The Hold of Tradition

So in my perusal of the Internet, I came across a reference. It wasn’t primarily sourced, but I became interested. This claim was so outlandish, I couldn’t believe it–no one seriously thinks that way. It must be a smear campaign, or something that will show up in a quick search of Snopes as “False”.

Nope.

In 2011, both Pew and Gallup did a poll in the United States. I don’t know the primary methods or p values, but I did look into the conclusion, and the fact is this: The polls were actually done, and the conclusion sounds like some kind of scare tactic, but it really is exactly as bad as the headlines led me to believe.

To add to that, the University of Oregon and University of British Columbia published independent studies showing the same conclusion.

Atheists are, among those identifying as Christian, nearly as distrusted as rapists. Some sensationalists posted “As distrusted as rapists” rather than “almost”, but that just shows that stretching the truth for headlines transcends time itself (3 years ago? Had they even invented paper yet?).

“What are you complaining about? ‘Almost as distrusted’ means atheists are more trustworthy than rapists!” Right. You know what, I’ll just throw that as a sticker next to the “And I also have never eaten a baby!” bumper sticker. It’ll make me look fantastic.

Here are three different takes on the study:

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2011/12/02/study-religious-people-trust-atheists-about-as-much-as-they-do-rapists/

http://www.suntimes.com/news/otherviews/13486541-452/are-atheists-worse-than-rapists.html#.VGvIU-HSDuM

http://news.ubc.ca/2011/11/30/ubc-study-explores-distrust-of-atheists-by-believers/

My personal favorite is the one by the Chicago Sun-Times, “Are Atheists worse than rapists??!?!?!?!!?!?!??!?!?!!”

I may have added some punctuation, but given psychological studies showing that even if the answer to a headline is “No, no they are not,” a majority of respondents will reply only 60 days later that they remember it being true… So whether the article tactfully defends atheists or not is irrelevant; the take away for most will be negative. I feel like the article was written by someone who is either an atheist, or is tolerant of atheism… But their editor is not. That is pure conjecture, mind you, a personal guess given the tone of the article versus the inflammatory style of the headline.

Or maybe it is just someone who is tactless, but I am more optimistic than that.

My only question is this: why does my opinion on the presence of God have any effect or bearing on the conversation? You may say “Well, where do your morals come from, if not from a deity?” It’s OK, I don’t mind you asking, and I don’t mind if you believe your better nature comes from a book, insofar as it is just that.. Better nature.

If, for example, you tell me you hate gays (or, moving slightly towards the liberal ends, hate the sin of homosexuality rather than the gays) because of your reading of the Bible (or your Reverend or Pastor’s reading of the Bible, as the case may be), I will no longer be OK with that. Where our morals agree, where we are both trying to reduce pain in the world, and practice charity, and help the needy, and supporting our friends and family, I do my best to not ask why. And I suppose the reason why this is my opinion bears some explanation.

During a trip to California to meet my wife’s extended family, I ended up in a Baptist church, and the sermon (I swear, I am not making this up, and I am not exaggerating it, and I have many witnesses) rounded out to morality based on the Bible. The pastor informed the congregated people, red faced, that he knows of people he WOULD MURDER if not for the fact that he would burn in hell for the act.

That short anecdote is why I prefer not to ask about the roots of your morality, and why I am OK with agreeing that murder is bad, and rape is bad. As long as we both agree on this, I am happy to say the question is settled. But the funny thing is that, statistically, you (my theoretical Christian reader) are statistically likely to say “I don’t care that we both agree in giving to charity, that rape is wrong, that murder is wrong. That isn’t important. The important thing is the underpinnings of your feelings. If societal pressures changed, your morality would change, and before long we’d all be married to (and, one presumes, having sex with) animals!” I will point out one immediate flaw in that line of argument, one present and relevant today; among the religious, intolerance of homosexuality is the majority opinion, and I remind you that the religious vastly and drastically outnumber the nonreligious. Conversely, among those identifying as nonreligious (not just unaffiliated with a religion, but those professing to have no religion), the majority sentiment is of tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality.

What is the point of this story? The point is that, despite majority opinion and societal pressures (primarily in the United States, and doubly so in the southern States), we buck against the trend and support the rights of our fellow humans. Perhaps if you had no God to rely on, no Bible, you would give in to your (much) baser natures and marry (and, as before, presumably have sex with) a horse, but I do not believe that of you, I really don’t. Maybe you do believe that of yourself, I don’t know, but please don’t — there is a statistically significant chance that you would not, in fact, become a cannibal horse-rapist if science (somehow) proved that god(s) didn’t or don’t exist. Honestly, though, the thought that a preacher would get up in front of over 100 people and say “I would totally kill people if not for God, and I am comfortable saying that,” terrifies me. I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. That being said, you and I, Mr Preacherman, agree that murder is wrong. So let’s not ask why, let’s just be happy that we agree. I won’t care that you are Baptist if you don’t care that I am nontheist.

One thing I preach, and I will keep preaching this until I die, is to remember that everyone, everywhere, online, face-to-face, over the phone, over a text message, all of those people you know and don’t know, everyone you talk to and think about, is a human being with human emotions, so treat them as such, please? Some are broken, they rape, or steal, or kill, but the correlation between nontheism, theism, and crime is very limited. As I’ve pointed out before, though, crime rate has come down SIGNIFICANTLY since the 1970s, and there are several correlating factors–but the number of people identifying as nontheist is growing rapidly, and the crime rate is not growing as a result. I think that should give anyone pause. Let’s find out what broke them, not just assume that we know the answer without looking. Please?

And to follow up, let’s just not fight about God, or gods, please? I am happy that it gives you solace to know He/they are out there. I am happy that you have taken some moral cues from your Holy book of choice, I really am. I take my moral cues from a different place, and that is OK too. I do not want to take your religion from you, but I want to help you extract the hate from your religion and throw it by the wayside. Whatever you believe about the Christian God, I think we can all agree that Jesus, from stem to stern, preached peace and tolerance. He dined with sinners, and healed the sick, and preached loving thy neighbor, and I agree with all of that. So let’s stick to that, and throw away our prejudices and intolerance, let’s seek a mutual understanding of what is Good and what is Evil. Let’s just talk, instead of being dicks.

I know I am preaching to the choir, no one on the other side of this debate reads my blog. I get that. But honestly, I’d feel awful if I didn’t say it, because if even one person, in all of the time this blog is alive until the day it disappears into the infinite ether(net) reads this and gets even 0.01% more tolerant going forward… I will have felt like it was all worth it.

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