USA Today discovers the existence of atheism
It’s always shocking to see a reasonable, rational argument for positive atheism presented in the public arena. It shouldn’t be. It should be no big deal. In fact to my mind it should be assumed that atheists not only are as ethical as religious folk, by and large, but usually are more ethical. But most god-worshipers are ill equipped to understand that other people can have a strong ethical sense that doesn’t depend on fear of a supernatural puppet master.
USA Today is not the most intelligent of news media, to say the least. Which make it all the more remarkable that they published an opinion piece describing atheism as a positive pillar in the structure of society. The author of that piece correctly notes that modern atheists in America are confronted with a prejudice far more poisonous than that exhibited to any other creed in the modern world. Not only do many religious folk take is as a given that atheists should not serve in public office, quite a few godbots will also assert – seemingly without irony – that atheists are despicable, amoral zealots who only want to destroy America. Clearly such pundits are unfamiliar with the psychology of projection.
Yet even in that very positive USA Today article, the author could not bring himself to totally avoid demeaning atheists.
The reputation of atheists has not been well-served by the surly attacks on religion by some of atheism’s highest-profile torch carriers. From the best-selling atheist manifestos of recent years to Bill Maher’s new Religulous movie, the loudest voices of non-belief have exhibited much of the same stridency and flair for polemics as the religious fundamentalists they excoriate.
Excuse me? Atheists are presented as morally equivalent to religious fundamentalists because some strongly advocate their position? No, not quite. How many atheists make straight-faced public policy proposals to outlaw religion? How many atheist groups lobby Congress to impose their point of view on the rest of society, including behavioral, sexual and social rules that they want to make everyone else follow? I can give you a figure on that. The correct answer is none. Zero. Null set.
And that’s the difference. Lots of people hold strong opinions on everything from the tax code to table place settings. There are atheists like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris who hold strong opinions on atheism, and they seek to make those opinions a matter of widespread public discussion. But neither Dawkins nor Harris, nor PZ Myers, nor Christopher Hitchens, advocate that we put the iron boot of atheism to the face of freedom. Can such a thing be said for Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, James Dobson, Sarah Palin, or any other desperate fanatics for theocracy in recent and modern America?
I can’t think of a single media-personality atheist who wants to curtail god-worshipers’ freedoms. But every single religious fundamentalist I hear from seems to crave absolute power over the private lives of everyone else. Atheists stopped prayer in school? Actually anyone can pray in school, at any time. What the “atheists” stopped is having the government command little kids to recite state-mandated prayers. Atheists want to destroy religion because some have fought to remove religious displays from public land? No, actually such people just want the government to stop picking favorite religions. A public square without a Christmas display isn’t an atheist public square, just as a grilled cheese sandwich lacking the image of Mary isn’t an atheist luncheon food.
I am ethical because I want to live in a fair and peaceful society where I and my loved ones are in minimal danger of being preyed upon by other people. I believe that suffering is bad 100% of the time, and the goal of society should be to create an environment where people can be left alone to determine their own course through life, as long as they don’t hurt anyone else. My beliefs don’t derive from a magical angry giant, and they cannot lead to witch burnings, holy crusades, stonings to death, teaching folklore as science, burkhas, genital mutilation, or 9/11. And that’s what makes me – an atheist – morally superior to every fundamentalist on Earth.