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31 Juli 2007 @ 22:48
We irredeemable atheists  

From an article by Tad Friend in the July 30 issue of The New Yorker about Vernell Crittendon, a remarkably influential lieutenant at San Quentin State Prison:

Crittendon had written to the Board of Parole Hearings on those inmates' behalf because each met his five criteria: being responsible while at San Quentin; pursuing an education; serving as a volunteer; having a solid support system on the outside; and believing in God or a higher power. He asked Jerry Dean Stipe, a bearded Vietnam veteran known as Wolf, to be a co-founder of Real Choices—yet he didn't write a letter for Stipe, he told me, "because he was an atheist." Crittendon said, "Without a belief in something larger than yourself, you backslide."

This idiotic prejudice, shared by many—in some cases otherwise quite well-meaning—religious people, is one that I find particularly sickening. The idea that atheists cannot have or live up to moral standards is not only insulting and demonstrably false; it also offers a troubling insight into the morality of those who believe it. Do they really think that the only way to know right from wrong is to follow the instructions of an all-powerful but invisible being? If that being's instructions suddenly changed, would they obey the new instructions uncritically, without examining them in light of their own consciences? That's a scary thought, and I'd like to believe that it isn't true, but it is implicit in the charge that atheists necessarily lack a moral compass.

I'm an atheist. That doesn't mean I don't believe in anything "larger than myself"—I believe, for example, in humanity, flawed though it be. And I believe that a true sense of right and wrong can only come from exercising one's powers of empathy and reason, those two great pillars of the human mind. And I hope like hell that, if I ever have the misfortune to land in jail, my release will not depend upon the judgement of a bigot like Vernell Crittendon.

Merle: religionmerle_ on 1. August, 2007 11:48 (UTC)
It's scary that people could think that. I almost believe the opposite: morals that you have personally chosen, rather than ones forced down your throat by your childhood religion, are probably stronger.
theridger on 2. August, 2007 10:56 (UTC)
Yes, because clearly there are no religious people serving second terms.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 5. August, 2007 05:20 (UTC)

Well, one born-again criminal in particular springs to mind. Unfortunately, the second term he's serving isn't a prison term.