Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Pledge Project: Atheists are Untrustworthy

If you're an atheist, that means nothing. So therefore, your word means nothing, so you have someone whose work cannot be trusted.

Yesterday I wrote a post in defense of the proposition that a pledge of allegiance that compares those who do not support ‘one nation under God’ with those who do not support ‘liberty and justice for all’ actually contributes to a state where the majority of people say that atheists definitely ‘do not share our views of society as Americans.’ I argued that the sentiment that atheists are outsiders and are not truly ‘one of us’ can be traced at least in part to a national motto that says, “Do not consider a person who does not trust in God to be one of us.”

In that posting, I referenced an article written by on eof the authors of a survey that quantified some of the hostility against atheists in this country. That author provided his own explanation for this hostility.

In my opinion, it is likely that a lot of this hatred can be attributed to the specious link between morality and religion. Many religious people believe that atheism and immorality are synonymous, and a scientific world view often is associated with criminality.

This theory is not incompatible with my claim that a Pledge of Allegiance to ‘one nation under God’ and a national motto that excludes those who do not trust in God are also not a part of this problem. This is not an ‘either/or’ proposal. There is, of course, a strong sentiment that equates atheism with immorality and this, in turn, can explain why the nation originally thought it necessary to have children pledge allegiance to God and to tell children (by putting it on the money and in classrooms) that those who do not trust in God are not to be thought of as ‘one of us’.

We certainly hear evidence of this view every time somebody argues that prayer in school is necessary to teach morality to children, and the abolition of prayer in school is the leading cause of immorality. Ben Stein's movie "Expelled" was, for the most part, a proclamation that the immorality inherent in atheism and 'Darwinism' are what made the Nazi holocaust and the Soviet gulags possible.

We see an example of this in the words of Ron Lowe, grand historian for the Grand Lodge of Idaho explaining why atheists are not permitted to be Masons.

While one of the few absolute requirements to membership is a belief in one god, religion and politics are not to be discussed within the Lodge. Ron Lowe, grand historian for the Grand Lodge of Idaho, tells why they insist that only deists need apply: "The reason you cannot be a Mason and an atheist is because, in our degree work, we ask that you swear allegiance in the presence of God. The feeling is that if you swear before God, that means something. If you're an atheist, that means nothing. So therefore, your word means nothing, so you have someone whose work cannot be trusted.

This type of statement is simple, naked bigotry. Lowe has just said that I cannot be trusted. He does not know me. He has not worked with me in any way. Yet, he has decided to prejudge me – the very definition of prejudice - by literally accusing me of being untrustworthy while having no information at all about how I live my life.

Furthermore, Lowe has been driven to this attitude by his religion. This is not only a clear instance of bigotry, it is an instance in which religion has been a driving force towards prejudice. In this case, religion has been a cause, not of virtue, but of vice.

In fact, this is an example of religion doing something that religions have been infamous for doing for thousands of years – turning people against their neighbors for no reason other than "you do not share our beliefs."

A just person . . . a moral person . . . will judge others innocent until proven guilty. If Lowe was a moral and just person, then his attitude towards me would be that he would not judge me (or, more accurately prejudge me or be prejudiced against me) without having evidence of something that I did or did not do. He would have wait until he had evidence that I was untrustworthy before he said that I could not be trusted. And he would not bear false witness against me by testifying to others that I am untrustworthy when there is no evidence to support such a claim.

For my part, I have evidence that Lowe is a bigot. I have evidence from his own words, quoted above. Furthermore, Lowe testified in his own words that his bigotry is grounded on his religion – that his religious beliefs are the foundation for his immorality.

Still, I will not go from this to accuse all religious people of bigotry. I would be a hypocrite if I were to do so, and I would be making prejudicial claims against those people who are religious and yet still avoid this type of bigotry. I will judge each religious person on his or her own actions.

There are a lot of different religions in the world and, while Lowe's religion (or at least his understanding of that religion) obviously preaches prejudice and injustice, this does not imply that all religions preach prejudice and injustice, or that even all who follow Lowe’s religion read into it an endorsement of bigotry and injustice.

I will withhold judgment of Ms. Smith’s moral character (whoever Ms. Smith happens to be) until I have been given evidence of something that Ms. Smith has said or done that I can judge her on. If Ms. Smith also says that all atheists are untrustworthy, then I will judge Ms. Smith to be a bigot in the same way that Lowe is a bigot. But I will not judge Ms. Smith to be a bigot because Lowe is a bigot, Lowe is religious, and Smith is also religious.

I will not even judge all Masons to be guilty of sharing Lowe’s moral failings, even though Lowe claims to be speaking about all Masons. His own testimony to the effect that all Masons are bigots is not enough to actually justify the conclusion that all Masons are bigots. It does not override the moral requirement to judge each person by his or her own actions.

However, if bigotry is the official standard of the Mason organization – if statements to the effect that the Mason organization prejudges all atheists to be untrustworthy (and thus is an organization dedicated to bigotry), then objections can be raised against any people who decides to belong to such an organization – or at least who belongs to the organization without protesting its dedication to immoral prejudgment (prejudice towards) others.

Another point that I want to make, that is relevant to previous discussion, is to ask whether it is at all reasonable to believe that Lowe, as an employer, would be willing to hire an atheist into a position of trust within his company (assuming he was in a position to hire others), or whether he would recommend an atheist for a position in another company or to an appointment for a position of trust.

If he were in a position to recommend appointees to a government committee, to recommend a student to a military academy, or (if he were in the military) to recommend a subordinate for promotion or an accommodation, is it reasonable to expect that he can believe that atheists are untrustworthy and that will NOT affect the opportunities that atheists have for appointments and promotions where people like Lowe are in positions of authority?

A belief is a disposition to act. It would be virtually impossible for Lowe to believe that atheists are inherently untrustworthy without him being disposed to keep atheists out of any position that required trust – such as the Masons itself. To allow an atheist into any position that required moral integrity – to vote for an atheist candidate, or to recommend an atheist to a friend as somebody who can be trusted to carry out a particular task – must confront his prejudice that no atheist is fit for such a position.

The claim that atheists are not losing out of opportunities because of the presence of anti-atheist bigotry is a truly remarkable statement. The claim that atheists do not have reason to hide their atheism for fear of suffering a loss of income and opportunities is equally absurd. The fact that atheists can and do deny their atheism for the sake of obtaining opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable is hardly an argument that anti-atheist bigotry does not exist, does not represent an injustice, or is not worthy of our moral concern.

Insofar as fair and just people would remove this bigotry, one place to start is to end the government endorsement of these attitudes. When the government puts up a plaque that says "In God We Trust" on government buildings and, in particular, in classroom walls where young children are exposed to it every day, they are reinforcing Lowe’s prejudice.

When the government promotes a Pledge of Allegiance that equates people who do not support 'one nation under God' with those who do not support 'liberty and justice for all', people like Lowe can feel vindicated that their prejudice against atheists is justified.

The way to fight this type of prejudice is to explicitly deny that this sort of bigotry is justified – to assert that America is a nation dedicated to 'justice for all,' and that justice prohibits the type of prejudice that is written into statements such as, "If you're an atheist, that means nothing. So therefore, your word means nothing, so you have someone whose work cannot be trusted."


Explicit Atheist said...

Exactly, 100% correct, hit the nail right on the head. I shouldn't be surprised, since what you wrote should be obvious to all thinking people, factually and logically its a simple and unimpeachable argument, but I don't see people saying this in writing much, so its good to see it here.

Anonymous said...

Damn you're good. I intend to read through all your stuff- this is some of the clearest and most concise exposition of what I, and I imagine many other atheists, wish we could express.

Anonymous said...

So if atheists can be moral, how do you concur with other people on right and wrong? Most atheists I have talked to say that they decide right and wrong for themselves... what happens if two of you disagree?

Alonzo Fyfe said...


What do you do when you find that you disagree with somebody whose interpretation of scripture than you do (or who follows a different scripture)?

It seems to me that the religious view of ethics is, "I am right. Anybody who disagrees with me is wrong."

This blog contains over 950 posts dealing with the question of how to determine moral truth (and I hold that there is such a thing as moral truth). If you want an answer to your question, I would suggest reading through the blog.

hank_says said...

Oh, "anonymous", please just think about it.

The world wasn't just a giant chaotic fray of killing & thievery and whoredom before the bible suddenly popped up and straightened everyone out.

We godless ones do indeed decide right & wrong for ourselves, but not arbitrarily. For the most part we were raised & educated by moral people who taught us both common sense and empathy, i.e. "is this action going to harm someone and how would I react if it happened to me?" The Golden Rule isn't something Jesus invented, it's at the core of human morality. "Do unto others as you would have done unto you" doesn't require a belief in gods. It's common freaking sense. We're not uncaring robots, we simply don't believe in fables! And this assertion that the religious have the monopoly on morality (because they invented it) is getting far beyond tiresome, not to mention galactically conceited!