One of the more noxious opinions about humans is the belief that without a deity, we homo sapiens would be adrift in a sea of immorality, sans the moral compass necessary to navigate our way out of it. This offensive take was most recently espoused by Fox News’ resident clergyman, Fr. Jonathan Morris, who appeared on the weekend version of Fox & Friends, which, if the hosts’ banter is any indication, has a mean viewer age of five years old. After oddly claiming that politicians “can’t fake religion,” Morris served up this familiar tripe when discussing elected officials and faith:
“It’s a belief in God, it’s a belief that there are eternal consequences for your actions. And I think that a leader that doesn’t have that — a set of core beliefs that help him to make justice an important part of his life and his decisions because he knows that there are eternal consequences, well, it’s somebody that it’s hard to trust.”
You know who’s really hard to trust? People who, apparently for no other reason than they feel they’re being watched by a celestial Big Brother every second of every day, don’t do harm to others. If the threat of eternal damnation and the inducement of eternal reward is the only thing keeping an elected official – or anyone – from acting injuriously toward others, then that person is morally corrupt.
Here it becomes too tempting not to recall an exchange between Rust and Marty on season one of HBO’s True Detective:
Marty: I mean can you imagine if people didn’t believe [in god] – the things they’d get up to?
Rust: Exact same thing they do now. Just out in the open.
Marty: Bull. Shit. It’d be a fucking freakshow of murder and debauchery, and you know it.
Rust: If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward, then that person, brother, is a piece of shit. And I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible.
As it turns out, religion in fact doesn’t make people more moral.
One of the reasons more atheists aren’t “out in the open” is because many of them rightly fear reprisal thanks to people like Jonathan Morris, who reinforce the idea that nonbelievers are morally deficient and therefore untrustworthy. Even though Morris said that politicians “can’t fake religion,” we know this not to be the case.
At present, there are zero openly atheist members in the entire 535-person United States Congress. With about 4% of the U.S. population identifying as atheist or agnostic, that there would be a complete lack on nonbelievers in such a large and relatively well-educated body strains credulity. Indeed, according to the American Humanist Association, there are at least 24 members of Congress who’ve privately acknowledged being atheists but who cannot do so openly because it would be tantamount to political suicide.
This is why campaigns such as last week’s Openly Secular effort are important for the normalization of atheism. It’s a pushback against the misconceptions peddled by Morris and his ilk that atheists are suspect. But like a believing version of Rust Cohle, Morris should stop promoting this narrative so as to encourage more atheists to get out into the open so he and everyone else can see that atheists are no more immoral than their believing peers.