as such labels might be--would be a good idea.

On the marriage issue:

I don't think anyone is claiming that Catholics who only want their children to marry other Catholics have a particular animosity toward atheists. The more specific issue is Catholics (or other religious people), who don't mind if their children marry people who adhere to almost any "religion" besides their own, but who do mind if their children marry "atheists".

And that is somewhat puzzling because a person of another religion could have religious beliefs which are mutually exclusive with virtually all of the parents' own religious beliefs, including on the nature and existence of God. So the puzzle is what is it about religious beliefs per se, divorced from any particular details of those religious beliefs, that makes for this difference in attitude among some people?

And personally, I also suspect that the lack of religion per se is not really the issue for a lot of people. Indeed, I bet a lot of the people answering that they would not want their child to marry an atheist would actually not have a problem with their child marrying a "nonreligious" person. In other words, I think there is something about the popular conception of "atheists"--as indeed indicated by some of the comments here--that makes people's views of "atheists" uniquely negative.
4.3.2006 7:41pm
JDNYU:
Medis,

The problem is that we're talking about identifying the nature of one's religious beliefs. In that sense, "atheism" is the proper label to apply -- i.e., lack of belief in god(s).

Your labels are more useful in identifying a worldview, source of morality, etc. Useful stuff, to be sure, and for many religious people their religion also provides the worldview. That doesn't mean the two concepts must be conflated.
4.3.2006 7:42pm
Mycin (mail):
Marcus1,


The problem with Falwell is that he actually wants to dominate the country with his brand of Christianity.


Let's turn that around, just for grins.


The problem with Communists is that they actually want to dominate the country with their brand of atheism.


That doesn't mean all atheists are Communists, and it would be wrong to make such generalizations. I'd ask you not to generalize Falwell into all Christians, if you don't mind.


For isntance, you may have noticed that we have a completely incompetent president, essentially because the country felt that his religious conviction was more important than whether he was intelligent or knew what he was doing.


Or, maybe because the Democrats don't offer an acceptable choice. I mean, I'm a true believer, but had to hold my nose when I voted for Bush in 2000, simply because I deemed him the least-worse of the choices. His religiousity had nothing to do with it.

I'm sure it does to some folks, but they're mostly partisans who wouldn't vote Democrat regardless.


If I can't challenge the underlying faith that causes people to make these decisions, then I'm stuck having pointless arguments about peripheral things that nobody actually cares about. Particularly when the efforts of religionists to expand and convert are so extraordinary, I don't think that's a realistic limitation.


So to you, it's all politics. You "challenge the underlying faith that causes people to make these decisions" by mocking them. I always figured it was a pose of intellectual superiority, but it's just a political tactic. Thanks for straightening me out on that.
4.3.2006 7:44pm
Medis:
JDNYU,

Ah, but I think it quickly becomes clear--as it did in this thread--that people are NOT just thinking about the nature of atheists' religious beliefs when they answer questions about their views on "atheists". In other words, "proper" or not, people tend to make assumptions about the worldviews and morality of "atheists". And while one can criticize people for conflating these things, I don't think it is going to stop any time soon.
4.3.2006 8:01pm
Peter Wimsey:
(1) Data are. And, on that subject, it's millenia, not *milleniums. It doesn't matter that the singular of datum is rarely used; the singular of "people" is even more rarely used, but we don't say "The people is coming."

(2) Colin/Medis - while I think that the general point of not defining yourself by what you don't believe is a good one, the term usually comes up as the answer to an inquiry about one's religion. Since atheists usually don't have a religion (with the occasional exception of secular Jews and unitarians), it's usually necessary to define oneself as a non-religion-having person - thus an atheist.

This is different from most other beliefs - if you are asked about your political beliefs, you can usually specify positive beliefs, rather than being forced to define yourself in terms of what you don't believe.
4.3.2006 8:10pm
Taeyoung (mail):

A particularly interesting point is that hostility towards Muslims on both this question and the previous one lags well behind hostility to atheists - even despite 9/11.


I have not read the thread (I am lazy) and probably someone has already pointed this out, but you imply here (correctly I think) that you would expect American public opinion to respond to public events. Acts of great horror committed by Muslims -- even if not representative of all Muslims -- reflect badly on other Muslims, and make people more suspicious of or hostile to them. Not fair, perhaps, but it's human nature.

Well, the whole 20th century was just one long train of atrocities committed by atheists, no? National Socialism, and then Communism in all its varieties. And that was some 60 or 70 years, with generations of young Americans raised understanding their enemies to be self-consciously and devotedly (devoutly?) atheist. For that not to leave a mark would seem astonishing to me.

Just for the record, I'm an atheist myself. And I think atheists ("we atheists," to the extent there's a shared "atheist" identity) ought to recognise that the horrors of the 20th century leave us with a lot of quite understandable prejudice to overcome. It may be sub-rational and wrong (as with prejudice against Muslims), but it's only to be expected after open atheistic movements spent the last century butchering an hundred million people in accordance with their conception of an atheistic morality.
4.3.2006 8:12pm
JDNYU:
Medis,

You're right of course. I didn't mean to say it's inappropriate, I was just trying to underscore that while the two concepts are typically the same for religious people, they are not for atheists. That worldview, morality, etc. are what most people are ultimately concerned about, though, is probably true.

For my part, if people want to make negative assumptions about me based on my atheism I'll respond by making negative assumptions about them :)
4.3.2006 8:13pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
An "atheist" politician may never get elected but one who doesn't really believe in God can be.


Good point, it reminds me of something WFB wrote in “In the Jeweler’s Mote” when asked whether one had to believe in God to be a conservative. Buckley said that you can be a conservative and not believe in God but you cannot be a conservative if you hate God.

It seems to me, that many of the people who answered the survey about “atheists” may have been thinking about those who because of their tactics are perceived to “hate God” rather than those who simply do not believe in Him.
4.3.2006 8:25pm
Medis:
Peter,

Again, though, I think it is readily apparent that many people make many additional assumptions about the views of "atheists", even if those assumptions are not properly warranted by the strict definition of the term. In that sense, what I am suggesting appears to be a necessary anecdote to this unfortunate tendency, even if in a logically strict world such assumptions would not arise.

Incidentally, I'm not sure it is true that the term "atheist" actually typically comes up in response to a neutral inquiry about one's religious beliefs. For one thing, I think some people talk about "atheists" a lot even if there are no actual "atheists" involved in the conversation. For another, I think there is often a subtle but important difference between something like a neutral inquiry about religion (eg, "What are your religious beliefs?") and more specific inquiries related to "atheism" (eg, "Do you believe in God?" or "Are you an atheist?"). In particular, in the latter cases I think people's preconceived notions of "atheists" may already be playing a part in their conception of the question they are asking, and therefore of what the answers they receive might mean.
4.3.2006 8:37pm
ray_g:
Medis: I agree that the word "atheist" has uniquely negative connotations to some people, I would say because of years (centuries?) of theist propaganda. But I will still call myself that, because it is the properly descriptive word, and I refuse to succumb to the proliferation of euphemism. I think two of the most dishonest descriptions in the United States today are "pro-choice" and "pro-life". Who could be against choice or life? Let's be honest, the positions are pro-abortion and anti-abortion. And everyone knows this, no one is fooled. I'd rather try to fight the negative connotations than make up some lifeless, meaningless and ultimately dishonest term for my position.
4.3.2006 8:38pm
John Tillinghast (mail):
For conservative atheists, I'm surprised no one has mentioned California Republican B.T. Collins, who lost an arm and a leg in Vietnam.
He was a real character. Too bad he died in his 50s of a heart attack (1993).
4.3.2006 8:38pm
Medis:
Taeyoung,

I don't think one can say the Nazis were "atheists". They may not have been Christians (although some seemed to think of Nazism as a form or successor of Christianity), but they had some mystical notions that involved God or gods in their own fashion.
4.3.2006 8:45pm
Medis:
ray_g,

But I'm not asking you to come up with a euphemistic equivalent to "atheist". Rather, I am suggesting that since people, for good or ill, take "atheist" to be a term referring to a comprehensive worldview, one needs to come up with an alternative that is actually descriptive of one's worldview.

And since I have no idea what you actually believe in, I don't know what term to suggest to you--which is precisely the problem. But what I am suggesting is that whatever term you use should be descriptive of your actual beliefs, not just another term that describes one thing you don't believe.
4.3.2006 8:54pm
ray_g:
Is a conservative atheist any more or less unlikely than a Log Cabin Republican, or the Pink Pistols, or JFPF? Surprise at the existence of these types says a lot about preconceptions of groups, and that is is dangerous to assume that any group is homogenous.
4.3.2006 8:54pm
Bill (mail):
Absolutely. But why?!

Speculative rationale/explanation 1: Athiests are people who reject religious factions. Factions are a necessary part of life and religion isn't.

So the wise pragmatist says: "What the hell, I'll sign on to one of those factions if I have to and try to stand up to factionalism on more pressing issues. I'm not going to declare myself an anthiest. What would be the point?"

And daddy says: "Let my daughter marry this promising guy."

But the naive and dogmatic ideologue says: "I can't stand these factions, especially the totally pointless religious ones. I'm going to stand up to this nonsense and declare myself an athiest."

And daddy says: "This guy shows bad judgement and a lack of priorities. No way my daughter is marrying this loser."
4.3.2006 9:06pm
Taeyoung J. (mail):

they had some mystical notions that involved God or gods in their own fashion.

God or gods? Maybe -- I'm not an expert in the particulars of Nazi mythology. My sense, though, just based on light reading about the SS cults and whatnot, is that they fall within the "atheistic but spiritual" camp. Maybe that's atheist in the US, and maybe it's not.

Either way, though, the Communists alone are quite enough to prompt a popular bias against atheists, seeing as they were around much longer, and indeed, worsened many more currently-living peoples' lives directly than did the Nazis.
4.3.2006 9:09pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
I doubt that people are actually hostile against atheists per se, rather what they perceive an "atheist" to be. That is an obnoxious, loud-mouthed, boorish, communist, leftist, secular, humanist, anti-Christian and probably a homosexual and child molestor to boot. But if you ask someone well do you have anything against someone who simply doesn't believe that God exists and still celebrates Christmas, is a good Republican, a member of the Rotary club a successful businessman, they'll respond, "oh, he's not an atheist, he just doesn't go to church".

Most people don't think much about their religion, it is just what they do out of habit. Their belief in God is extremely shallow and they just believe what they were raised to believe. They really don't care what their neighbors believe or don't believe as long as they are "good people" and can't even defend their own beliefs.
4.3.2006 9:09pm
Pyrrhus (mail) (www):
jimbob:

Pyrrhus:

Surely you realize that I didn't imply atheists only marry for tax reasons. The distinction was made to highlight religious reasons for marriage from secular reasons.

Care to address the merits of my comment? Why should a religious person's refusal to marry an atheist (a person who doesn't share the same ideas about the marriage) akin to prejudice, bigotry, or hostility?


SLS 1L already gave part of the answer that I would give, that people generally get married because they love each other and not because they have some grand, over-arching, inflexible concept of marriage that necessarily demands embrace by both partners.

You offered a definition of marriage when you said:

If I think marriage is a holy union blessed by God, I'm certainly not going to marry someone who simply wants to file joint tax returns.

Ok, so let's assume, arguendo, that religious people do adopt the view you offer of marriage. I won't accept the motivation for marriage that you seem to be ascribing to atheists (desire for joint tax returns) because I find it a rather unfair and insulting assumption, but I will assume a motivation. Let's say atheists get married because they love their partner, want to spend the rest of their life with them and raise a family with them (and they think that marriage is what you are supposed to do when you love someone and want to spend the rest of your life with them, etc.).

Why, if atheists have the latter view, and religious people the former, should religious people be especially unwilling to marry atheists? Why does the atheist's different view of marriage have any bearing on the possibility of marriage between the two? Will the marriage not be holy if the atheist doesn't believe it? Will it not be holy if the atheist doesn't believe in god? If god makes a union holy, presumably marrying an atheist does not affect the holiness of the union itself.

Or is the problem not the state of the union itself, but how the atheist will act once within it? First, I would say that a definition of marriage as "a holy union blessed by god" doesn't really give one much to work with in terms of spousal expectations. It doesn't, for example, prohibit you from ending the union, if the widespread acceptance of divorce by contemporary American religious groups is a good indicator.

Second, even if you were to argue that belief in marriage as "a holy union blessed by god" did lead to certain standards of spousal action (and I would be impressed if you could prove to me that the various religious sects did have a concept of action within marriage that was somehow common among those groups but not contained generally among atheist groups), I would still argue that there is little if any argument (as many others in these comments have argued), that religiously based principles of actions are upheld any more reliably than secular ones.
4.3.2006 9:12pm
Pyrrhus (mail) (www):
there is little if any argument (as many others in these comments have argued), that religiously based principles of actions are upheld any more reliably than secular ones

I should have said "reason to believe" and not "argument"
4.3.2006 9:14pm
Taeyoung J. (mail):
Re: Bill
I'm not going to declare myself an atheist. What would be the point?

Part of the problem with your little scenario here is that an atheist isn't something you choose to declare yourself as -- the term describes a person who happens not to believe in gods. This seems to me (or rather, is, for me) a matter more of self-knowledge than of conscious choice. Certainly, one might consider it a rational choice to conceal one's atheism, and pretend to be some kind of watered-down Protestant. But that won't change the fact that you're an atheist -- that you don't actually believe in gods.

Further, it's almost bizarre to suppose that people are reacting against a prospective son-in-law's failure to lie about his religion. If he did lie, strategically, as you suggest, and they found out, I rather think they would feel betrayed, and would hold against him all their anti-atheist opinions plus.
4.3.2006 9:15pm
Taeyoung J. (mail):

But if you ask someone well do you have anything against someone who simply doesn't believe that God exists and still celebrates Christmas, is a good Republican, a member of the Rotary club a successful businessman, they'll respond, "oh, he's not an atheist, he just doesn't go to church".

I am reminded of an amusing C.S. Lewis essay in which he complains how people in his day have taken to equating "Christian" with "Good Person," so that when a Muslim (or perhaps an atheist) does good deeds and displays charity and all the social virtues, they say he is a very "Christian" fellow. Lewis fulminates entertainingly against the practice.
4.3.2006 9:19pm
Perseus:
Even if public atheism is compatible with a wide range of views on moral and political issues (and I consider myself to be a conservative atheist), it doesn't necessarily follow that the prejudice against public atheism should be criticized as "bigotry."
4.3.2006 9:29pm
ray_g:
Medis: Some people have tried to develop new words to describe a non-religious based world view, one of them is Paul Kurtz of Free Inquiry magazine (at the risk of mixing topics). I don't find them useful, because they are so unfamiliar to people that you have to explain, and they either become bewildered or half way through the explanation they jump to "oh, you mean atheism". I do admit that when I'm asked what my religion is I say "none", because that is the correct answer, as atheism is not a religion. On the rare occasions someone asks for explanation I say "atheist", and that usually satisfies them. As I said in my first post, I have found it unusual to experience animosity when I declare myself an atheist. Perhaps I should thank my lucky stars (note: irony intended).
4.3.2006 9:30pm
ray_g:
Correction: In my post of JFPF should have been JPFO. Spell checkers don't help a lot with seldom used acronyms.
4.3.2006 9:36pm
John S. (mail):
I don't think anyone can really assert that atheists are any more or less moral than anyone else... but that also depends on what standard of morality you measure against. I think that this is what Joel B. is probably driving at... what standard of morality are we measuring against? And where does that standard come from? Is it an objective standard? A subjective standard? These are the questions whose answers must be hammered out before any conclusive (or indeed, meaningful) discussion can happen.


Point of information: A-T-H-E-I-S-T is the correct spelling
4.3.2006 9:48pm
SenatorX (mail):
I am an atheist and I arrived at it similarly to other commenter’s here, by being critical of authority. We in general don't waste energy in public trying to argue with believers. If I think they are worth the trouble I will try to surround them with information that gives them opportunity to "break the spell" but while you can lead a sheep to water you can’t make them drink.

I am what you would call a "Weak Atheist" by the way. This is defined as a LACK OF BELIEF in Gods. I eventually realized/internalized that it was not upon me to refute the irrefutable propositions of others. This is different from saying "There are no Gods" which is another proposition. These are called "Strong Atheists".

Also it may be hard to believe but I don't have anything against faith. I have faith in all sorts of things, conditionally. It is more a matter of taste. I prefer rational thinking and honesty to absolutist ideals. I am well aware of the hatred of the religious towards anything that challenges the source of their moral authority. Fraudulent authority never likes to be questioned.
4.3.2006 9:56pm
Pendulum (mail):
JoelB,

Apologies in advance; I'm running on about 2 hours of sleep, powered solely by caffeine, but I'm enjoying this interchange and would like to reply briefly, even if my reply turns out to be incomprehensible.

I certainly didn't mean to oversimplify your views by reducing them to a heuristic of "religious people good, irreligious people bad".

Why not judge the atheist according to the moral principles that he purports to value? If he says he values honesty, but defrauds clients, call him a hypocrite. If he now says that his value system no longer includes honesty, but now includes maximal money as the ultimate moral good, call him deceitful and condemn him. I fail to see why atheism implies a lack of ability to be held to standards of morality.

You never have 100% epistemic certainty that someone is who they say they are. Community-perceived 'Christians' have turned out to be communist spies (Hansen) and serial killers ("BTK"). That they proclaim themselves to be Christians tells us nothing about their behavior. Nor does it affect how we judge them: we morally condemn their actions regardless of whether they are hypocrites who actually believe in Christianity, or whether they are just masquerading as Christians.

Hopefully we agree that:
1) Atheists sometimes act morally; Christians sometimes act immorally (defined by whatever system you use to judge morality)
2) You can't ever be 100% certain that a persons proclamations are in line with their actual beliefs

So why on Earth does proclaimed atheism cause chaos in the ability to critique morality?
4.3.2006 10:07pm
PeteRR (mail):
A believer in a particular religion rejects all others as false. An atheist goes just one step further and rejects them all. Are we so much different than the average believer in God? In my experience the average atheist is more tolerant because they don't have a horse in the race, so to speak.

In my own case, I realised as a teenager that I never had a belief in a greater power. It wasn't until I was old enough to put a label on that non-belief that I embraced the label "atheist".

And in regards to more intelligent creatures than man existing in the universe: Undoubtedly, given the size of the universe and the number of stars that fill it, that is true. Ascribing our creation, and the universe's creation, to them is the bit that's hard to swallow.

Pete.
4.3.2006 10:25pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Randy R: "Yet, you admit, that of the people who get married, more get divorced in the south, which is contrary to their religion"

No. You miss the point again. My point is that your study defines "divorce rate" as divorces/population. A more meaningful statistic would be divorces/marriages, which completely refutes your supposed pattern of "higher divorce rates" in the "bible belt" states. You should know what your facts MEAN before you start drawing conclusions from them.

For REAL "divorce rate" statistics, check this out... and note that the numbers don't come from an interest group. There is no meaningful pattern among states.
4.3.2006 11:20pm
Randy R. (mail):
Thanks for the link, Daniel. I checked out the site, and it is indeed interesting. I've always heard that Massachusetts has a low divorce rate, so I calculated it from the raw date. According to the CDC, there was a total of 36,523 marriages for the year 2002 in Mass, and 16,661 divorces. By dividing 16,661 by 36,523, we get a divorce rate of about 44%.

Doing a similar calculation for a few random Bible Belt states, I found that Georgia had 58,382 marriages and 31,495 divorces in 2002, for a divorce rate of 54%. Alabama had 42675 marriages, and 24,611 divorces, giving us a divorce rate of 57%. Finally, Mississippi caught me eye, since it had 18,902 marriages and 14,226 divorces in 2002, giving us a divorce rate of 75%.

I don't know if this is true for ALL Bible Belt states, but it's at least a representative sample, and all indicate a much higher divorce rate that Massachusetts. I don't necessarily agree with you that divorces/marriages is more meaningful than divorces/population (although I don't disagree either). But I do agree with you that we should have accurate stats. Thanks for giving them to me.
4.3.2006 11:58pm
Randy R. (mail):
Anyway, my original point was that people often make the argument that a society that is deeply religious is more moral than one that isn't. I totally disagree, and one issue is the subject of divorce. I stated that the Bible Belt, which is mostly southern states, is self-described as a place where people say they take their religion, almost always a form of conservative Christianity, more seriously that other people do. Most of these conservative view divorce as a bad thing, immoral, against God's will and so on.

Incidently, this one of the reasons why many people in the south are against gay marriage, because they view it as immoral, and therefore Massachusetts, by allowing gay marriage, must therefore be more immoral than, say, Alabama.

So if it is true that people are more moral or better followers of religion in the Bible Belt than in other places, we should find a lower divorce rate. As you concede, however, the divorce rate is not uniformly lower than any other place. In fact, as the CDC stats demonstrate, they can be alarmingly high.

My conclusion? People in the Bible Belt ought to be more worried about their own marriages than Massachusetts or some other state's.
4.4.2006 12:14am
Walk It:
I agree that not wanting your child to marry an aetheist (or an X) is not the same as disapproval or hostility to a group.

That's a weird way to frame the question. Maybe parents think their child would be swayed or bullied into abandoning their own self or beliefs.

Maybe the parent thinks their child would "do better" with some one who would fit into the family life better.

Just like some parents, the common controversy shows us, would not want their grown child to marry a homosexual. (yes, even if said grown child is homosexual themself.)
4.4.2006 1:36am
Walk It:
(I wondered why that last category "marrying a homosexual" wasn't included? There is Massachusetts, and lots of homosexuals "get married"; it's just not recognized legally, but is in family circles.
4.4.2006 1:38am
Walk It:
Sorry for misspelling ATHEIST. I guess I don't use it too often.
4.4.2006 1:39am
Bezuhov (mail):
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. ~Voltaire

From the evidence in this thread, repeatedly.

Some notice the similarity of these efforts, and go with the one already worked on by generations; open to new insights, of course.
4.4.2006 5:00am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
I think it is misleading to say that atheists are more hostile to the views of believers than members of other religions. Rather, atheists are just deemed more hostile for doing the same things other religions are allowed to do without comment.

Atheists are challenged all the time about why they don't believe in god (say don't join in prayer at a meal). The analagous question with a different religion would be 'How can you be so sure my religion is wrong?' which people have learned not to ask.

Besides, religious denominations get off all the time telling people that non-believers are going to go to HELL for ETERNITY thereby implying, as a consequence of their belief in a just god, that atheists are extremely evil (often morseso than the most eggregious repetent sinner).

Atheists can't prostelatize without being regarded as hostile yet other religions, though their message just as clearly implies the other religions are wrong, are not. Much of the hostility just emerges from simply trying to defend one's belief from attacks that would be unthinkable on any other religious beleif.

Most significantly though you have a sampling problem. OF COURSE those atheists who you know are atheists are going to be more likely to be hostile than religious people you know are of religion X. Unlike religious people those atheists who aren't looking for conflict often don't volounteer their smpathies.

Alot of this though just has to do with the lack of motivation of most non-shallow atheists to waste time being activists for their subculture. As an atheist one can just keep quite when you want to pass and the 'persecution' tends to provoke a greater feeling of a common connection.
4.4.2006 8:12am
Aultimer:

PeteRR: A believer in a particular religion rejects all others as false.


Buddhists, Quakers and Unitarians do no such thing. Perhaps you meant "creed" rather than "religion"?
4.4.2006 10:27am
Joel B. (mail):
Pendulum-

I'd say with respect to both points you proferred we are in agreement. The problem is not that is impossible to determine the athiest's adherence to their proferred belief system, but that it tends to be a lot more work. That puts the "declarant" at a disadvantage.

Maybe I'll get myself in trouble for saying this...but hey, if I meet a Jew who professes to be somewhat orthodox and so insists that they need to be off by Friday and home for Saturday, but then I see them eating pork or shellfish, maybe I shouldn't judge, but I would probably more willingly question their genuine adherence to their belief system. The same goes for the supposed Christian who professes a morality which calls them to remain committed to their spouse, but waivers with little apparent regret (except when caught of course).

Now, for the "declarant type" it's much easier to determine, if the individual is picking and choosing the aspects of their belief systems or is at least reasonably committed (adheres to most major aspects of the religion they claim to be of.)

For the "athiest or adeclarant," I have to engage in a lot more work to determine their overall belief system. Now maybe, some people have the time for this with people in general. I tend to think most do not, they need shorthands, and athiest isn't very useful other than "a very individualistic type." (Not selfish, individualistic.) Which makes people tend to be suspicious as it is.

The athiest or adeclarant should recognize that this puts a lot more work on the part of others to determine do they believe what they say? or do they pick and choose. Now maybe the rejoinder is people should engage in such work, but recognize that they are asked to investigate another persons general belief/ordering system. When it comes to things like politics especially who is really going to be able to investigate all the things that the athiest implicitly claims to believe.

Hopefully, that's not too confusing, your comment was not confusing btw.
4.4.2006 10:53am
ugly and short:
it is socially acceptable to discriminate against short people and ugly people.
4.4.2006 1:44pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Actually the Boy Scouts are more intrusive that merely being some private club of bigots:
1) They are state sanctioned (by Congress) and the President of the US is traditional honorary head.
2) BSA has recieved funding from the government at all levels and
3) The government has a special deal for the boy scouts such that no other organization can use the term "scout", "explorer", etc. Thus they effectively ban the creation of the "Atheist Scouts" or the "Gay Scouts", "Young Scouts", etc.
4) The Scouts recruit on government property including schools.

If the Boy Scouts were to return all public funds they have recieved both direct and in kind, including land grants, etc., plus were to stop freely using public property, and were to give up their government granted monopoly on the very public word "scout" then I would consider them a private organization. Till that point they are parasites on the public tax dollar teat and should be open to all.
4.4.2006 7:28pm
Bill (mail):
Taeyoung J.: I agree that athiesm is just not believing in any gods, not necessarily being hostile to religion. As an athiest, I am interested in religion and respectful of those who know lots about a religion / religions and for whom it is a genuine source of insight. I am contemptuous, however, of those who use religious belief as emotional/intellectual crutches.

And I (think I) agree with you that this particular attitude puts we athiests in a hard spot when people ask us what we believe.

For the athiest who simply dispises religion, it is actually easier to be diplomatic! A simple: "No religion has ever been a major part of my life." or "I was raised such and such, but it is not a major part of my life" will do fine. (That seems to me to be a world apart from saying "I am an athiest". There I may disagree with you.)

But for the athiest who is interested in religion it is actually harder to say: "I am deeply interested in these traditions, but the idea of actually being committed to one of them just strikes me as wack." This makes people think that you are (1) alienated from all human traditions or (2) unable to take sides on (depending on their perspective) a (a) deeply important matter or (b) totally trivial matter.
4.4.2006 7:55pm
Gloom Raider:
My main exposure to atheism comes from a few science blogs I read, and some of the comments are (no pun intended) dispiriting. It's not that, as someone said above, "tolerant amusement" means I can't debate or convert an atheist: it's that obvious "tolerant amusement" of the way I have concluded the metaphysical world is organized is, basically, calling me a sap.

I'm too smart to think that having a religion and having a spirituality and having a moral system are always all the same thing. I'm also too smart to enjoy being patted on the head and told maybe I'll outgrow this naive notion. One expects that sort of attitude from hellfire fundamentalists, not alleged rationalists.
4.4.2006 10:35pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
<blockquote>it is socially acceptable to discriminate against short people and ugly people.</blockquote>
Yes, and I certainly wouldn't want my daughter to marry one.
4.5.2006 2:18am
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
I find it absolutely hilarious that some posters think that anti-atheist bias is due to the behavior of atheists. Sort of have a blind spot to the 2000 year persecution of non-believers and what the good book has to say about non-believers, don't-cha.

I think we need look no further than the outrageous slanders stuffed into the mouth of your imaginary being by a bunch of ancient goat herders to understand where that bigotry springs from.

Sorry for the strident tone but my grandmother died last week and lay in her tomb for a few days. We were hoping to collect the insurance money but by golly she had risen from the dead and her carrier refused to pay. So I am in a bad mood.

Now some of you who understand the concept of knowledge will be able to grasp the fact that it's not just faith that leads you to the conclusion that I am lying, but that you KNOW I am lying. Did you do that inductively or deductively? If you are still pondering whether there is any way to prove things one way or another then I think the rest of us do have good reason to believe you a sap.

Big hint: Knowledge is not foundationalist. We don't start with some kernel of knowledge and deduce the rest like some mathematical proof.

There are many methods by which I know that the Christian god as described in the bible does not exist. This is but one example. This is why I am a strong atheist against these early attempts at deification of the imaginary father figure.

The more muddled and more modern attempts at defining god leave me baffled. I really don't know what you are talking about. These watered down versions of god are so vague that I'm not sure those who advance them know what they are on about either. Since I really don't know what you mean I cannot say that "I know" it doesn't exist. So for those conceptions of god I am an igtheist. Unfortunately such conceptions of god really have no power since they are so vague one really cannot justify any behavior utilizing them. How can you claim some vague notion commands that we not perform abortions or that we stone homosexuals. Hell your not even sure what god is so how can you say what he wants, or even if we should listen to him. So while you are pondering your navel I think I go back to getting on with my business.
4.5.2006 3:03am
Bezuhov (mail):
Someone was asking about distaste for atheists?

I don't much appreciate being characterized by the rudeness of other Christians, so I don't place much significance on the previous poster's. I can't say I'm not particularly common in that forbearance.
4.5.2006 3:17am
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Bezuhov,

I don't mind being rude to people who believe I am going to fry in hell for no more reason than that I don't believe what they do.

Of course, since my post was to no one in particular, it wasn't rude at all. Just stating some facts that should unsettle a normal person.

If you believe that all the animals on the planet lined up two by two and marched onto a wooden boat built by a single family you really shouldn't be too concerned about the fact that others think you are a sap.
4.5.2006 11:05pm