SPidge Tales

Friday, December 21, 2007

Why an Atheist Cannot be President

In less than 11 months, we may have our first woman president-elect; or we may have our first black president-elect; or we may have our first Mormon president-elect (who would double as our first Ken-doll president-elect). But we will not have our first atheist president-elect. No out-of-the-closet atheist is running. No open atheist could run. There are still a handful of Americans who wouldn’t vote for a woman or a black man, and there is a sizable minority who would not vote Latter-Day-Saint. But an atheist in America does not have a prayer.

Is hostility to atheism the last acceptable prejudice? Is it wrong for Americans to dismiss a man for his lack of religious conviction and endorse (at least on the Republican side) Mr. William Jennings Bryan 2000 (Mike Huckabee) and his 10,000-year-old earth?

I don’t believe opposition to atheism is an irrational prejudice. Strident atheism, I really think, is incompatible with our American way of life. No, Americans are not itching for a return to Christendom. We like religious freedom. We are religiously tolerant. Each December, we have a public melting pot of crèche, Santa Claus, menorah, and Kwanzaa displays. But atheism by its very nature is intolerant and incompatible. As much as an atheist may claim tolerance and respect towards other beliefs, in his secret heart he thinks all religious claims are bullshit.

A devout Christian no doubt thinks her religion is superior to, say, Hinduism or Buddhism. An orthodox Jew believes he is one of God’s specially chosen people. A staunch Muslim believes he is closer to Allah than the infidel. Anyone strongly committed to her faith by definition believes followers of other religions are “wrong” when their beliefs go against or contradict the dogma of her creed. For example, Christians believe in resurrection of the dead. Reincarnation is not a part of Christian doctrine. Therefore, a Christian, of course, would believe that the Buddhist belief in reincarnation is wrong. Islam, for example, believes that God would never become human. God is transcendent, and always outside the world. So, of course, Muslims by definition would reject the Christian belief in the Incarnation. A good Muslim must believe that faith in Jesus Christ as God Incarnate, as the Second Person in the Trinity, is wrong.

But, these criticisms between religions differ from atheist critiques of faith in a vital way. Religious criticism of other faiths is secondary, while atheistic criticism of faith is primary. Christianity, by definition, may consider Hinduism in error on the afterlife. Islam and Judaism may consider Christianity in error on the nature of Jesus. But the primary belief of Christianity is not that everyone else is partly (or more than partly) wrong. The primary tenet of Christianity is faith in the Incarnation, redeeming death, and Resurrection of Christ; the rest just follows secondarily. Judaism may consider other faiths to be in error; but its primary belief is not in the error of others but in the covenantal relationship between God and His people. Islam may consider non-Muslims infidels; but its primary point is not the error of others, but that there is one God, Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet.

However, the primary belief of atheism is the fallacy of everyone else. For atheism, “you are wrong” comes first. As a Christian, if I meet a Muslim, I know he thinks I am partly in error. But that is just a side effect of his primary beliefs. When I meet an atheist, he thinks first and foremost that my belief is wrong. In fact, that is all he’s got. The ONLY thing he believes is that I am wrong (as is everyone else who believes in anything more than the natural world).

We Americans are pluralistic. We each believe in God in our own way, and most of us are open to the idea that another faith might be right, or at least right in some ways. We believe differently, but we respect one another for believing in something more than ourselves. But atheists, frankly, make us uncomfortable. They don’t see different faiths as different (if not less valid) ways to God. They condescendingly see all faith as childish. As Boston College philosopher Peter Kreeft says, “To be an atheist is to be a snob. For it is to believe that 9 out of every 10 people who ever lived were wrong in their deepest, most heartfelt beliefs.” And, for some evidence of this snobbery, read the new books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, or read the comments section from any article on the New York Times website dealing with religion or faith.

If you really want to understand these obnoxious atheists, just think back to high school, and think of the nerds who couldn’t understand why the girls always dated the good-looking athletes. They failed to see how condescending they really were to the “average”-intelligence kids. Atheists share this same befuddlement towards the beliefs of religious people. “How can she date that guy instead of me?” “How can she believe in such superstitious fantasy?” The nerd will continue to get bypassed for prom court, and the atheist will continue to get bypassed for higher office.


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