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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Beware of the Dog

We have two dogs. One we refer to as the "good dog" and the other the "bad dog". The good dog is everything you could want in a dog. He gets along with other dogs and our cats (in fact, I have never seen him meet another animal he doesn't like) and he has a very even temperament. The bad dog on the other hand does not get along with other dogs, in fact, he can be very aggressive toward them. And he has a tendency to chase our cats too. He can also be unpredictable with people at times. He loves to bark and growl and show his fangs and basically put on a big show.

Having a bad dog can be good for keeping solicitors away, but it is generally a pain in the ass otherwise. So we decided to hire a professional dog trainer to help us control our bad dog. I always assumed that our bad dog just had an aggressive personality and we needed to learn how to control him. But much to my surprise, the trainer explained that in our case, the displays of agression, the big shows of dominance, were really the result of fear. Our bad dog isn't innately evil, he is just afraid of other dogs and his aggressive behavior is merely his way of saying "back off buddy, I'm afraid of you".

So allow me to break away momentarily from my dogs and bring your attention to the following study:

Atheists identified as America’s most distrusted minority

Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

I don't think there is anything too surprising here. It seems to me that the general public's views toward atheists has been this way for some time now. But why? Why do religious people distrust atheists to such an extreme?

Edgell believes a fear of moral decline and resulting social disorder is behind the findings. “Americans believe they share more than rules and procedures with their fellow citizens—they share an understanding of right and wrong,” she said. “Our findings seem to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good.”

Yes, I agree, it is typical to hear Christians accuse atheists of not having any morals. How many times have we been asked why we don't just go around killing people since we have nothing to tell us right from wrong? But I'm not sure that fear of moral decline is the ultimate reason for such attitudes.

It is obvious that religion does not directly correlate with good behavior. I merely have to take a gander at the Black Collar Crime Blotter in my monthly issue of Freethought Today to see numerous examples of the pious acting immorally. Besides, the great majority of people in this country consider themselves to be religious. Unless I live in an alternate universe in which I travel exclusively in atheist circles, then of all the various people throughout my life who have wronged me in some way, the majority of them have been religious. Surely, religious people are not living in the same alternate universe either.

No, their fear is not based exclusively on our "lack of morals" or self-interest, for they also suffer from the same afflictions. And even though I think there are many illogical inconsistencies in their beliefs, I find it hard to believe that they fear themselves. Rather, their real fear, what scares them most about us, is that we offer a rational, believable alternative to their superstitions, one they cannot easily brush aside.

Ahh, I think I hear my bad dog barking again.

As you will recall, his aggression was out of fear. He shows his fangs and barks and growls because he fears what he is attacking. Likewise, when the religious attempt to malign us by claiming we have no morals or that we are only self-interested, they are on the attack as well. Their slander and insults are merely the barks and growls of a fearful dog. Their fear is knowing that our reality is the ultimate threat to their dogma.

So the next time a Christian accuses you of being morally deficient or not worthy of marrying one of their own, try to remember that like the aggressive dog, the Christian is really just afraid of you. He's saying "Back off buddy, I'm afraid you'll take a bite out of my superstitious beliefs and infect me with the truth".


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