Widely reported all over the internets this week is the survey that is part of the American Mosaic Survey that is reporting that atheists are the least-trusted people in America.
Hey, can I say something, here?
I could go on and on on this topic, actually. So, after pondering this article for almost a week, I think I can pare down my response a bit, to just directly rebut some of the statements in that article without getting all rant-y about religion and atheism as a whole.
Basically, it boils down to this: Christianity in its modern, Western form, is predicated on belief. Christians are told that they are to believe something without evidence, and that they are part of a community that shares that belief. Forcing themselves to believe something without any evidence, or “just knowing” that some things are “true” even though those things can’t be verified in any fashion is not just fundamental, it becomes a point of pride.
Contrast this to other religions that put the focus on the here-and-now, religions that require their adherents to put into actual practice actions favored by that religion. Sunni Islam has its “Five Pillars of Faith”. Mr. Abrams, quoted in the article above, talks about Jewish acts being more important than belief.
But it’s the Christian idea that has taken root in America – a focus on a perfect, ideal world and a rejection of this imperfect world, and favoring irrational mental stimulation over taking action.
Obviously, I’m simplifying here. There are many forms and flavors of Christianity, with different flavors of belief, just as there are many different groups of Jews, or Muslims, or Wiccans, or atheists, for that matter. My reader may argue that I’m constructing a straw man to knock down. I accept that it may seem that way, however, I’m only basing this argument on the article quoted above. “Belief” is used 13 times in the article, out of 605 total words. “Act” is used twice, and once as part of the word “actor”, describing one of the people quoted. “Reasonable” is used only once.
The study is about what people believe, and what people believe others believe, and how they feel about that. My argument is that basing issues of trust on belief rather than action is going to result in problems, and that atheists are best equipped to focus more on actions, and are therefore more trustworthy.
Now, people can be atheists for many reasons. In my own case, I am atheist because the religious descriptions of God do not meet basic, verfiable, logical criteria. Without getting too deeply into it, take a look at the problem of evil. In a nutshell, the following statements can’t all be true:
- God is all-good,
- God is all-powerful,
- God created the universe,
- Evil exists in the universe
Various ways to work around this problem have people re-defining evil, or finding ways to have God self-limit His power for some ultimate end that justifies the existence of evil. None of these explanations make any sense for me. And in coming to that realization, I understood that logic, flawed though it might be, is a valuable tool for figuring things out. So is science, and reason. All these things rely on reproducible results, and on observing actual events rather than imagining events that would be “better”, somehow. So, for me, belief is all well and good but belief is trumped by reason.
I can believe lots of things. However, I can use various mental tools to discern between beliefs that actually produce positive results right here and now, and beliefs that get me or others hurt right here and now.
But, and we see this in the article linked above, people still see atheists in terms of what they “believe” or not. And, somehow, most Americans are frightened of someone who doesn’t simply “believe” in invisible, unprovable things. Is it really that scary? I’m oriented towards action, and trying to find actions in this world that produce positive results for people right now or very soon, rather than having some vague, internalized belief that may or may not produce a positive result after my death.
In this way, I think, atheism (at least for me) has more in common with other religions – in my focus on concrete results, rather than ethereal far-off events that may or may not take place. Isn’t having an immediate feedback loop for reinforcing decisions made, such as I try to practice, a better mechanism for producing socially positive actions?
And, that being the case: isn’t that someone you would trust more?