Against my better judgement -- because I was pretty sure that it would end with me yelling at the TV in frustration -- I watched one of the Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days documentaries, which involved an atheist woman (Brenda) staying for 30 days with a devoutly Christian couple (Michael and Tracy). Actually, it was pretty interesting for the most part. The Christian couple were intelligent and reasonably open-minded (though Michael made some rather shockingly intolerant comments when discussing the "In God We Trust" phrase on dollar notes), so there was less overt conflict than you might have expected. But one particular comment made my jaw drop to the floor. When Brenda's husband and children came to visit her, Tracy commented -- with palpable shock and surprise -- that Brenda seemed to really love her children and be a good mother.
What did she expect? Did she think that atheists neglect and beat their children and feed them crack? Did she think that without a belief in God, people must be immoral? Other conversations with people in Michael and Tracy's church revealed that this was quite a common belief. I find that frightening and sad. Frightening for obvious reasons, but sad because it implies that people like Michael and Tracy are infantilized. It seems that they believe they need a higher power (or his representatives in the form of the clergy) to tell them how to behave properly, and that if they did not have this, they might behave badly.
It seems to be another instance of a religion treating its followers as children -- something I've talked about before. It's just not true, in my opinion. I'm pretty sure that humans, on average^1^, naturally behave in a moral way and always have done, irrespective of any religious or secular laws. There's a lot of experimental evidence to suggest that we naturally behave fairly towards other individuals, empathise with the plight of other humans (and even other species), and basic biology would suggest that it is in our own interest to treat our children well. Of course, there are wars (regrettably there seems to be a big difference in the way that humans treat other known individuals and anonymous, distant groups), but it's not as if religious moral strictures have a great record of preventing armed conflict.
I'll leave the last word to Sadie (age 2), who has a excellent counter-argument to a heckling little boy, who accuses her of being "a baby". You tell 'em, Sadie. And a peaceful and harmonious Christmas to everyone.
^1^ Of course, there will always be a minority of humans (both atheist and religious), who behave badly. ↑