A sign, erected by Connecticut Valley Atheists in front of town hall in Rockville, Connecticut, shows a picture of the two world trade center buildings and the words, "Imagine no religion."
This is wrong on so many levels. The most important level, however, is that it promotes a belief that is as absurd as any religion. It says that religion is a necessary for violent acts and, without religion, violent acts will not take place.
That statement is quite simply false.
I have argued in the past that when people make a mistake - when they embrace sophistry or fiction unsupported by evidence - it gives us a window into their moral character. We can ask why they made that mistake, as opposed to some other.
A plausable explanation in many cases is that desire has gotten in the way of well-founded belief. The agents want it to be the case that a particular conclusion is true. They want it so badly that they blind themselves to evidence and reason. They embrace fiction and sophistry in its place - anything to support the desired conclusion.
In this case, I would argue that the motivation behind this sign - behind thinking that this was a good idea - was hate. Some group of people did something that is hate-worthy. The authors of the message wanted to spread this hatred around - target it at people who were not actually guilty of the original crime, so they embrace a message that promote hatred of those the authors want to hate, rather than those who can actually be blamed.
We can imagine a similar sign - one showing a Soviet Galug or a pile of bodies in the former Soviet Union under Stalin with the caption, "Imagine No Religion" - a sign that blames all atheists for the crimes that only some atheists have committed.
In fact, this type of argument is heavily used on the other side of the debate. I have frequently argued against it - arguing that any who would use this type of reasoning is a hate-mongering bigot.
Any who would use this type of reasoning is, in fact, a hate-mongering bigot. And that goes for those who would approve of this "Imagine No Religion" sign.
I am not saying that we should be nice to theists simply for the sake of being nice to them - that out of 'respect' for their beliefs we should refrain from saying certain truths. In fact, I hold the opposite view, that respect for truth is more important than respect for any person or group's favorite fairy tales.
My criticism of this sign is not that it is unkind. My criticism is that the claim it makes is untrue - that the inference it draws is sophistry motivated by a desire to condemn the innocent.
It also portrays and promotes a set of values that I think we would be better off inhibiting rather than encouraging - the claim that we should value a good sound byte, a verbal jab aiming to inflict pain, over truth and reason. I think that the world has suffered enough from that type of attitude.
If the sign has any value at all it is as a 'reductio ad absurdum' of a line of reasoning popular among theists. Many are quite fond of blaming all atheists for the crimes of a few. We hear or read about it constantly - in references to Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, and how these villains taint all atheists and prove the moral superiority of Christians.
The sophistry of that argument is well illustrated by the equal sophistry of blaming all of religion for the crimes of 9/11. This may well illustrate that sophistry, and the immoral attitudes that lie behind the use (exploitation) of that type of rhetoric to people who otherwise might find it difficult to grasp.
But that is its only value - to illustrate wrongness of using this type of association to those who do not understand it.
Those who do not understand it obviously includes the Connecticut Valley Atheists.