Shooting the Message, Not the Messenger

Today, White House staff met with a group from the Secular Coalition for America, an association of disparate atheist and secular groups, to discuss policy (USA Today, by way of RichardDawkins.net. McClatchy article).

Apparently the meeting went pretty much as I expected: brief meeting with White House staff (but not the president), polite airing of views, no immediate effect on anything.

Of course, not everyone was happy with that. Christian NewsWire reports:

“It is one thing for Administration to meet with groups of varying viewpoints, but it is quite another for a senior official to sit down with activists representing some of the most hate-filled, anti-religious groups in the nation,” says In God We Trust’s Chairman Bishop Council Nedd.

“President Obama seems to believe that it is a good idea to have a key senior aide plan political strategy with people who believe faith in God is a disease,” Nedd says. “Some of the people in this coalition believe the world would be better off with no Christians and no Jews and they aren’t shy about it. The fact that this meeting is happening at all is an affront to the vast majority of people of all faiths who believe in God.”

According to the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s President Dan Barker, “Christianity is an enemy to humanity, and the antithesis of freedom.” (Dan Barker, Freedom from Religion Foundation Co-President in Losing Faith in Faith Page 255) and “Religion also poses a danger to mental health, damaging self-respect, personal responsibility, and clarity of thought.” (Losing Faith in Faith Page 217.)

“The President should tell the American people whether he believes these groups’ hate-filled views to be ‘mainstream’ and worthy of his supposedly inclusive administration,” Nedd says.

BillDo cranked up the Persecut-O-Tron and pounded out a predictable spittle-flecked screed:

[I]t is the business of the American people, most all of whom are believers, to know where the president and his administration stand with regards to their concerns. It is not likely that this outreach to anti-religious activists—many of whom would crush Christianity if they could—will do anything to calm the fears of people of faith.

Ooh, scary! Atheists are “hate-filled” and want to “crush Christianity”. They think “the world would be better off with no Christians”. The meeting is “an affront”. Kinda makes you want to lock up your daughters and barricade the windows, doesn’t it?

BillDo, in particular, doesn’t actually come out and say that the ravenous atheist hordes want to burn down your church and rape your pets. He’s just saying people have a right to know if that’s the case.

But look at what the atheists’ quoted or paraphrased words are: that “faith in God is a disease”; that “the world would be better off with no Christians and no Jews”.

What if I said that heroin addiction is a disease, and that the world would be better off if there were no heroin addicts. Who in their right mind would think that I want to go off on a junkie-killng spree?

A more apt comparison would be to homophobes who claim that homosexuality is a disease. I’d bet money that if you surveyed the people who believe that, that the vast majority of them would rather use some therapy to turn gays straight, than to execute them.

Dan Barker is quoted as saying that “Christianity is an enemy to humanity”. Christianity, not Christians. And that “Religion also poses a danger to mental health”. Again, religion, not religious people (except, obviously, insofar as religious people act on their beliefs). If religion is a disease, the obvious course of action is to cure it, not to kill the patient.

In An Anthropologist on Mars, Oliver Sacks writes of a patient with Tourette’s Syndrome:

[The patient says:] “Funny disease—I don’t think of it as a disease but as just me. I say the word `disease,’ but it doesn’t seem to be the appropriate word.”

It is difficult for Bennett, and is often difficult for Touretters, to see their Tourette’s as something external to themselves, because many of its tics and urges may be felt as intentional, as an integral part of the self, the personality, the will.

(An Anthropologist on Mars, ISBN 0-679-43785-1, LCC 94-26733, p. 102.)

It looks as though people like Nedd and BillDo have the same relationship with their religion: they can’t distinguish between killing the disease and killing the self. Either that, or they’re fear-mongers trying to stir up anti-atheist feeling.

How about a reality check? Atheism has been on the rise in the US for at least a decade. Millions of Americans don’t believe in any gods, and millions have read (or at least bought) the “new atheists”‘ bestsellers. How much anti-religious crime has there been? I’ll even tentatively spot you Jason Bourque and Daniel McAllister, at least until the facts of the matter, and whether they’re atheists and whether that played any role in their alleged crimes, come to light.

Equally importantly, try to find an atheist who defends them. Or those perennial favorites, Stalin and Pol Pot. In contrast, it’s much easier to find someone who defends or supports Scott Roeder’s murder of Dr. George Tiller. To say nothing of mass murderers like Moses and Joshua in the Bible.

The Dawkinses, the Dennetts, the Barkers and Gaylors, the Hitchenses, Harrises, and PZs just aren’t into bloodshed, rape, and arson, and neither are the people who listen to them. They pose no threat to religious people’s health, safety, or property. The worst they’re likely to do is to pen sharply-worded books and blog articles. Perhaps get legislation passed to curb the most egregious excesses of religious organizations. Very few of them have horns or eat babies.

If you’re so worried about these people that they shouldn’t even be allowed to meet with a White House staffer to try to have a say in how their country is run, you’re a loon. Get over it.

(Thanks to Attempts at Rational Behavior for pointers.)

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