TIME faith

Atheists Aren’t the Problem, Christian Intolerance Is the Problem

Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Held In D.C.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks during the second day of the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord International Hotel and Conference Center March 7, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and internationally best-selling author. Robyn Blumner is the executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

If Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s disparagement of atheists was just the ranting of a tinpot politician turned Fox News bloviator, it could be left without comment or fuss.

Unfortunately, not only does Huckabee have to be taken seriously as a possible Presidential candidate in 2016, but his suggestion that atheists who work for the government (primarily elected officials) be summarily “fired” is an applause line in too many quarters in the United States. That nonbelievers somehow deserve to be discriminated against is a view widely shared, particularly among Christian conservatives who seem to think “religion by the sword” is an oldie but a goodie.

This latest bit of hate was offered up – where else? – at the 2014 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. The ritual hookup between Christian conservatives and Republican presidential aspirants is a right wing, Jesus-loves-us debauch of Homophobia, Intolerance and Militarism, a trifecta easily remembered by the acronym “HIM”.

Huckabee, in a tortured metaphor about answering phones “God is ringing,” exhorted his audience to answer the God-call by making sure only people with the right values are hired for jobs in Washington and by making sure those who “refuse to hear … God’s heart” are fired. No joke, Huckabee is suggesting that we should: 1) Find out whether government employees are true believers; 2) Fire those who aren’t.

Yes, that is illegal, which makes the suggestion all the more stunning from someone who expects to be taken seriously on America’s national political stage.

But such warped intolerance toward people who simply don’t subscribe to a deity, is considered a ticket to electoral success in some parts of the United States. Consider Zach Dasher’s view of nonbelievers – comments he rolled back on Monday after public pressure.

This Republican congressional candidate in Louisiana and nephew of “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson, suggested on his faith-based podcast that atheism contributed to the Sandy Hook massacre of 20 children and six adults in 2012.

Apparently, the premier driver was not the mental illness from which shooter Adam Lanza clearly suffered, nor was it that an unstable man was able legally to amass a stockpile of weapons, thanks to his mother supplying them.

According to Dasher, “the reason why (the Sandy Hook massacre) happened is that we have denied as a culture that man is made in God’s image.” He said the “atheist agenda” reinforces a message that says “you don’t matter … all you are is chemical, all you are is material.”

Had Dasher bothered to find out about atheism, humanism and the nonreligious, he would have come to understand just how precious this community views life.

Unlike Dasher, who believes there is another existence – a better one — outside the temporal, atheists, humanists and freethinkers believe they have one life and one chance to do something meaningful with it. With no supernatural arbiter to fall back on, nonbelievers know it is up to them and them alone to promote justice, compassion and a fair society.

The proof that secular people are good, care for others and build healthy societies is evidenced in cross-national studies. The research of Phil Zuckerman at Pitzer College, demonstrates that secular societies, such as Sweden and Denmark, among others, are more likely to enjoy broadly shared prosperity and a high level of societal health and happiness than traditionally religious ones, and certainly more so than the United States.

Gregory Paul has done a similar comparison, as well as one between states within the US, and found parallel results. Which way the causal arrow goes is an interesting question: does secularism foster healthy caring, or does religiosity die away in societies where people care for one another? Paul himself says, “once a nation’s population becomes prosperous and secure, for example through economic security and universal health care, much of the population loses interest in seeking the aid and protection of supernatural entities.”

Whichever way the causal arrow goes, politicians like Huckabee and Dasher would do well to ponder (if indeed they know the meaning of the word) on Zuckerman’s summation: “(W)hen we consider the fundamental values and moral imperatives contained within the world’s great religions, such as caring for the sick, the infirm, the elderly, the poor, the orphaned, the vulnerable; practicing mercy, charity, and goodwill toward one’s fellow human beings; and fostering generosity, humility, honesty, and communal concern over individual egotism — those traditionally religious values are most successfully established, institutionalized, and put into practice at the societal level in the most irreligious nations in the world today.”

With that reality, one has to wonder what politicians like Huckabee and Dasher really stand for?

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and internationally best-selling author. Robyn Blumner is the executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

 

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