On the bashing of atheists/agnostics

I’ve been wanting to write a post here for a long time.  There have been a few ideas that have come and gone, some even to the point where I started writing… but nothing to show for it.  I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with blogging in general.  There are periods where I write regularly, other periods where I come to see it as futile and give up.  But I always come back to it, and over the years I’ve realized that while I do enjoy political blogging at times, it is other subjects, particularly those of philosophy and religion, that have always better aroused my passion.

While I make no secret of my non-faith, I’m not aggressive about it either.  I’m not one of those non-believers that feels the need to call those of faith stupid or ignorant.  I know good people of both faith and non-faith, and I certainly count among my closest friends many who take their religious views very seriously.  As a rule, I try to be respectful of others’ beliefs, given that they do not try to force them upon me, and given that they, overall, make them a better person.  Faith can do this, and does do this, for millions, and to deny that would be silly.

As a holder of a minority worldview – my own views surely deserving of further explanation but essentially coming down to non-theistic agnosticism – I’m used to politicians not exactly gunning for my vote.  If I’m lucky, I’ll get an off-hand remark about how both those of faith and non-faith can be good people (for all his flaws, George W. Bush was remarkably tolerant).  However, I’m not expecting much.  What does get to me, though, is when a politician goes out of his or her way to insult me.  It is not always a calculated move, usually a passing reference to the false belief that atheists/agnostics have no values.

The example that sparked this post came when I saw this brief comment made by Newt Gingrich in a debate last month.  The moment did not get much attention at the time as it is hardly out of the ordinary to hear non-religious folks denigrated during Republican political events.  But in seeing this, it made me think of two things.  First, how profoundly ignorant Gingrich must be to think that those who don’t have faith have no values or judgment.  Secondly, how utterly contemptible he is to essentially imply those without faith are, as a rule, of poor character and completely undeserving of trust and power.

Now, certainly, from a political point of view, bashing atheists/agnostics isn’t going to cost anyone many votes, and may in fact gain them quite a few from those who are prejudiced.  Certainly among Republicans, it may indeed be a mainstream, majority belief that atheists are no better than Muslims – perhaps even worse.  So in the grand scheme, Newt’s comments will not hurt him, if they have any effect at all.  But it does, to me, shed some light on his character.  Does he not know any non-believers in his personal life?  If he does, does he treat them with suspicion?  Or is he just throwing red meat to a base that is largely convinced that secular humanism is a force of Satan?

Throwing rocks at non-believers tells me a lot about a person.  It says that person is willing to insult and slander one group in order to feed the worst instincts of the larger group.  It says that person has not even bothered to understand or get to know non-believers.  It says that person can and would prejudge those that they hire based on their faith and religious background.  In the end, it says they are a fool – a small-minded person who simply cannot fathom how one can come to the conclusion that God does not exist without then becoming a mass murderer or rapist.

Whether or not believers like it, there are millions of us out there who find our answers and contentment outside of the cathedral, mosque, and temple.  By many measurements non-belief is among the fastest growing groups in America.  By no means at all does this mean religion is threatened.  But it does mean that sooner or later, politicians will have to come to grips with the idea that we are out there.  The sooner they shed their preconceived notions, the sooner they will learn how to connect with people regardless of their religious views or lack thereof.