I can't say I am terribly surprised by the results of this survey primarily because large percentages of people equate atheism with immorality. If your worldview is that there is an absolute morality which is handed down to mankind by a supernatural being, then there is a tendency to believe that morality cannot exist WITHOUT god belief.From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.
As a secular humanist, I believe that mankind formulates its own ethics and morality. In fact, that morality evolves through time, cultures and geographies. What constitutes morality is always in a state of flux. Afterall, it was quite moral, albeit not ethical, to have slaves at certain periods in history, and in various cultures. In fact the bible has quite a few pages condoning slavery. This is but one of them:
"Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them." (1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT)
It is pretty obvious to most people who live in western democracies that slavery is NOT condoned today. So what happened? Do christians/muslims/jews cherry-pick the parts of their religious books which they find morally acceptable to their present culture and try and ignore the "yucky bits"? I certainly think so. And if they do, what does this suggest?
It suggests to me that the so called morality and ethics of the bible have been tempered by a couple of thousand years of human experience. In other words, human morality has EVOLVED through time and space. Some of the morality of the bible is only pertinent to the chronology and geography from whence it came.
If we look at Leviticus 20 Punishments for Sin, we can see a list of punishments for sin/immorality, that would be comparable with some of the harsh punishments required by sharia law.
Leviticus 20/10 " If a man commits adultery with another man's wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death."
Obviously the majority of the western world has moved on from "stoning adulteresses" to death. But fundamentalists would still consider this to be required by god/allah. That is, they believe that these rules are ABSOLUTE and god given. Hands up the christians out there who think a good stoning on a Sunday is a fine idea if you get caught shagging the nextdoor neighbour? Stop lying! (Admit it. You only think a good stoning is a great idea if you have rights to the syndication :))
I guess what I am saying is that at least some of the morality of religious books is anachronistic. An anachronism is something that happens out of its proper or chronological order, especially a practice that belongs to an earlier time. And that is why the punishments for sin in Leviticus 20 are NOT part of the law in modern western democracies. We have, thankfully, evolved; and so have our systems of laws and our codes of morality.
PS: I guess it is fortunate that I don't collect sticks on the "sabbath".
"While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day ... And The Lord said to Moses, "The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp." (Numbers 15:32,35 RSV)
As a secular humanist, who is also an atheist, I don't feel compelled to stone anyone to death. I think I have made the right choice; the ethical choice.