So what's wrong with atheism?

heres a lot of discussion about a talk that LDS authority Dallin Oaks made a bit ago. Our editorial is HERE (CLICK) A political cartoon by Bagley at the SLTribune (go find it yourself, but it’s worth the hunt) is going viral.

In addition to wondering why members of a church that suffered incredibly unfair discrimination at the hands of Bible thumpers would turn around and sanction, in any way shape or form, discrimination against anyone else is beyond me. I was particuly puzzled, also, by Oaks statements about atheism, saying it is hostile to religion.

I’m not sure why atheism is a threat to religion for the same reason that gays marriage is supposed to be a threat to marriage. In neither case is anyone stopped from believing, or marrying, who they choose.

I’m not an atheist, but I have no problem with anyone being one. Fair is as fair does. The fear tossed around in the argument is that athiests somehow lack the moral compass that religion imparts to its believers, and so atheists might feel freer to commit sin, or crime, or whatever, because they’re godless.

The number of Catholic priests and LDS Bishops who’ve had problems with sexual improprieties over the years puts the lie to this assumption. Morality comes from within, not from a Bible. If you need the fear of God to keep you from sinning you have much deeper problems than going to church can solve.  

I’ve always Jesus’ advice applied in these cases: Do to others as you want them to do to you. You want me to respect your beliefs, you respect mine, and that includes not trying to legislate me into following yours. That goes for gay marriage, atheism, or anything else.

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25 Responses to So what's wrong with atheism?

  1. Di Lewis says:

    Thanks for finally asking that question, Charlie. You put it very nicely. This idea has been something amusing to me, since inevitable people point out outspoken atheists like Richard Dawkins, while ignoring the fact that outspoken religious people outnumber outspoken atheists by my made up number of 100 to 1.

    One of the aspects of the speech I was most frustrated by was him saying this:

    Atheism has always been hostile to religion, such as in its arguments that freedom of or for religion should include freedom from religion. Atheism’s threat rises as its proponents grow in numbers and aggressiveness.

    Followed in the same paragraph by:

    And atheism’s spokesmen are aggressive, as recent publications show. As noted by John A. Howard of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, these voices “have developed great skills in demonizing those who disagree with them, turning their opponents into objects of fear, hatred and scorn.”

    It’s like he doesn’t even listen to what he’s saying.

    In one breath he talks about how atheists are hostile, aggressive and a threat to religious people. And in the next breath he demonizes atheists by talking about how they demonize religious people!

    He also scorns the idea that some people should desire freedom from religion, while lauding our country’s religious freedom which allows people to determine who or what or how they will worship.

  2. Justin says:

    Both the author, and the previous comment, make good points. Religiosity and Morality have been falsely coupled for far too long. I’m happy that people are finally beginning to come around to the idea that the latter doesn’t require the former

    But, (at the risk of sounding snarky) to answer the question in the headline of this article, “atheism” is usually spelled with the ‘e’ before the ‘i’, so that might be what’s wrong with “athiesm”?

  3. Neal Humphrey says:

    I prefer the agnostic dyslexic insomniac who laid awake all night wondering if there really was a dog …

  4. Doug Gibson says:

    Re: “… The fear tossed around in the argument is that athiests somehow lack the moral compass that religion imparts to its believers, and so atheists might feel freer to commit sin, or crime, or whatever, because they’re godless.” ….

    Charlie, I don’t know any person of faith who looks at it that way. Where are they?

  5. Preston says:

    Right here, Doug. I believe that atheists feel more free to commit sin and crime because they are godless.

    Really, Charlie is just restating the house editorial in slightly stronger language.

  6. Al says:

    All this conversation prompted by a priest who complains that a church that proselytizes more aggressively than any other in the world is threatened by the speech of others. Odd, that.

    Doug: I hear that very argument (that atheists cannot possibly be moral people) made constantly by theists. Preston puts it quite succinctly; I frankly think it’s an idiotic, cheap way to dismiss people who disagree with him about his various superstitions.

    Neal, that was funny. But I’m pretty sure that the agnostic has to lay awake not wondering if there’s a dog, but pondering over how it’s impossible _to know_ if there’s a dog.

  7. flatlander100 says:

    Preston:

    To establish your claim you’d have to be able to show that atheists commit proportionally more crimes than do believers. Lotsa luck with that, compadre.

    Charlie:

    Your lead question suggests there’s nothing wrong with atheism. To which this one can’t resist replying “Amen to that!”

  8. ctrentelman says:

    Uh, you’re kidding right Doug?

    Sure you are. Ha ha.

    But just in case you aren’t, you can find them at any prayer breakfast in Washington DC. Try the Senate office building. Tom DeLay was a vigorous proponent, and prayed every morning before plotting new ways to cheat people through the magic of bribed legislation. He’s gone now, but he’s had his place taken, I am sure, by several others.

    Or try anyone who preached against “Godless” communism during the Cold war.

    Go pay a visit to that church in kansas that says God is punishing the US for allowing gays to exist.

    Try anyone who has ever argued that prayer should be allowed in government, or forced on school children, because, well, you know, we’re a christian country and everyone does a better job if God is asked for guidance first.

    No, no, not that God. Our God. The RIGHT God.

    Find them lined up outside the LDS Temple in SLC any conference weekend, for crying out loud.

    And on, and on, and on. Really, it’s not hard to find them, You just gotta look.

  9. Patrick Oden says:

    Why would atheists care if you respect their beliefs? They don’t believe in God. How exactly are you going to disrespect that in the same way that they can disrespect someone who does believe in God?

  10. Daniel T. says:

    You want me to respect your beliefs, you respect mine…

    Do you really respect people who believe that the earth is flat, or that Elvis is still alive? Maybe respect is too strong a word.

    How about this, as long as your belief system doesn’t have the potential to harm me, then I will tolerate you having it. If you believe that it is likely that Jesus will come down from on high and take you up into the rapture, and you believe that you should vote, then your belief system has the potential to harm me.

  11. Daniel – YES. I respect everyone. I may not like or agree with what they do or the beliefs they hold, but feel that all people deserve respect.

    Are you proposing taking away the right to vote from people whose beliefs are not in line with your own? Seems pretty hypocritical to me. Realize that your actions and beliefs also interfere with some of mine… so maybe we should come up with a system for deciding whose values are harmless enough, and only giving THOSE people the right to speak or vote. I promise that 98% of the population would not be allowed to vote in that case.

  12. Reginald Selkirk says:

    Oh dear, an LDS big shot says that atheists are “agressive.” I can tell you how many of my Saturday mornings have been disrupted by young atheist missionaries in black pants and white dress shirts ringing my doorbell, trying to draw me into a discussion of theology. I can tell you this quite easily, because that number is ZERO.

  13. flatlander100 says:

    CB:

    The term “respect” is getting a little fuzzy in this discussion. Let me try to define it a little more tightly.

    I’d argue this: (a) No one has a right to have his opinions treated by anyone respectfully. (b) he does, however, have an enforceable right [First Amendment] to express those his opinions to try to convince people of their worth (c) but he has no right of any sort to have people respect him, personally, for expressing those ideas.

    Example: (a) I am not required to treat with respect the brayings of bible thumpers who insist in the face of all the evidence that the earth in only 6000 years old. (b) I am required to respect their right to express such moronic ideas freely and to try to convince people that those ideas are not blithering lunacy (c) I am not required to treat anyone expressing such ideas as a person worthy of respect merely because they express those ideas as a matter of their religious belief.

    That make things a little clearer? Respecting peoples’ right to express their ideas publicly is, and ought to be, a fundamental principle of American liberty. But nothing whatsoever in the Bill of Rights mandates that we respect the ideas those people express publicly or the people who express them.

  14. Catherine Burt says:

    FL – You can look at it how you like. It’s a moral thing with me, respect for human dignity. I may challenge people I don’t agree with but that isn’t the same as not respecting them as a person.

    As a practical matter though, you can’t promote tolerance with intolerance or respect with disrespect. So whether someone is legally entitled to respect or tolerance, that is how these things will go. I have many friend who are atheists, we get along great, even though we have this difference of opinion… and that is only because there is a basic underlying respect for each other.

  15. Daniel T. says:

    Catherine Burt said, \YES. I respect everyone.\

    Everyone? You respect people who’s belief system requires them to rape and kill young girls? You respect people like Peter Sutcliffe? Do you really respect everyone?

    \Are you proposing taking away the right to vote from people…\

    No. I am saying that someone who thinks that the rapture will occur within the next 50 years does not have our nation’s long-term interests in mind when (s)he votes. Such a person is dangerous.

  16. Flatlander100 says:

    CB:

    I think you’re still confusing two different meanings of “respect.” Respecting someone’s rights — e.g. to express their views publicly as an exercise of their first amendment rights — means not trying to deny them use of those rights. On that I think we both agree. [I'd go further and argue that good citizenship requires me not only to respect their right to express ideas I consider moronic, it obligates me to defend their right to do that. That's why I'm an ACLU member.]

    However, “respecting someone as a person” is another matter entirely. That kind of respect has to be earned. I have friends and colleagues who are believers [in a variety of faiths], and for whom I have considerable respect “as people” as you put it. But if one of them told me that he believed the world was only 6 thousand years old because he’d read that in the oral traditions of some bronze age shamans in the middle east [aka "the old testament"], my respect for his intelligence and rationality would plummet . As before, that kind of respect can only be earned. No one [myself included] has a right to it. I might still respect him for other qualities — charity, kindness, despising the NY Yankees — but my respect for his intelligence and rationality would, I’m afraid, have ended.

  17. Your example is a problem because raping and killing is illegal. Most religious practices and values are not.

    As an ethical/environmental vegan, having done the research I’ve done, I’d say that 95% of americans don’t have the nation’s long-term interests in mind when they vote or even when they eat. Most of you are more dangerous in the short and long term than people who hold perfectly legal religious beliefs. But who will determine who is dangerous enough to take freedom away from others? You? The Mormons? The Government?

  18. Michael Trujillo says:

    When an argument or discussion gets bogged down by the interpretation of a word, I always go to the source.

    From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

    Main Entry: 1re•spect
    Pronunciation: \ri-spekt\
    Function: noun
    Etymology: Middle English, from Latin respectus, literally, act of looking back, from respicere to look back, regard, from re- + specere to look — more at spy
    Date: 14th century
    1 : a relation or reference to a particular thing or situation
    2 : an act of giving particular attention : consideration
    3 a : high or special regard : esteem b : the quality or state of being esteemed c plural : expressions of respect or deference
    4 : particular, detail
    — in respect of chiefly British : with respect to : concerning
    — in respect to : with respect to : concerning
    — with respect to : with reference to : in relation to

    Definition #1 doesn’t apply in this case.
    Definition #4 doesn’t apply in this case.
    Therefore, it’s either #2 or #3.

    Catherine says, “I respect everyone. I may not like or agree with what they do or the beliefs they hold, but feel that all people deserve respect.”

    Substitute definition #2 and you get: I give particular attention to everyone. I may not agree with what they do or the beliefs they hold, but feel that all people deserve consideration (attention).
    Substitute definition #3 and you get: I (have) esteem (for) everyone. I may not like or agree with what they do or the beliefs they hold, but feel that all people deserve esteem (high regard).

    Flatlander says, “But if one of them told me that he believed the world was only 6 thousand years old … my respect for his intelligence and rationality would plummet .”

    Substitute definition #2 and you get: But if one of them told me that he believed the world was only 6 thousand years old … my consideration for his intelligence and rationality would plummet.
    Substitute definition #3 and you get: But if one of them told me that he believed the world was only 6 thousand years old … my esteem for his intelligence and rationality would plummet.

    Does that correspond to what you’re each trying to say?

    I personally side with Flatlander. Not everyone deserves respect (esteem or consideration), but the right to behave or think something deserves respect (esteem or consideration) because our society stands for free thought.

  19. Cathy says:

    LOL guys this was not meant to be complicated. =:D

  20. ctrentelman says:

    gad, i come in to work an hour late one time and i find people throwing dictionaries at each other ….

    as to what the word “respect” means, I believe the humpty dumpty rule applies: In “Through the Looking Glass” he says a word means what he wants it to mean, no more and no less.

    Respecting religious beliefs shouldn’t be complicated, people. I define it as letting you have your religion and you letting me have mine.

    Saying someone “deserves” respect strikes me as putting a value judgement on what it is about them you are respecting which, I like to think is not in keeping with the spirit of the Golden Rule, but feel free to feel otherwise.

  21. Michael Trujillo says:

    You could always quote Popeye: I can’t gets no respeck!

  22. flatlander100 says:

    Charlie:

    You wrote: “as to what the word “respect” means, I believe the humpty dumpty rule applies: In “Through the Looking Glass” he says a word means what he wants it to mean, no more and no less.”

    Ah, well, that way lies madness. That leads to calling a tax increase a “revenue enhancement.” Or a bill to end farm subsidies the “Freedom to Farm Act.” Or a bill to permit warrantless wiretaps “The Patriot Act.” Or talking to a doctor about a living will submitting your fate to a “death panel.”

    As a writer, and especially a newspaper writer, I’d have thought you’d lean more toward the “words have specific meanings, and so should be chosen carefully.” First time a student tells me, when I point out he’s used a word to mean something it does not mean, that “Trentelman says my words can mean whatever I want them to,” you’re getting a phone call.

    At 3 AM.

    Count on it. [grin]

  23. Catherine Burt says:

    I dunno Charlie – you’re the one who brought up the golden rule ;) That would insinuate actual respect which might include not: throwing rocks through church windows, enacting legislation that interferes with another’s life, berating and ridiculing what others hold as moral values, simply because we don’t agree with or understand them.

    But it’s all good, actually I love dictionaries LOL

  24. Jeffrey DeMoss says:

    I think the penultimate paragraph puts it as well as I’ve heard anyone put it: “Morality comes from within, not from a Bible. If you need the fear of God to keep you from sinning you have much deeper problems than going to church can solve.”

  25. joe says:

    WILL INTRODUCE YOU TO A PERSON WHO LOVES YOU SO
    > > MUCH, MORE THAN ANY ONE COULD EVER LOVE YOU.
    > > HE LOVES YOU TO THE EXTENT OF LAYING DOWN HIS LIFE
    > FOR
    > > YOU
    > > GOD TELLS US IN HIS HOLY WORD THAT WE ALL HAVE SINNED
    > > THRU OUR WORDS , THOUGHTS, ACTIONS, ATTITUDE E.TC
    > SIN
    > > IS INBORN IN US, MAN IS NATURALLY DEPRAVED AND
    > > SINFUL
    > >
    > > SIN SEPERATES US FROM GOD BECAUSE GOD IS PURE AND
    > > HOLY .THE PENALTY FOR SIN IS ETERNAL SEPERATION FROM
    > > GOD IN HELLFIRE AND HELL IS REAL. BUT GOD IS RICH
    > IN
    > > MERCIES AND LOVE AND NOT WILLING THAT ANY SHOULD DIE
    > DECIDED
    > > TO SEND HIS ONLY SON LORD JESUS TO PAY THE PRICE OF
    > SIN SO
    > > WE THAT MIGHT BE RECONCILED TO GOD..
    > > JESUS PAID THE PRICE WITH HIS BLOOD, HE CAME AS MAN,
    > > HE WAS BEATEN,SCOURGED AND EVENTUALLY CRUCIFIED ON A
    > TREE.
    > > HE BORE THIS SHAME AND GRIEF JUST BECAUSE OF THE LOVE
    > HE HAS
    > > FOR YOU AND I
    > >
    > > ALL WE NEED DO TO BE RECONCILED TO GOD IS FIRSTLY
    > ACCEPT & BELIEVE
    > > HIS OFFER WHICH IS HIS SON JESUS. SECONDLY SINCERELY
    > > CONFESS ALL SINS LIKE PRIDE, FORNICATION,
    > ANGER,UNFORGIVENESS, MALICE
    > > HATRED, BITTERNESS,LYING, STEALING, FIGHTING, ETC ALL
    > THAT WE HAVE DONE THAT OFFENDED GOD & MAN FROM
    > > THE DEPTH OF OUR HEART, THIRDLY WE TOTALLY FORSAKE
    > THAT IS TO SAY DO AWAY WITH ALL SINS ENTIRELY
    > > BECAUSE JESUS DIED SO THAT WE MIGTH BE FREE FROM SIN
    > AND NOT
    > > TO MAKE US MORAL OR RELIGIOUS PEOPLE. FOURTHLY ACCEPT
    > JESUS AS OUR LORD AND
    > > PERSONAL SAVIOUR AND PROMISE HIM NEVER TO GO BACK TO
    > SIN BUT
    > > RATHER LOVE HIM AND SERVE HIM FOREVER.THIS DOESNT MEAN
    > THE TEMPTATION TO SIN WOULDN’T ARISE BUT WE MAKE UP OUR MIND
    > NOT TO FALL INTO THE TEMPTATION.
    > PLEASE NOTE THAT TEMPTATION CAN ARISE FROM DIFFERENT
    > SOURCES SUCH AS FRIENDS, COLLEAGUES, NEIGHBOURS E.T.C
    > >
    > > IF WE DO THIS JESUS WILL MAKE HIS ABODE IN US AND
    > LOVE
    > > US, THEN WE BECOME HIS FRIENDS. I WHO IS WRITING BY
    > THE GRACE OF GOD I GAVE MY LIFE TO
    > > JESUS TEN YEARS AGO AND LORD JESUS HAS BEN TRUE TO ME.
    > HE
    > > HAS GIVEN ME GRACE TO LIVE ABOVE ALL MY SINS , EVEN
    > THE ONES
    > > I THOUGHT ICOULD NEVER DO WITHOUT , HE HAS MADE ME A
    > BRAND
    > > NEW PERSON AND I HAVE HIS LOVE AND PEACE IN ME.
    > > I LOVE HIM WITH ALL MY HEART AND I’M WILLING TO DO
    > > ANYTHING FOR HIM BECAUSE THE SACRIFICE HE PAID FOR ME
    > IS
    > > INCOMPARABLE.
    > > TRY HIM AND YOU WILL SEE HE NEVER FAILS , HE ‘S
    > > JUST TRUE TO HIS WORD
    > >
    > >
    > >
    > >
    > >
    > >

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