Charley Reese, an excellent example of this phenomenon, writes:
The basic thing that protects our persons, our property and our liberty is the morality that individuals possess in their own hearts. The law cannot be a substitute for that. No law can protect you from a dishonest merchant or a thug because the law is always, of necessity, applied after the fact, and then only on a selective basis.
That is certainly true. Why is it included in an article on why society needs religion? Because of the premise that atheists cannot have “morality... in their own hearts.” You see, Charley Reese apparently feels that so long as a person believes in some sort of god, they can be trusted to be moral. Once they abandon such a belief, however, they necessarily can’t be trusted anymore.
That’s a curious premise to rely on. After all, most people in society believe in some sort of god — are all of them honest and trustworthy? Are the prisons all filled with atheists? No. In fact, the percentage of atheists behind bars is lower than the percentage of atheists in the general population, suggesting that if anything atheists might be a bit more trustworthy then the average person.
But let’s not confuse Reese with facts, that will only throw him off his rant...
Our own country has a Christian heritage. Despite the fact that there were non-Christian minorities, during the Colonial and early republic days the overwhelming majority of Americans were of the Christian faith. What began happily as tolerance for non-Christians has now degenerated into demands by some non-Christians that all traces of Christianity be driven from the public square.
Charley Reese seems to be hoping that his readers aren’t too bright. In using an ambiguous phrase, “public square,” he can say something that is true and hope that it will be interpreted in a manner that is false. Reese’s statement is true if we define “public square” in the sense of “supported and endorsed by public funds, i.e. the government.” Many non-Christians do indeed wish to have the government stop endorsing and supporting Christianity — that’s what the separation of church and state is all about. If Reese were this clear and explicit, however, his anti-atheist position wouldn’t appear so sensible.
Instead, he uses something much less clear: “public square” can and will be readily interpreted as “out in the open, in public view.” This would include expressions of religious belief being made by private individuals while out in public, like in a literal public square. This isn’t something that non-Christians are trying to eliminate. Private religious expression isn’t in any real danger. Sometimes the government make inappropriate moves against private expression, but they are pretty rare and quickly corrected.
Once again, though, we shouldn’t use clear-thinking and facts to confuse Reese...
I surprised some people once by saying that I would rather live in a neighborhood of Islamic fundamentalists than in a neighborhood of atheists and agnostics. That's true. You can count on the morality that Islam teaches; there is no morality for atheists and agnostics, except what they arbitrarily choose.
Clearly, Charley Reese considers the likes of Osama bin Laden and the Ayatollah Khomenei to be more trustworthy than the likes of Bertrand Russell, Katherine Hepburn, or myself. None in this latter group have participated in terrorism, suicide bombings, or plans that kill thousands of innocent people. None of that matters to Charley Reese, though. Their atheism renders them untrustworthy. Osama bin Laden, though, is trustworthy — no matter how many people he kills.
Some years ago, I inadvertently put this to the test by becoming lost late at night in the slums of Cairo, Egypt. Despite being dressed in an American business suit and far from any law enforcement, I was never accosted or threatened by anyone. I dare say there are American slums where no sensible person would wish to go late at night.
I’m sure that there are American slums that would be dangerous for someone to walk around in alone at night. Are those slums populated entirely by atheists? Of course not. Most of those slums are populated by ethnic minorities, groups which have a far higher rate of religiosity and theism than the rest of the population.
Charley Reese would be amusing if he weren’t so pathetic. Throughout his entire bigoted rant against atheists, he fails to offer a single substantive reason to think of them as untrustworthy or immoral. He does, however, manage to offer examples of untrustworthy theists. Does anyone think that he noticed this little incongruity? Probably not. Such is always the case with bigotry and prejudice. Bigots don’t get that way through sound reasoning and clear thinking, so when they produce incoherent diatribes like this it’s just not surprising.