Atheism: Prejudice is Alive and Well in America

A few days ago the Wall Street Journal did an article about outreach efforts by atheists. I did think that was kind of funny. There’s an interesting parallel with libertarians trying to control the government.

What stands out about the discussion is the well-documented prejudices against atheists, now apparently the most hated minority in the US. People who fear being accused of racism will openly attack atheists as untrustworthy, and throw other slurs without hesitation.

There were two letters to the editor about this in today’s paper that show the idiocy of this prejudice. In one, Tim Keith says the following: “Without God, ethics are unavoidably subjective and therefore ultimately meaningless. Atheism claims the mantle of reason but is built on a fundamentally irrational foundation.”

Belief in God does not make ethics any more objective. The 9/11 terrorists surely believed in God, yet I doubt Mr. Keith found their conduct ethical. While religion underlies countless honorable actions, it also has been invoked in many atrocities. The same is no more or less true for atheism. Atheism is no more shaky than the many religions out there. Some of the devout believe that the universe was created 6000 years ago, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. And I won’t even begin to get into the evolution/creationism/intelligent design thing.

Andrew Ooms writes in his letter: “If there were no divine being who had summarized his will for humans in the Ten Commandments, the only governing rule would be the natural one of survival of the fittest.” Ooms implies that atheism would mean a lot more crime.

Strangely many societies have managed without the Ten Commandments. They are not commonly found in Asia for example. I lived in Japan for a year and didn’t see a single reference to them. Japan, where religion is far less pervasive, also has far less crime than our highly religious country. Does this mean religion causes crime (as some atheists might say)? Nope. I can say with some confidence based on years as a criminal defense lawyer that the leading causes of crime are stupidity and mental illness. You find both among the religious and the non-religious, probably in roughly equal proportions.

You don’t have to be religious to believe in principles. I’m quite fond of the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”). I remember learning early in my Japanese studies to think about how things look from someone else’s standpoint (tachiba). Similarly, concepts like the tragedy of the commons (generalized in economics as externalities) provide a sound basis for civic thinking. And how about Mr. Spock’s famous self-sacrifice based on the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few, or the one?

Our society is built upon foundations laid by believers and non-believers. Both deserve respect.

4 comments to Atheism: Prejudice is Alive and Well in America

  • Anonymous

    What does this have to do with “Libertarians trying to control the government”? Libertarians want to abolish most government. What are you possibly talking about?

  • Um … Anonymous … that’s the point. Libertarians trying to control government is a funny concept. So is atheist outreach. Get it?

  • Anonymous

    Very weak fella.
    However, I have reviewed some more of your writing and you seem to be fairly libertarian-minded, which in my mind is something we need more of in guilderland.

  • Sorry you don’t appreciate my sense of humor. I do appreciate your support for libertarian thinking. If you genuinely want to help along those lines in Guilderland, then please send me an e-mail — –Warren