I have seen a trend in the comments to my recent blog postings of interpreting my recent postings as suggesting that atheists should get together and organize protests against religion. Assuming that I am advocating something along the lines of Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, that religion is the great evil that must be eliminated, they have sought to argue against me by arguing against this position.
I have also picked up a substantial number of new readers in recent weeks who have not read prior posts in which I discussed these issues, so I should not be assuming that readers automatically know my position on these things.
So, let me briefly state some of these basic propositions.
(1) “At least one god certainly or almost certainly exists”, and “At least one god certainly or almost certainly does not exist,” are morally neutral statements. They tell us nothing about how we should behave. Even if a god exists, that god might be a malicious god who designed the earth and created human nature the way he did because he loves conflict. Every day he sits in his recliner with a can of beer and a bowl of chips watching a new episode of “Survivor Earth.” It’s not the existence or the non-existence of god that gives us moral guidance. We get that from the additional claims added to this claim about the existence or non-existence of God. When those additinal claims are junk, then we have problems.
(2) When it comes to tacking junk onto claims about the existence or non-existence of God, atheists are as good at making things up (that happen to be dead wrong) as theists. Branding all theists with the crimes of Stalin is bigotry, but Stalin does provide a counter-example to the idea that you can make somebody a better person just by getting them to believe that no God exists.
(3) There is nobody on the planet that agrees with you about everything. If you can’t get along with people who disagree with you, you are doomed to have a very lonely life
(4) Given that we have no choice but to accept and get along with people who disagree with us, our goal should be to distinguish between disagreements that are tolerable and those that are not (and how we are going to handle each). There is a clear difference between the person who says, “I believe that there is a loving god that commands me to feed the hungry and care for the sick,” and “I believe in a vengeful god that commands me to kill anybody who does not worship him as I do.” One is a false belief that we can comfortably ignore. The other is not.
(5) Rather than making both of these types of people our enemies, if we were rational, we would welcome the former as allies against the latter.
Anybody who has taken any of my last week’s postings as a protest against religion or faith have been reading things into my postings that are simply not there. In fact, you have read things into my postings that I have explicitly and repeatedly argued against.
I have only one posting in this entire blog that discusses the issue of whether God exists. This is precisely because I consider the issue to be unimportant. The important issues are those that put life, health, and well-being at risk. A belief in God does not necessarily do this. Many of the things that some people associate with belief in God do this, but there are a great many things advocated by people who do not believe in God that put life, health, and well-being at risk as well.
I have complained against atheists who have made bigoted statements when I have found them. For example, I objected when the Connecticut Valley Atheists put up a sign that said, “Imagine, no religion” that showed the World Trade Center, I protested that the group was making the unjust (and totally bigoted inference) that all religious people share blame for 9/11.
I have also protested against the claim that teaching religion to a child amounts to child abuse because child abuse requires malicious intent or reckless disregard for the child. This is simply not true in most cases. Some, true - such as this cult in Texas and parents who pray for the health of their child when she has an easily treatable disease - are guilty of reckless disregard for the child. But not all. (See Religion as Child Abuse).
My complaint is not against Christianity in specific, or belief in God in general.
My objection is that the statement, “No atheist is qualified to be judge,” is prejudicial and discriminatory – and that anybody, regardless of their religion, should be able to see that it is simply wrong for a President to hold this attitude.
My objection is that a pledge of allegiance that states that aims to teach children to view the person who does not favor ‘one nation under God’ the way he views one who does not favor ‘liberty and justice for all’ is an exercise in teaching bigotry is not a statement against Christianity. It is a statement against teaching bigotry - particularly to very young children. I trust that most Christians would see this type of bigotry as wrong if they ever got a chance to hear or read the argument.
My objection to Davis’ statement is that she uttered a derogatory falsehood that prejudices her and anybody who shares her views against the words and deeds of those who do not believe in God – a prejudice that makes her unfit to be a legislator. Any good Christian should be able to see this as well.
I am simply not talking about a protest in defense of atheism and against Christianity. I am talking about a protest by those in defense of equal respect in the eyes of the law and against government declarations of hatred and bigotry.
For atheists to sit and do nothing while waiting patiently for others to do the work would be like the blacks in the 1950s sitting in their homes waiting for white people to change the voting access laws and to eliminate “separate but equal”.
The blacks in the 1950s and 1960s needed to take the lead – to be at the head of the march for civil rights. And there was, indeed, an attempt at the time to cast their activities in terms of “black” versus “white”. However, what those who marched for civil rights - those who engaged in the 'sit ins' and the voter registration drives - were demanding were things that no just and fair white person could deny. There was nothing inconsistent in white people joining the marches and the rallies and fighting for the same cause – because the cause they were fighting for was not ‘blacks’. The cause they were fighting for was ‘justice’.
When it comes to responding to the bigotry and injustice that I have been talking about this week, I am talking about things for which atheists must take the lead. However, there is nothing in what I have written that should give a good Christian pause. It is not anti-Christian. It is anti-injustice. Just as no Christian would tolerate being on a witness stand and being told by a sitting legislator to ‘get out of that seat because you are a Christian and Christians have no right to be here, no fair and just Christian should tolerate a legislator telling an Atheist to ‘get out of that seat because Atheists have no right to be here.’
In asking the question, “Why don’t atheists defend themselves?” it seems that I must be asking a related question, “Where did we get the idea that atheists defending themselves is anti-Christian? Is it the case that blacks defending their rights is anti-White? Is it the case that women defending themselves is anti-Male?”
There will certainly be people who will want to distort the message and turn it into an “atheist’ versus “Christian” message. The will seek to promote the idea that Christians are being persecuted because Christians are being forced to treat atheists as political equals to be given equal respect under the law. However, the existence of people who will distort the message in order to promote hostility and manipulate the public does not imply that proponents of justice should give up. Of course the unjust are going to fight back. But this implies 'fight harder', not 'give up'.