Great Comments on the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) from the Atheist Ethicist

af I congratulate Alonzo Fyfe who has written a significant article in his blog, Atheist Ethicist. I highly recommend it:

It appears that the atheist blogsphere is celebrating the results of the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey. It shows that the percentage of people who claim to have no religion has gone up from 14.2 percent to 15 percent.

Of course, for the sake of celebrating, we are going to ignore the fact that the survey that shows a 0.8 percent increase in the number of people who claim to have no religion has an error range of plus or minus 3 percent.

And we are going to ignore the fact that many atheists would disavow many others who claim "no religion" and subject them to as much if not more criticism as they do many of those who claim to belong to some religion or other.

And we are going to ignore the fact that the survey actually measures willingness to admit a lack of belief to a pollster which, in turn, presumes a willingness to admit a lack of belief to oneself.

My biggest lament is that all of this tribal "us" versus "them" energy could not be harnessed and put to work for peaceful purposes.

If all I knew about a person was that he was an atheist, then that would mean almost nothing to me. I am not one to assume that, just because a person does not believe in God, he is somebody who can be trusted. Nor am I prepared to assume that the fact that somebody believes in God means that he is a threat. So, I am not prepared to draw the conclusion that just because the number of people willing to claim that they do not follow an organized religion has gone up that the world is necessarily a better place.

We need to ask the question, "What kind of atheists are these?"

Are these the atheists who have perverted the teachings of Ayn Rand into a philosophy of life that says, "Take what you can, give nothing back."?

Or are these internalist atheists who believe that evolution has written a moral law onto their genes and all they need to do to determine if something is right or wrong is to contemplate how they feel about it. This is a frightening group of atheists because history gives us many unpleasant lessons on what a person can feel comfortable with.

My lament, as I said, is that this energy cannot be put to useful purposes. The divisions that I would most be willing to track are the numbers of people who are willing to protect children from harm versus those who seek to harm children. I am interested in the number of people willing to defend freedom of speech versus those willing to destroy it. The number of people willing to use deceit and rhetoric as a political weapon versus the number who prefer to give what, to them, seems true in an open court.

There is a message here for those of us who believe in God; for those of us who call ourselves Christians: What kind of Christians are we?

Source: Atheist Ethicist: The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey

cp: One Episcopalian on Faith

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