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December 10, 2007
Tolerance Ends With Atheists
I’m told that Mitt
Romney gave a heck of a speech last week on the subject of religion,
specifically his Mormon faith. He was supposed to have made the case
that his faith shouldn’t preclude him from being president.
As such, he was talking
to a Republican audience. Those who spend the most time complaining that
the nation is intolerant to their faith themselves poll the highest when
it comes to practicing intolerance towards others. Almost half of
evangelical Christians polled recently said they would hold Romney’s
faith against him when it came time to cast a ballot.
The speech was less
Kennedy than it was a campaign gimmick. Attacking those intolerant of
most religion in America these days is like attacking people with
disabilities. Politicians, especially liberals, go to great lengths to
pat themselves on the back over their tolerance of any notion, including
those that are worthy of ridicule.
These days, in America,
it’s pretty well accepted by most people that being any kind of
Christian is acceptable. It’s also mostly OK to be Jewish, and once
people get past their lack of understanding of Eastern religions, even
those are tolerated. It’s not until the conversation turns to Islam that
we start to see anything approaching real religious intolerance. But,
there is one element of this nation’s religious life in which it is
entirely acceptable to engage with prejudice. That element are those who
don’t believe in God.
Most polls place the
popularity and level of trust in atheists right down at the bottom,
below terrorists and used car salesmen. For some people, it might even
hover somewhere just above child molester territory.
Why is it so? Well, for
starters, because they are an easy group to whip on. They don’t believe
in God, which means they don’t believe in the afterlife. That means that
their good behavior isn’t based on the threat of eternal damnation, but
based on something they have internalized. For Americans, a people who
like to think of themselves as skeptics about everything they’re told
(to the point where they tend to think themselves better informed than
they really are), this means two things.
The first is that
Americans don’t really appreciate skepticism as much as they say they
do. If Americans were truly a skeptical people, they’d see no problem in
questioning the existence of God or the veracity of the Bible. It was,
after all, written during the Bronze Age, when people didn’t understand
why rain falls.
The second is that, at
the end of the day, they are a cynical people, who believe that the only
way you can get someone to do the right thing is to offer carrots and
sticks. Morality is reduced to a game of incentives.
We tell each other that
someone’s religion doesn’t matter when it comes to holding office, but
polls tell us that we don’t really mean it.
Atheists get branded
with all kinds of horrible things. They want to banish Christmas. They
don’t want the Ten Commandments sitting in front of our courthouses.
They keep telling us that cherished religious figures weren’t nearly so
religious as we keep telling ourselves they were, and certainly not in
the same way. Ultimately, the argument is that atheists, and their
so-called movement (secular humanism), is all about destroying America.
It’s not surprising that
Romney’s speech, hailed as an expression of tolerance, made no mention
of those who don’t believe in God. That’s because it wasn’t really an
expression of tolerance, but a campaign gimmick meant to put a candidate
on the high road to the president. If we were really about tolerance,
we’d start with those who don’t believe, and let the details fill
themselves in . . . instead of devoting considerable media coverage to
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