Letter: A prejudiced call for tolerance

Sam Bagg decries the discrimination that atheists suffer, but his op-ed piece (“Waiting for our show,” 10/21/08) is rife with prejudice against religious people. He claims that although in the past “Jews and Catholics were portrayed as weak-willed followers,” now “we have weakened these prejudices and shown them to be universally false.” Yet he then goes on to reinforce those exact same prejudices with statements about “the religious public’s categorical mistrust” — painting all believers as part of a single, unthinking mob, even as he calls for us to appreciate atheists as individuals. Worse, and perhaps most offensively, he makes the sweeping claim that those who believe in God haven’t thought through their beliefs because they blindly “take their values from a book.”

For a call to inclusiveness, this is remarkably intolerant. I’ll acknowledge that atheists are moral as soon as Sam Bagg recognizes that those who have faith can also be rational, intelligent and clear-thinking individuals.

Elizabeth Eddy

The writer is a sophomore in Pierson College.


  • Religulous Movie Fan

    What arrogance to say that she'll acknowledge that atheists are moral when …. I think that belief in an afterlife and an invisible man who lives in the sky is on it's face the antithesis of rationality and intelligence. I would commend "Religulous" to your attention as well as Bertrand Russell's writings as well.

    Atheists are moral without the need to resort to believing the incredulous b.s. that religion posits …. talking snakes and such.

  • Anonymous

    Neither of the examples you cite are examples of prejudice. I do recognize that religious people can be rational, intelligent, and thoughtful, and this is why I have used none of the inflammatory language that most atheistic writers use in their rants.

    There is more mistrust of atheists in this country than of any other minority group, and that is because most of the rest of the public is religious. Stating this fact is not denigrating all religious people. I understand why religious people mistrust atheists, and I said so in my column - but that doesn't mean I can't also urge them to change.

    Perhaps stating that religious people "take their values from a book" is somewhat misleading - yes, people usually spend a lot of time thinking about them as well - but I did not leave out that possibility. If you'll notice, the word "blindly" is your word, added to make it seem as if I had insulted religious people when, again, I merely stated a fact - that religious people rely on the bible for their values. I don't think any religious person would find this factual statement offensive.

    I spend a lot of energy making sure that I am even-handed and open to religious viewpoints - I would appreciate it, therefore, if my arguments were not straw-manned.

  • But WHy

    Why would an atheist want to be "moral"?

    …Not that they wouldn't choose to act in a certain way, even in a way that is commonly considered "moral."

    But why would an atheist care about being recognized as moral?

    Does a monkey or a frog or a tree care about being moral?

    Without God, We are all animals- all natural and zero supernatural.

  • FCCG '07

    To #1:
    Yes there are crazy religious people as I'm sure Religulous demonstrates. But it(I haven't seen it, only read reviews), and your comments seem to only attack religion in a way that presents crazy religious people and then concludes that religion itself is crazy. These attacks disregard the fundamental issues of religion and brings to light the philosophical problem with atheism. Full disclosure: I'm religious. That being said I am willing to grant that it is impossible to ever prove that any form of deity exists, but by the same token you should be able to admit that there is no way to ever disprove the existence of God. Hence, atheists take on faith that there is no God or religion, a practice which is at its foundation religious. Essentially atheists use the very tools they decry in their belief system. How is that rational?

    P.S. If religion is about talking snakes, then Animal Farm must really be about talking pigs.

  • habemus papam

    Atheism is a form of religion: It is a constantly reinforced FAITH that there is no supernatural force (or forces) in the universe. In other words, it is a belief system. The truly radical position is agnosticism: the acknowledgement that there is no way of KNOWING whether or not there are supernatural forces in the universe. Bertrand Russell--as charming as was his atheisitic rhetoric-- might as well have been invested Bertrand I, Pope of the Atheists.

  • J


    The ability to reason about the existence of god, defying the faithful majority, is an ability worth applauding. I find that people who have carefully thought this sort of thing through are in fact better able to think through the consequences of not only their own actions, but also the actions of others. Religious people take their morality on faith, and believe that it is right simply because it comes from god. But it's not meaningful if you don't question it, make no effort to find the truth within all that's been taught, passed down, conditioned within generations. The moral actions of atheists are the result of deliberation about what is most beneficial, most necessary in a given situation. (And yes, I'm sure there are atheists out there for whom morality is an act, just as there are religious people for whom morality is an act.) In the end it is the human heart by which we live. Isn't that sympathy more meaningful than the commandments of a remote, divine entity?

  • @J

    Right, as a Catholic, all I do is sit in Mass waiting for the commands from above.

    I never read philosophy (Anselm, Aquinas, etc).

    I never consider what is good for society (Catholic Social Teaching).

    I never ponder the innate purpose of humanity (the Natural Law).

    No, you're right… All I do is blindly follow the "commandments of a remote, divine entity."

    /end sarcasm

    What would lead to a more authentic humanism?

    Option 1- There is no God.

    Option 2- God became Man, aka the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.

    But thanks for the thought exercise, it's been fun!

    take care

  • He Said What?

    False analogy by the poster regarding "Animal Farm" and the talking snake of the Creation Myth that is Genesis.
    Orwell's "Animal Farm" was a work of fiction satirizing the Communist Revolution as I recall; no organized religion grew out of "Animal Farm." Religious people's lives revolve around the nonesense advanced in Genesis about a talking snake and about a woman being created by a rib being taken from Adam … I mean come on!
    As for Bertrand Russell, in his book, "Why I am Not a Christian" he noted his lack of belief in an afterlife by saying that he believed that after he died, he would rot. That's what happens to us the same as it happens to the lower species … I don't believe there's a God, and I don't believe there's an afterlife. Atheism and Christianty two sides of the same coin? I don't think so. Atheism has at its core a reliance upon one's reasoning abilities; you can't say the same for Christianty and/or other religious belief systems.

  • Ugh

    @ He Said What?

    You are dense.

    Talking animals is a literary device- in Animal Farm and the Bible.

    You don't need to be Christian to approach the Bible with at least some basic coherence.

    Seriously, if you go to Yale, I am pissed, because you are diluting the value of my degree.

  • @Sam Bagg

    How do you reconcile the is-ought problem? Atheists CANNOT be "moral" in the sense of them following a set of moral imperatives. They can act in a way that other people (with moral imperatives) view as moral. But that's about it.

    here's why:

    1. You cannot logically express observations of the worlds as moral imperatives.

    2. You must therefore take moral imperatives on faith.

    This makes you a poor excuse for an atheist.

  • @ #10

    Never heard of Humanism, I take it?