Most people don't trust atheists! The results of a study published in the USA by Penny Edgell in 2005 are both surprising and shocking - certainly to atheists - and perhaps even to non-atheists. Just think, this study revealed that Americans, regardless of whether they actively practiced a religion or not, trusted atheists less than they trusted other Christians regardless of denomination, and even less than they trusted Muslims. The same applied to Americans when asked about their childrens' choice of marriage partner; they were happier to see their child married to a Muslim than to an atheist. Americans simply do not trust atheists. These attitudes are not unique to the United States of America. Polls on this subject in all other countries of the world reveal the same thing. Most people consider atheists as untrustworthy.
The same is true of internet discussion groups where you read discussions between atheists and theists. On one of these, I found a wonderful discussion summarizing religious attitudes to atheists at this site.
A possibly atheist forum member made the following comment about religions.
Atheists say to Christians, "we can't see any evidence for what you are saying"
Other religions say, "you are wrong, you will suffer for your heretical beliefs for eternity and you are sub-human for your misguided beliefs".
This is an extreme version of what the other holy books say, but the point is atheists are not the enemy of Christians, other faiths are. Atheists want to laugh and poke fun at your religion, but if your belief is strong enough that's fine, other religions (in their books) have a whole host of bad things to say about you.
This applies equally to other religions and Christianity - the bible has nothing good to say about people of other faiths - the first couple of commandments spell that out fairly clearly.
Several replies spelled out the religious attitude to atheists very clearly:
If I were to call you mother a cheap whore and laugh and poke fun at her, and then say well if your love for her is strong enough then it's fine? Would you consider that disrespectful? We love God no less than you love your mother so why then do you think we would find it ok to allow you to humor yourself at our expense?
And another response in the same forum was:
Where have you been lately, certainly not in this category? Are you just a atheist troll? There's a reason why atheists are the only people that go on R&S with what seems like a psychotic need to insult and be as rude as possible.
Atheism isn't a religion, it's anti-religion. They don't believe in God and have no respect for those who do, and they aren't kidding. Atheists aren't the enemy of Christianity; they're the enemy of all religions.
And yet another response:
Atheists have no moral compass, so they feel free to do anything they want without fear of accountability.
These are telling words. Indeed, many religious and agnostic people alike are repelled by the unconstructive and uncompromising shrieking of the rabid rabble of fundamentalist atheists brandishing the works of Dawkins and Hitchins. At the very least, many people regard atheists as argumentative irritations, or "party poopers", and at worst as people whose moral attitude could better be described as moral turpitude.
A few of the reasons for this generalized distrust lie in the way atheists communicate their message to believers in religions, as well as the increasing numbers who follow no religion, believe in "something" grander than this physical world. Indeed, many atheists are no better than the rabid religious fanatics they so decry. They are just as fanatical and intolerant. Many employ an incredible amount of hard-hitting rhetoric about the necessity to rid society of the "disease called religion". Unfortunately, most atheists go no further than religion-bashing without providing a constructive, and emotionally equally satisfying alternative. Just look carefully at what religions offer their believers. You could call it a "sales pitch" offering a package containing an all-encompassing system of thought filled with awe-inspiring wonder, and emotionally truly satisfying!
So what does atheism offer?
If I look at these differences, you might think that religion offers a better alternative, because it is so emotionally satisfying. It offers reward for good deeds, punishment of the evil, and the feeling of belonging in a socially coherent society. Atheism offers none of these things. Such considerations are enough to make me turn to religion. However, this facetiousness illustrates a serious point. As Penny Edgell said, religion is not so much a belief in a God and an afterlife, as a total moral attitude towards life. Many mainstream humanist organizations try to offer just these things. For example, the Scottish Humanists offer many services for important moments in life such as weddings, funerals, naming, grace, etc. These are important moments in life that gain in personal value when accompanied by appropriate emotionally satisfying rituals. A good example of this latter is seen in many almost atheistic Western countries, where people want to be married in a church, or have a priest say words over their grave, even though they normally never enter a chiurch, or practice the religion. This is behaviour clearly demonstrating a deep-rooted desire for comforting and socially important rituals at these times. So if atheism is to succeed, it must offer an attractive, viable, and coherent philosophy as a counterpoint to religion, otherwise atheists will remain a whining, carping minority in a despised and ignored sideline.
Atheists find religions unspeakably foolish, because they are based upon a faith in something paranormal and unproven. The idea of a God is impossible to prove or disprove, and the universe around us is explained by known facts. Moreover, look at the concept where everything on this world is the "the will of God". This concept of everything being "the will of God" is actually very strange. An illustration of the curious nature of idea of "the will of God" was illustrated in a scene in the B-grade splatter-horror film called Zombie Strippers. In this film, a very pure, innocent, and religious Christian girl finds employment at a strip-club to earn money for the medical bills of her ailing grandmother who needs a colostomy (reason undisclosed - but heck, who needs reasons in a film like this?). Her equally religious Christian boyfriend visits her at the strip-club, and tries to reason with her to find out why she wants to work in this degrading and sinful place. The following hilarious and fascinating scene ensues, albeit one with a profound message.
This is humorous in a sick sort of way, but it does raise a very serious point. If everything, even working as a stripper is the will of God, then you must ask yourself: are wars the will of God, are murders, accidents, abortions, and diseases also the will of God? If so, then God is indeed a God of an unholy trinity of deceit, disease, and death (read an extensive discussion on this subject in the beginning of Chapter 11 in The Unholy Legacy of Abraham). And then to think that religious people actually pray to a God who predestines them for these things, and causes all these things. So it is not at all surprising that atheists view religions as backward and regressive, as toadying to a higher power, condemning prayer as a form of ritual grovelling and abasement before an imaginary nothing. An unbelievably funny film fragment from the Monty Python film "The Meaning of Life" demonstrates this attitude very clearly.
We could go on and on discussing the weaknesses inherent in religious belief, but this has all been more than adequately discussed in many other places. So what does atheism have to offer as a philosophy and a way of life.
Atheism has much to offer the world. Atheism provides a rational worldview based upon fact, not superstition. This worldview makes it possible to make seamless adjustments of society according to circumstances, without violent disruptions as occur when changing circumstances require a change from one superstition-based worldview to another. Moreover, it forces people to regard their fellows as equals, regardless of sex, race, or upbringing. This latter means that the oppression, enslavement, or murder of groups from other races and backgrounds meets with universal disapproval. Properly applied atheism is a powerful force for lifting public morals and societal adaptability.
So how can we improve the image of atheists and humanists? How can the atheist message gain the same personal emotional satisfaction as is enjoyed by religions? Belittling the concept of God, pointing out the fallacies of religious belief, Bible-bashing or Koran-bashing, are negative approaches that simply do not work. I once wrote one possible idea in the last chapter of a book called "Mortal Minds: The Biology of the Near Death Experience". Here I proposed the concept of the trinity of true immortality as possessed by each individual.
Ancestors, environment, and societies form each person's body, and mould each person's thoughts. So the form and functioning of each person's body is a product of genetic material inherited from their ancestors, their environment, the food they eat, and their upbringing. Each person's thoughts, and the way they think, are products of their genetic constitution, the functioning of their bodies, their diet, their upbringing, as well as the prevailing patterns of thought in the societies in which they live. Buddha once expressed these same thoughts thousands of years ago:
'Is not this individuality of mine a combination, material as well as mental? Is it not made up of qualities that sprang into being by a gradual evolution? The five roots of sense perception in this organism have come from ancestors who performed these functions. The ideas which I think, came to me partly from others who thought them, and partly they rise from combinations of the ideas in my own mind. Those who have used the same sense-organs, and have thought the same ideas before I was composed into this individuality of mine are my previous existence's; they are my ancestors as much as the I of yesterday is the father of the I of to-day, and the karma of my past deeds conditions the fate of my present existence.' (The Gospel of Buddha, chapter 9)
So the legacy each individual leaves after death is a product of their interactions with their fellows, their children, and the consequences of their consumption. All these things affect others, as well as the world in which each person lives. These effects are transmitted into the future to affect future generations. So this world, the future of this world, and the lives of each person are products of the past and the present. The sum of all these things forms the triad of individual immortality.
Each person is a link in a chain of ancestors to future generations. This is not a new idea. It is no more than a concept akin to ancestor worship, but it is one providing each person with a personal moral reference level. After all, who wants the same comment on their life as that written by Shakespeare in the play called "Macbeth".
Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it; he died as one that had been studied in his death to throw away the dearest thing he owed, as 't were a careless trifle. (William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act I, Sc. IV)
This is emotion. We are all mortal. We will all certainly die. Who wants to be remembered in this way? Who would want to have existed in this way? Such a legacy is anathema to all whose mental level is above that of the beast. I summarized this in the end of the same chapter of Mortal Minds with the concept of the trinity of individual being:
These are but a few simple thoughts. They are not new, and require considerable development. But one fact remains, the acceptance of atheism / humanism as a general belief depends upon all atheists making the concepts of these philosophies palatable and emotionally satisfying so that people instinctively turn to these precepts rather than superstition in times of trouble. This is the true challenge of atheism, a challenge that current world communications makes possible, and a challenge that must be met if humanity is to survive the twin effects of increased longevity together with an exploding world population.