Q. Atheist actor and writer Ricky Gervais is working on a new show, Afterlife , which features “an atheist who dies and goes to heaven.” If Gervais hopes to bring cultural acceptance of non-belief to mainstream America, he faces an uphill battle. Polls show that many Americans distrust atheists and nearly half say they would not vote for one. Should it matter whether or not a politician believes in God? As mainstream acceptance of other minority groups grows, will atheists still lag behind?
A. All too often religious people equate faith with moral behavior. As a Muslim, I can attest to the fact that this is not always the case. As a former atheist, I can also attest to the fact that I was raised not only with a strong moral orientation, but also with the theoretical background, critical thinking and analytical skills needed to make sound moral choices. In fact, growing up, one of the things that I found distasteful about believers was how easily they seemed go against their own moral code, ostensibly because God would forgive them. God or not, I thought, you should do what is right because it is right. It seemed the ultimate irony that those who proclaimed atheists to be immoral were often far less moral than myself and other atheists I knew.
Obviously, not all atheists are moral either. And some are downright obnoxious when it comes to belittling those of faith, just as those of faith can be obnoxious in their descriptions of atheists and lacking in moral fibre. Both can also be paragons of virtue and tolerance. Clearly, it is not the faith or lack there of that determines a person’s character. And when deciding whether to vote for a candidate, it is not their faith that should be important, but rather their moral stance, and their position on issues of importance to the individual voter.
Will America ever get to that point? I sincerely hope so. It is the ultimate expression of freedom of religion, when a person is valued and judged upon her own merits, rather than by the supposed beliefs of the faith group to which he belongs; when election to lead is based upon the individual’s character, not his group identity, or her lack of faith. It is, It is the vision our founding fathers had for this country.
I believe that we will get there someday. In 1950, there were two black congressmen; today there are 43 and we have a black president. In 1960, there were 19 women congressmen; today there are 92. In 1970, there were six latinos in Congress; today there are 32. In 1980 there were 15 Jews in Congress; today there are 40. Gays, Mormons, Muslims, atheists -- these and other groups that are sill underrepresented -- will surely continue to see their ranks grow in the same way that other minority groups have seen their acceptance grow.
Pamela K. Taylor | Jul 21, 2011 9:54 PM