Q. Atheist actor and writer Ricky Gervais is working on a new show,
, which features “an atheist who dies and goes to heaven.” If Gervais hopes to bring cultural acceptance of non-belief to mainstream America, he faces an uphill battle. Polls show that many Americans distrust atheists and nearly half say they would not vote for one. Should it matter whether or not a politician believes in God? As mainstream acceptance of other minority groups grows, will atheists still lag behind?
A. The problem atheists have is the atheist groups, which I call the activist atheist organizations. When Americans hear about atheists, usually it is because of a lawsuit regarding the Pledge, the National Motto, or the National Day of Prayer. If it is not a lawsuit, it is an in your face pro-atheism campaign or statements from atheists that amount to little more than mocking religious people. Richard Dawkins, a famous biologist and atheist, is an honorary officer of a group that sells Bible Warning Labels to raise funds so it can file lawsuits (On Faith columnist Susan Jacoby, and activist Mike Newdow are also among the honorary members). These atheist activists dominate the landscape and make life tougher for people who do not believe in God and chose not to associate with the angry atheists who are unrelenting in their attack on the faithful and America’s Judeo-Christian heritage.
With people like Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens as two of the most well-known atheists in the Western world, it is easy to conclude that atheists have a serious disdain for all religious people (the majority of the world) rather than a mere difference in belief, think they are serious intellectuals and smarter than “childish” religious people because they reject a power higher than themselves, and spend an enormous amount of time researching, writing, and degrading a God they do not believe in. Looking in from the outside, it seems atheists are working overtime to justify their personal beliefs to a highly skeptical audience.
This is not the best public relations campaign.
Yet, what truly distinguishes atheists from religious people has to do with charitable work. Sure, plenty of atheists donate time and money to charities and there are probably many working at big charitable organizations. But, atheists do not organize together to build hospitals and schools in the developing world. There is no atheist equivalent of Samaritan’s Purse, Operation Blessing or Catholic Charities and we do not see atheist organizations providing relief when disaster strikes.
Why are atheists not doing this work? It has nothing to do with a lack of available resources. There are two main reasons and both greatly hamper an aspiring atheist politician. First, atheists do not have a God-given responsibility to help those in need. Religious people are required to do charity. The basic human rights that the free world has adopted as universal stem from Scripture.
The “Greatest Commandment”:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Second, atheists believe that humans are animals rather than specifically created by God to have dominion over the earth. If you truly believe there is no God and accept the evolutionary theory, mankind descend meaninglessly from the same random molecules as plants. Why spend resources on human-animals who will not survive natural selection without assistance when they are no more important than a tree or a chicken?
Organized atheism only exists to promote a single belief. Religious organizations promote a single belief and an important worldview including the duty to help the poor and persecuted even if they do not share our religious belief or happen to be atheists themselves.
Who would you rather vote for?
Read more panel views on the mainstreaming of atheism:
Rabbi David Wolpe: Vote for values, not beliefs
Herb Silverman: Imagine atheist politicians
Hemant Mehta: Time for atheists to ‘come out’