Thursday, August 28, 2008

It keeps popping up everywhere as I trounce around the blogs and the comment threads. There are many believers that honestly believe that atheists have little to no reason to be moral and are therefore less trustworthy. There is also this idea that atheists are somehow backwards in their thinking as well. If they would only think clearly, surely they could see the obvious truth of God's existence and his moral mandates. On the one hand it's comical because there are many atheists that think similarly about believers. On the other hand it's devastating because there is so much distrust and misunderstanding on both sides of the fence.

Atheists have had a bad name since time immemorial. The Psalmist calls the atheist a fool. Heresy has been a taboo since the beginning of our species because as I see it, heresy is just an extension of the in/out group. If the group believes in God and someone doesn't then that someone is out. And so it is today. If you believe in God, and for many it doesn't seem to matter how you define God, you're in. If not, then you're out.

The thing is, from the tone of many of the anti-religious books that have come out recently, atheists don't have too high of an opinion of believers either. They recall with magnified detail all the horrific and devastating tragedies that have been wrought in the name of God. They decry the suppression of scientific progress at the hands of religious fundamentalism. Much time and effort is spent debunking the claims of pseudo-sciences like creationism and ID. All bumps in the road of human progress are blamed on the heavy hand of religious superstition.

It seems that when an atheists thinks "religious believer", they think of Kent Hovind wearing Torquemada's red devil suit and when a believer thinks "atheist", they think of Stalin pressing the button and watching smugly from his bunker 15 miles below the surface of the Earth as our planet explodes in a complete nuclear holocaust.

Even though our brain distinguishes different light wavelengths into colors, we seem to think of our fellow humans in black and white terms. We place each other in neat little boxes based on labels that we've given each other, whether or not the individual fits into them. If we would pay a little more attention to each other, we'd see that we aren't all fundamentalists. If we'd pay more attention to deeds then to particulars of belief, surely there would be less distrust and misunderstanding.

I think it's horrible to condone or praise wholesale human slaughter whether you did it because of your reading of the Bible or your reading of Karl Marx. I think you are terrific if you are kind to your family and respectful to others, whether you did so because that's what you think God wants from you or because such acts are in line with your personally chosen moral values.

Now I don't mean to downplay the differences too much. Creationism doesn't belong in science class for the simple reason that it's not science. The religious right can't argue for their values in the political realm by quoting from the Bible for the simple reason that doing so is fallacious argumentation. However, I find the atheists that are trying to take plaques of the Ten Commandments out of courtrooms and to remove "In God We Trust" from US currency, to be overly petty. There are other things that I find wrong that are on some atheists agenda, like trying to get rid of Christmas and marginalizing all religious believers, just because they're religious believers and not specifically marginalizing any fallacious arguments no matter what the source may be. There are a number of real political problems that need to be duked out in the public square. But there is a significant population, the large majority, of religious believers that aren't biblical literalists and suicide bombers and condemn such things. And there are a significant percentage of atheists that wouldn't dream of supporting, and willingly condemn, the likes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.

In summary, while I think that there are real arguments that need to be duked out, assuming all religious believers are Kent Hovind or Kiruv Klowns and assuming all atheists are Stalin or Brian Sapient, isn't very accurate and isn't very helpful. And for the literalists out there, the examples I used were purposefully extreme, exaggerated stereotypes.