Events in Maine give me an opportunity to make some comments on the dispute between the appeasers (who argue that we must praise religion to achieve political ends) and the "new atheists" who are outspoken critics of religion.
(Ironically, this seems to mirror the dispute in the Republican Party over whether the Party should make room for moderate Republicans or take a hard-line conservative stand and risk losing seats in the legislature to the Democrats.)
In Maine, the Catholic Church spent over half a million dollars - money that could have gone to feeding the poor and tending the sick - to inspire the citizens of Maine to do harm to their peaceful neighbors in the past election.
We must only only count the Church's own contribution to greater immorality in the state of Maine, we must also include the contributions to immorality it inspired in others. In addition to the Church’s own money, we must add the contributions of individuals that it inspired and encouraged.
And they succeeded. Bigotry and injustice won the say in Maine, adding that state to the list of states whose laws impose unjustified harms and burdens on citizens for no reason other than to feed hatred and bigotry itself.
At the same time, we have this dispute between the "new atheists" who are taking a hard-line stand against religion, and the "appeasers" who condemn this harsh language because it pushes moderates into the camp of the religious extremists.
It is interesting to note that this dispute between the "new atheists" and "appeasers" is very tightly focused on the question of teaching evolution in high school science classes. It is as if this is the only cause that really has any merit - and the position that atheists should take on all other issues is to be measured by its effect on this one issue.
This tunnel vision is particularly accute on the part of the appeasers. The criticism of the "New Atheists" covers a broad spectrum of evils and abuses that can too often be traced back to the leadership of some religion or other. It is not just the evil of pushing for teaching biblical creation in science classes, but evils like those which we just witnessed in Maine, and witnessed last year in California. It includes the evils of 9/11, the murder of a young woman in Arizona for the crime of being "too westernized", the slaughter of children as witches in parts of Africa, terrorist bombings in Pakistan, and laws that treat women as property rather than as people.
When the "new atheists" bring up this broad range of harms and abuses that all too often are traced to the teachings of some religious group, the "appeasers", it seems, tell us that we must not speak about those other harms because it might have an adverse effect on efforts to keep creationism out of science classes.
Also, there is a serious weakness in the "appeaser" strategy. Just as the "appeasers" seem willing to forego the victims of other wrongs that spring from religious organizations for the sake of their cause, they can expect those others to forsake the cause of teaching creationism in school in order to buy allies for their purposes.
How many people are the appeasers willing to see killed, maimed, and otherwise harmed for the sake of this one end?
I do have a serious problem with the "new atheists". They tend to heavily rely on what I am calling the Bigot's Fallacy. This is a fallacy in which the argument begins with claims about the objectionable behavior of this or that specific religious teaching or the wrongful acts of a specific religious person, then suddenly and unjustifiably leaps to conclusions about "religion" or "theists" in general.
They use these arguments in the hopes that their audience is blind to the fact that the conclusions are entirely unjustified given the premises, so that they can sell their own prejudices to that audience. Unfortunately, nature has given humans a disposition to divide the world into tribes of "us" and "them", where they seem to be happiest when there is a tribe of "them" they can hate, without regard to justice or merit. This disposition blinds them to the Bigot's Fallacy, since by ignoring the fallacy they can feel that their hatred of members of the "them" tribe is something "they" deserve.
So the members of the "new atheist" tribes eagerly cheer and celebrate those members who are the loudest and most vocal users of the Bigot's Fallacy - in the language of the "us tribe" against the "them tribe".
This, in turn, leads moderates to claim that the "new atheists" are really not any different from the "fundamentalists," particularly in the widespread use of the Bigot's Fallacy by the celebrated leaders of both of these tribes.
Note that my criticism of the "new atheists" has nothing to do with the effect their actions have on the political feasibility of teaching creationism in science classes. I condemn the Bigot's Fallacy on its own demerits, I would condemn the use of the Bigot's Fallacy even if it proved to be successful in rallying the Tribe to keep creationism out of science classes - because there are a lot of evils and injustices that easily spring from embracing this particular detour from reason.
The "new atheists" can avoid the Bigot's Fallacy by focusing on specific wrongs, and staying focused on those wrongs, resisting the urge to leap to unfounded generalizations about 'religion' and 'theists'. Doing so is not a case of "playing nice with religion". It is a case of respecting the rules of logic and not making unfounded generalizations. However tempting nature has made it to embrace the bigot’s fallacy – no matter how good it feels – it is one of those dispositions that we must learn to suppress. It does us no good.
And to the "appeasers", I say that the world of value does not begin and end with the issue of teaching creationism in science classes. There is a long list of evils out there that deserve condemnation. One of them, of course, being the evil found in the Bigot's Fallacy. Saying that these other evils must go unchallenged so that we can buy allies in the fight to keep creationism out of science classes involves demanding a great deal of human sacrifice for this one end. Are you sure your cause is worth so much?