Page’s column, “At Cross Purposes” [Reckonings, Oct.
22], laments the combativeness of some atheists today in arguing
for their beliefs and against religion. She calls it mean
spirited “God bashing” that “does nothing to advance the much-needed
aim of seeking common ground.”
It’s nice to see religious believers advocating mutually respectful
dialog. For several millennia their response to atheists was
mostly intolerant hate-filled demonization—indeed, burning
them alive, literally. And many Christians still say atheists
will, and/or should, burn in Hell. Today’s militant atheists
do not want to burn anybody, but merely to get a hearing for
their ideas, something denied them during all those centuries.
Yes, there’s some extremism and rough language, which doesn’t
help. But it doesn’t come close to the deadly extremism of
religious persecutions throughout history. And as for this
civil dialog that religionists like Ms. Page are quick to
accuse atheists of undermining—where is it? I have rarely
seen any serious efforts by the religious to reach out, engage
with, and understand atheists. Page herself describes an interfaith
dialog among Christians, Jews, and Muslims—but, typically,
no atheists, who are still widely deemed beyond the pale.
(A recent College of St. Rose debate on religion and ethics,
in which I participated representing humanism, was an all-too-rare
I’m all for respectful dialog, seeking common ground, and
so forth—it’s long overdue on religion’s side—but religion
has a lot to answer for, and its claims to truth must be subject
to open public scrutiny and debate. What religion really seems
to want is a continued free ride in public discourse—to saturate
the air with its sanctimony while being exempt from serious
intellectual challenge. We take for granted the cut-and-thrust
of feisty political debate, with all its name-calling, but
religion is considered a sacred cow we’re not supposed to
criticize, and faith a bar to any argument. Religious believers
don’t like being challenged in this way and try to delegitimize
it. They can dish it out but they can’t take it.
Author of The Case for Rational Optimism
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