One cannot be a moral person if they espouse despicable behavior like misogyny, racism, or bigotry. Yet, a casual reading of the Old Testament reveals more than one reprehensible biblical quote. But theists are quick to note that the Bible has to be read holistically. It’s wrong to draw conclusions from Bible verses when someone takes these verses out of context. Many are quick to point out that God doesn’t really endorse slavery, or for women to be treated as second-class citizens; it’s just a prosaic metaphor that shouldn’t be taken literally. It’s also argued that one has to adjust their interpretation of the Bible to truly understand what God is trying to communicate to us humans. Theologians start with the assumption that the Bible supports something and they distort or discard facts until reality fits to their interpretation. And when that fails, some simply change the words in the Old Testament to fit what we would like it to say and mean; the newest edition of the NRSV includes gender-neutral pronouns and adjectives approved for the PC-Christian. Apparently, editing the divine writ of the Lord is essentially okay if you’re sure it doesn’t change the underlying intention of the Bible verse because everyone knows God loves the politically correct.
Even the New Testament, containing the word of Christ, features a lot of supposedly sexist verses that put down women. And of course, apologetics are quick to rationalize away this verses. A quick search on Google yielded four completely different interpretation of Corinthians 14:34, all exonerating the verse from any women-bashing connotations. One author writes that in this verse, Paul was actually using a “negative exclaimer”, to describe women in the church. (Women should not speak out in church…not!) Conversely, some have suggested that the greek root sigua doesn’t mean absolute silence; depending on the context, it means women shouldn’t speak out of turn in a church, for they need to mind their gender roles. There is another interpretation that asserts women are able to speak up in a church, but they can’t interrupt a ceremony or otherwise disrupt the church assembly. There are many more ways to interpret this one particular verse; perhaps one for every denomination of Christianity.
It seems that when one tries to list accusations against the Bible, someone comes along with a new way of reading it that negates the accusations in support of the exact opposite claim. So the Bible can be used to justify just about any ideology or doctrine, and thus Christianity has been incorporated into many social movements and institutions. The Bible, after all, has been used by Southern whites to justify segregation and by civil rights advocates like Doctor Martin Luther King Jr to justify civil rights. It’s also been used to justify environmental degradation along with environmental stewardship. In fact, in the United States, churches have played supporting roles in just about most major social movements since the 19th Century. Historically, in order to make lasting social change in America, one has to involve churches in the movement to get the word out, organize volunteers, and redress the government to achieve any significant change. Religion can indeed unite different communities under the common goals of a shared movement.
Can we say the same for atheists? Granted, atheists are a diverse bunch and it’s hard to make generalizations, but I think we lost to the Christians here. The only thing that ties atheists together is a lack of a belief in God. We’re not a worldview, we’re not even an ideology, and we’re certainly not a religion. So a misogynistic atheist is no contradiction of terms. But is it hypocritical? More often than not, atheists make the claim that they can be good without God. Yet, the behavior of some atheists is appalling; on threads like r/atheism, how often do we see reasoned arguments devolve into a frenzy of slurs, or a barrage of sexist comments? When a woman goes to church, she does not have to fear being harassed, put down, demeaned or otherwise insulted by men for speaking up. And sure, r/atheism isn’t the same as a church, but if we are going to call out the religious for their shortcomings, we have to own up to the fact that there are many atheists who behave in an appalling manner. If atheists are to claim a secular moral has the high ground, they better damn well act like it! God is not there to punish us for behaving like asses; it’s up to us to police the behavior of those around us when they behave in a way that’s inappropriate. Misogyny cannot be welcome anywhere, not in a church, not in an atheist rally or convention, not in public. Nor can any other prejudice or dehumanizing phobia be justified because someone finds atheists-with-hyphens unappealing or distasteful.
While atheists have been poorly represented by the internet trolls, there are secular organizations and institutions that rise above the fray and show how compassionate the godless can be. Even with r/atheism, the supposed hotbed of racial, gender, sex, and ethnic intolerance, donated over $200,000 to Doctors without Borders in 2011. For their work worldwide, the organization Doctors without Borders was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, providing millions of people free access to medicine. The Richard Dawkins Foundation established the Non-Believers Giving Aid Disaster Relief Fund after the Haitian earthquake of January 2010 to provide disaster relief for the victims of that earthquake. Humanist Charities, founded by the American Humanist Association similarly engages in secular, philanthropic enterprise as well as the Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Effort, operated by the Center for Inquiry. Foundation Beyond Belief has set the goal of raising over a $1,000,000 for cancer research by the end of 2012.
So where does this leave us? Christians seem to enjoy the benefit of the doubt; their apologetics assert that Christian doctrine affords its followers a monopoly on moral or ethical behavior. But in order to live a moral life, one has to ignore the numerous absurdities of the Bible, or otherwise rationalize them away with an even more contrived falsehoods. The dogma has recognized some objective kernels of truth, but they’re buried under a pile of arcane and archaic garbage. On the other hand, atheists are seen by some to be as trustworthy as rapists, yet a humanist morality is superior to its hypocritical Christian counterpart because of its universal applicability to people of all ideologies, creeds, and religions. But with this superior set of beliefs, the non-believers haven’t done enough to highlight how the secular can be good without God.