Tom Stavros, past president and CMF member-at-large, wrote to the St. Cloud Times
recently regarding a piece that portrayed atheists negatively:
I found the (Page 3A, Jan. 8) story on religion and atheism interesting in that so few people who are “spiritually apathetic” won’t define themselves as atheists. While that is their choice, when one looks at the root of the word, all atheism means is “without” and theism means “belief in a god or gods.” It does not require that one believes there is no god (although some atheists do).One aspect of religion not mentioned in your story is identifying those I call “Pascal Christians.” (Google “Pascal’s Wager.”) If you could get a count of people who go through the motions just to be on the safe side, but don’t really believe, the atheist totals would be much larger.
People avoid the atheist label because of the negative connotation of the word. That baggage stems from religion drumming into people from the time they are toddlers until death that unless one believes in their god, that person can have no morals and is destined for hell. And the media reinforces it continually (i.e. the canard that there are no atheists in foxholes even though there are many who have come forward to make a lie of the statement) while whitewashing religious leaders.
With both the clergy and most media spouting the message that somehow religion is required to be a good person, it is no wonder atheists don’t fare well in public opinion polls.
Your story promulgates that misleading impression by identifying Richard Dawkins as a “raving atheist” (negative) while calling Pat Robertson a televangelist (positive). If you met Mr. Dawkins or heard him speak, you would know him as a soft-spoken, articulate and intelligent person with a passion for reason, logic and the truth.
Atheists numbers are growing, as your story suggests. Atheists are not remarkably different from anyone else. You probably have one or more in your circle of friends, as your neighbor and, quite possibly, in your family. Atheists work, vote, shop, volunteer for a myriad of causes and, in other ways, go about their lives in ways that don’t call attention to their beliefs (or lack of them).
I hope to see a more balanced treatment of atheists and atheism in your paper in the future as their growing numbers deserve better treatment.