According to a recent study, atheists are the least trusted group of people in America. While some of mistrust could certainly be explained by religious bigotry, I think that part of the blame lies with atheists themselves, at least with the more vocal atheists. If you are dismissive of the fundamental beliefs of the majority of Americans, you can’t really expect to be trusted by those same people.
One of the worst offenders when it comes to insulting theists is noted zoologist, Richard Dawkins. He and his fellow “Brights”, such as Daniel Dennett, regard religion as a pathology which needs to be eradicated. A good discussion of this attitude can be found in this commentary by Science and Theology News editor, Karl Giberson.
It’s not difficult to see how people can distrust atheists when you consider Dawkins’ behavior towards Rev. Tim Haggard, pastor of the New Life Church in Colorodo Springs, CO. After describing how Haggard preaches to a very responsive crowd, Giberson writes:
Dawkins watched the enthusiasm of the audience and offered a backhanded compliment on the clever design of the stage. He praised Haggard on his handling of the audience. And then he compared the affair to the Nuremberg rallies in Nazi Germany, saying that “Goebbels would have been proud.” One has to wonder why the scene did not remind Dawkins of a rock concert or a sports event, both of which have audiences shrieking with unanimous excitement about what is happening on stage.
I have little doubt that many atheists watching the video were smugly nodding their heads in agreement with Dawkins’ sentiment. Giberson’s question is an excellent one. Why would Nazi rallies be the scene called to mind rather than something more innocuous? I can think of a couple of explanations. Dawkins could simply be so biased against religion that religious events actually do look like Nazi rallies to him. The other explanation is that he thinks his audience is too gullible or stupid to see the absurdity of the claim.
Atheists need to get past this kind of attitude if they hope to make any headway in society. If you wish to convince someone that their position is incorrect, you won’t be very successful if primary strategy involves calling him or her crazy. People just don’t respond well to that sort of thing. You would think that a group which calls itself “brights” would be able to figure that out for themselves.