This is a second post in a series that looks at the ‘values’ that can be found in a survey conducted by Reginald Bibby at the University of Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada) that allegedly showed that atheist place less importance on a number of key values when compared to theists.
Today, I will look at the issue of honestly. Bibby’s survey reports that 95% of theists hold that honesty is very important, while only 89% of atheists hold this particular value.
The fact that 95% of theists report that they consider honesty very important simply proves how little they value honesty. One of my great frustrations in writing this blog has been in confronting the constant barrage of ‘disinformation’ that comes from theists. Now, one more piece of disinformation that I can add to the list is the disinformation that many of them give, that they actually value honesty.
Reason dictates that I cannot prove that theists do not have the level of respect for honesty reported in this survey by identifying a few instances of dishonesty. After all, I might just be drawing the examples of those who are in the 5% that do not value honesty. However, I can provide reason to dispute the claim made in this survey by showing that these ‘lovers of honesty’ certainly do not care enough about honesty to do anything about the liars and sophists that speak in defense of theism.
Bibby’s survey itself provides a case that illustrates the low regard for truth that we find among theists. I encountered news of this survey on the site Focus on the Family under the headline, Believers in God More Likely to Do Good. The report contained a link to a press release describing the survey. The press release contained the statement, “ That's not to say that God-believers always translate their values into action.”
So, Focus on the Family wrote an article in which they lied about the research they were reporting on. Yet, as I said above, evidence of a lie does not show that the whole religious culture has no respect for truth. Evidence of this further conclusion is, instead, found in the fact that the religious community on the whole does not care enough about lying to condemn or criticize those who lie. Lies are ignored, when one is lying in defense of The One True God. This takes more than a 5% that does not view honesty as ‘very important’. This requires that a substantial portion of the community views lying as unimportant or even as a positive good.
To say that a substantial portion of theists are, at best, indifferent towards honesty or actively supports dishonesty is not to say that every Christian is a liar. It is only to say that those who are honest lack the power to force honesty on their brethren, which suggests that they are too weak to actually enforce their values on others. Either it is not the case that 95% of theists value honesty, or the 5% minority is able to exercise some extraordinary powers over the alleged honest supermajority.
Another example of theistic dishonesty is found in the works of David Barton, who once filled society with a number of false claims about the words of the founding fathers. According to Barton’s quotes, the founding fathers wanted nothing more than to establish a nation ruled by a Christian version of the Taliban. Many of these quotes were later exposed to be made up or taken out of context to change their meanings.
People who actually love honesty and hate deceptionwould find this behavior contemptible. They would warn their fellow citizens of Barton’s dishonesty and condemn him for it, while at the same time condemning any co-religionist who repeats those lies. We do not see this type of behavior among theists, giving us reason to doubt that these theists have the dislike for deception that they claim to have.
Here, I want to point out that dishonesty comes in a number of stripes. Just as with other crimes, an individual can knowingly or intentionally carry out. There are also crimes that a person can carry out that represent negligence or recklessness.
If a person values not killing other people – if not killing other people is very important to him, it is not enough for the agent to show this by refusing to intentionally or even knowingly take somebody else’s life. A person also shows his love of life by making sure he does not take the life of another through accident or negligence. We can say of the reckless individual that he really does not care who gets hurt. We can say of the reckless speaker or writer that he cares as little about truth and honesty as the reckless driver.
Barton himself, and those who carelessly repeat them, are showing how little they care about honesty in the same way that a drunk driver shows that he really does not care about the lives and well-being of those he might hit. This indifference to the truth is not consistent with the claim that these people make that they truly love honesty. They only love claiming to love honestly – probably because pretending to be honest is useful.
More evidence of the way in which dishonesty permeates the theist culture can be found in their devotion to Fox News. Fox News recently won a lawsuit filed by two employees who claimed ‘wrongful termination’. According to the court records, these employees refused to insert false elements into a news segment. Fox News apparently felt that its audience was not overly concerned with whether its reports were true or not. Apparently, they were right. These people who claim that honesty is their most important value registered no objection to the Fox News decision to fight in court in the name of dishonesty.
Another example from Fox News is an incident in which Bill O’Reilly, the host of Fox News’ most highly rated show, was shown to have edited a film clip to distort the claims of Senator Joe Biden.
The report was a blatant lie. However, these lovers of honesty showed no offense at this deception. Lovers of honesty would have felt extremely betrayed by this activity, suggesting that at least those theists who are fans of Bill O’Reilly and Fox News are not, in fact, the lovers of honesty that they claim to be.
The O’Reilly event needs to be compared to Dan Rather’s report that documents showed that Bush obtained special treatment while serving in the National Guard. In this case, there was absolutely no evidence that Rather acted to distort Bush’s record. Instead, his crime was failure to verify the authenticity of the evidence provided by an outside source. For this, he issued an apology. These are the actions of somebody who holds that honesty is important or, at least, somebody who seeks to appeal to an audience that values honesty. This is not the type of audience that Bill O’Reilly speaks to, since they did not seem to care about his deception.
Also from Fox News, a survey in September 2003 showed that Fox News viewers were the least well informed of all news viewers on relevant facts concerning the attack on Iraq. If Fox News viewers were, in fact, interested in truth and honesty, this should have inspired them to switch to options that were giving people a more honest account of the invasion of Iraq. But, yet again, they showed that honesty is not one of their key concerns.
Another trait that we can expect from those who value honesty is that they would establish and support institutions whose job it is to keep people honest. The academic community has just such an institution in the form of peer-reviewed journals. In order to get published in a peer-reviewed journal, an author has to submit his article to reviewers whose job is to make sure that the author’s work is internally and externally valid. They remove not only dishonest claims, but reckless and unfounded assertions, allowing the author to claim only what the evidence actually supports.
Authors who write on subjects such as intelligent design, religious-based archaeology, and social science and medical research that aim to show the power of religion and prayer, are routinely unable to write documents that are capable of passing this type of review.
The list goes on.
A great many theists claim that inserting ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance and adopting ‘One Nation Under God’ were, in no way, motivated by a desire to establish a religion, in violation of the First Amendment. Nothing is more absurd. All this shows is that the audacity of lying is so prevalent in the theistic community that they can all mutually agree, with scarcely a voice of dissent, to swear to statement that is so blatantly false. Let somebody try to claim that a pledge to ‘one nation under no God’ or a motto of “We Trust In No God’ is not religiously motivated, and they will suddenly discover truths that appear to conveniently escape their notice today.
I routinely hear from them the lie that atheists assert an absolute certain knowledge that no God exists and, in refuting this statement, claim to have refuted atheism. This lie comes in the face of the fact that atheists routinely use arguments that make reference to Bertrand Russell’s orbiting teakettle, the flying spaghetti monster, fairies in garden, the invisible pink unicorn, the Easter Bunny, and any of the tens of thousands of gods that even the Christian does not believe in. The argument is simple. “When you understand why you do not believe in these things, you will understand why we do not believe in your God.” None of these examples require absolute certainty. Yet, we continually hear the lie that ‘atheists assert with absolute certainty that there is no God.’
Recently, the more heavily religious side of the political spectrum treated us to the swift-boating of 10-year-old Graeme Frost and his family. When Graeme Frost appeared in a video criticizing Bush’s stand on a bill providing health insurance for children, a group of misleadingly dishonest claims about the family spread like wildfire among bloggers and pundits whose audience consists primarily of the type of people who claimed in Bibby’s survey to have such a love of honesty.
During the 2004 Presidential campaign, Bush constantly told his audiences that the Constitution forbids the President from spying on Americans without a warrant. He said this while the ink was not even dry on executive orders he signed authorizing the spying on Americans without a warrant.
Finally, I want to make it clear that these points cannot be answered by claiming that there are atheists guilty of the same offense. It is certainly true, and I have criticized some of them in this blog. Yet, if one has captured a thief in the commission of a crime, he cannot legitimately defend himself by saying that there are other thieves. And no rapist or murderer deserves to be let off the hook because they can honestly claim that they are not the only ones who have ever committed rape or murder. Regardless of how many atheist liars there might be, the evidence still proves that theists are not the lovers of honesty they claim to be.
In fact, if I could have one wish granted for the well-being of humanity, it would be worth it to wish that people generally had a greater respect for and love of truth than we currently find in our society. Nothing makes the job of trying to make the world a better place more difficult than dealing with the deafening noise of people who either recklessly or intentionally fill the air with false claims.
All it takes is for people to realize that there is, in fact, a great deal of value to be found in simply pausing for a second at the end of each sentence one writes or just before each sentence one intends to speak and ask, ‘Can I really defend that as being true?’