November 8, 2015

When Atheists Come to Town

Memphis Skyline
By Hellohowareyoudoing from Wikimedia Commons
Memphis, Salt Lake City, Des Moines, Washington DC, Denver, New York City, and Austin. What do all of these U.S. cities have in common? They have all been devastated by brief explosions of violent crime, confined to a couple days, as bad as anything we've ever witnessed. Hundreds of victims, mass arrests, riots, total destruction. Okay, not really, but they should have been devastated by brief outbursts of violent crime. You see, what these U.S. cities all have in common is that they have hosted American Atheists' national conventions. And given that atheists are godless by definition, the influx of atheists coming to town for these conventions should have produced massive spikes in crime.

Many evangelical fundamentalist Christians are fond of claiming that morality is tied to their preferred god. Without their particular god, nobody would behave morally. In fact, some of these evangelical fundamentalist Christians routinely claim that they themselves would run wild in the streets but for their fear of their god and its hell. Fear of their god is the only thing standing between them and rape or murder.

If this is the case, atheists should be far less moral than evangelical fundamentalist Christians. In fact, what I just said would have to be a massive understatement. Atheists are, by definition, people who do not believe in any gods. As such, atheists are assumed to have no moral foundation and no reason to behave in a moral manner. If these evangelical fundamentalist Christians are correct, atheists should be running wild in the streets, raping, murdering, and pillaging at will. Our prisons should be filled with atheists, as this would be the only way we as a society could be expected to control such vile people.

Imagine for a moment that you are an evangelical fundamentalist Christian living in a city like Memphis, TN. When you hear that American Atheists plans to hold a national convention in your city, you should be terrified. Imagine a couple hundred atheists visiting your city for a few days. It is terrifying, isn't it? Time to barricade yourself behind locked doors and brace for the worst. Every single one of these atheists is an unrestrained monster who will commit wanton acts of murder, assault, rape, arson, and other evils with little provocation. Your city is about to be destroyed.

But of course, nothing like this happens. There is no spike in violent crime when the atheist convention comes to town. There are no mass arrests, the riot police are not called in, and whatever violent crimes that might occur in your town during this period never seem to have been committed by anyone attending the convention. None of the wild predictions one should be able to make based on the claims of evangelical fundamentalist Christians come to pass.

At worst, some drunk young atheist pukes in your bushes, you see several people wearing t-shirts with pro-atheist or anti-religious messages on them, and you run into a few obnoxious people wearing what appear to be Halloween costumes nowhere close to Halloween. That's about it. And really, that doesn't seem so bad, does it?

Of course, you wouldn't dare to venture inside the convention itself. If you did enter this heart of darkness, you'd likely be surprised by what you found. You'd encounter many bright and thoughtful people gathering to discuss topics ranging from criticism of religion to strategies for empowering underrepresented groups. And while a few attendees would strike you as strangely preoccupied with applying degrading labels to anyone who dares to express disagreement with their chosen socio-political ideology (e.g., feminism), the vast majority in attendance would be far more interested in listening to the speakers, socializing, and enjoying the experience of not having to hide their thoughts on religion for a few days. You might even find evidence of something resembling a moral code of sorts. Why, it is almost as if these atheists are every bit as moral as anyone else!

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