The Invisible Web

Your Trip Into the Chapel Perilous

15 Questions Militant Atheists Should Ask Before Trying to “Destroy Religion”

Posted by invizweb on September 2, 2009

RJ Eskow writes for the Huffington Post:

Richard Dawkins made an interesting point about Saddam Hussein recently. Dawkins said Hussein should have been kept alive and studied, so that humanity could learn how a dictator’s personality works. It’s too bad he doesn’t have the same curiosity about religion. Instead, Dawkins caricatures all religious belief as essentially fundamentalist, then works to eradicate it. (See critiques of Dawkins by a scientist with no supernatural beliefs, a science journalist, and a Marxist philosopher.)

While religion has undoubtedly caused harm, many atheists and secularists believe it has also been responsible for much that is good. Shouldn’t we give religion at least the same level of scrutiny Dawkins proposes for the likes of Saddam Hussein? And shouldn’t people of good will pause when they hear atheists such as Sam Harris say silly things like “science must destroy religion“? After all, there’s no proof that it can, and no reason to believe that it should.

Don’t we all want to know before we act? Isn’t that what we dislike about fundamentalists and fanatics – their lack of interest in the facts? Most militant atheists don’t even define what they mean by “religion.” They use irrational and literalist beliefs – e.g. that “Jesus will return in 2007” – interchangeably with subtler forms of religious expression. They argue without proof that rational “religious moderates” are equally as destructive as fundamentalists, while making bold and undocumented statements like “religious faith perpetuates man’s inhumanity to man.”

I’ve been asked why I write about those I call “fundamentalist atheists,” given that they are few in number and far less politically powerful than Christian fundamentalists. My answer is fourfold: First, I critize Christian fundamentalists quite a bit. It’s one of my primary “missions,” and it led me to debate Islam with Sean Hannity and Gary Bauer on Fox Radio. (See Dobson’s Choice, The Evangelighouls, The God Gulag, and The Republichristians, just to name a few. I also write a lot on the contradictions between conservatism and the teachings of Jesus, but that won’t win me any points in this argument!)

Second, the militant atheists are well-read among secular progressives and opinion leaders, influential people who may not have seen the authoritarian side of the movement. Third, I hold progressives and secularists to a higher standard of logic and integrity than I do the Pat Robertson crowd, in the belief that they add an important moral and social perspective to our political dialog.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, I find that there is an element of prejudice in the militant atheist movement. It’s not just the stereotyping and mocking of Muslims, a persecuted minority, that bothers me (more about that shortly). It’s also the easy and contemptuous way they dismiss a large percentage of humanity because it shares an experience that, judging from their writing, the militant atheists haven’t fully investigated.

And I’ll say it once again: I believe most atheists are progressive, enlightened people who are simply “nonbelievers.” My quarrel is only with those who advocate the elimination of religion based on grandiose and unsubstantiated claims.

See the list and the rest of the article here.

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2 Responses to “15 Questions Militant Atheists Should Ask Before Trying to “Destroy Religion””

  1. morsec0de said

    “Most militant atheists”

    What exactly is a militant atheist? Not really the topic, I know, but I’m curious. A militant Muslim is likely to be a suicide bomber. A militant Christian is likely to burn books or, even more extreme, kill abortion doctors. So what is a militant atheist? One who speaks up? One who gets angry occasionally? One who writes books and blog posts about the bad things that religious people do?

    Seems to me that there is no real consistency in use of the term ‘militant’.

    “Shouldn’t we give religion at least the same level of scrutiny Dawkins proposes for the likes of Saddam Hussein?”

    Why does he assume we haven’t? Just because we reach a different conclusion doesn’t mean we haven’t examined it.

    “After all, there’s no proof that it can, and no reason to believe that it should.”

    Actually, there is.

    Think of all the supernatural claims that used to exist before science came and destroyed those things. The simplest example, of course, is thunder and lightning. Before science, it was believed those things were caused by Zeus or Thor or some other supernatural creature.

    So bit by bit, science destroys religion. It may never happen completely, and almost certainly not in any of our lifetimes, but it looks like it’s going to happen.

    “the authoritarian side of the movement.”

    Who, may I ask, is being authoritatian? And how? Looks like an undocumented claim, to me…

    “My quarrel is only with those who advocate the elimination of religion based on grandiose and unsubstantiated claims.”

    And who, may I ask, is advocating the elimination of religion?

    One must be careful with their words. Wishing that religion would die is not the same as desiring to kill religion. Promoting critical thinking and scientific research is certainly a way of doing away with religion, but not one that actively prevents people from believing. The same is true for supporting freedom and individual rights.

    So where, exactly, are these militant, authoritarian religion killers that the author speaks of?

    • invizweb said

      Are you saying that cultures that do not employ the same scientific paradigm as yours are inferior? That’s what colonialists like Cortez thought about the Aztecs before he led to their raping and pillaging.

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