Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “Atheism is another religious belief”. “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” “Someone curdled the contents of my brain pan and replaced them with a thurible.” Yeah, familiar nonsense, isn’t it? And now a Canadian “legal philosopher, writer, professor and practicing legal consultant”, Iain Benson, is forcefully regurgitating them again, with the added bonus of amazingly false claims.
“Atheists, agnostics and religious of all forms are believers and all have faith. The question is not whether they are believers but rather, what they believe in,” he says and insists the “new atheists” such as the late Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins, who pride themselves on “not having any beliefs,” are wrong.
“Atheists are men and women of faith. Their faiths are different but they are still faiths and their beliefs still beliefs, no matter how much Dawkins and those like him wish it was different. Humans are stuck being believers, and that’s all there is to it,” he says.
We pride ourselves on not having any beliefs? Really? I have lots of beliefs, and I question them whenever necessary; I also expect my beliefs to be supported by evidence. I believe the earth orbits the sun, and I have evidence for that. I believe the earth is 4½ billion years old, and I have evidence for that. I believe life evolved, and I have evidence for that.
I don’t have faith, though, unless you’re willing to redefine “faith” to such a degree that it has no relationship at all to what theists mean by the term.
Here’s the problem: it’s not belief, because of course everyone has beliefs. It’s false beliefs. It’s beliefs that contradict reality, or are internally self-contradictory, or dogmatic beliefs that cannot be revised in the face of new evidence. Atheists try their best to get rid of those (although even there, we’re not perfect), while theists like Benson embrace such nonsensical jibber-jabber enthusiastically, and try to use their demonstrably false beliefs to guide public policy.
We all have a body of common beliefs: you’ll die if you jump out of a tenth story window, you should have a competent mechanic check out that used car you’re planning to buy, we can learn more about the world by observing and testing it. These are the set of pragmatic beliefs that allow all of us to function from day to day.
Then there are the set of entirely bogus and nonsensical religious beliefs layered on top of the useful common beliefs: you will live after death, a god cares about what you do in the privacy of your bed, we’re all damned sinners who will go to hell unless we belief in a zombie blood sacrifice. Sensible people reject those.
Although “dogmatic” doesn’t necessarily mean being rude, common usage helps prevent any real understanding of what dogma is. “Which is why so many atheists and men and women in the street think, like Dawkins and Hitchens, they don’t believe in anything. But they do.”
But a lack of understanding has enabled contemporary atheists to present their belief system as the only one that should have public recognition, forcing their own so called “non beliefs” on others.
No, you can believe whatever you want. What you can’t do is determine public policy by your dogma, which poorly reflects the realities of the physical world, nor can you use the state to indoctrinate children into your set of falsehoods.
Contrary to Benson’s freaky views, atheists aren’t trying to demand that politicians and teachers be atheists — we insist that they be secular. Big difference. Use secular principles to work out what is best for people in the material world. Weirdly, Benson seems to understand what “secular” means.
“We need to reclaim the true meaning of the ‘secular,’” Professor Benson says, pointing out that the word is misunderstood in today’s world and taken to mean “non-religious” when its real meaning, and legal definition is derived from the Latin word “saeculum” meaning “world.”
“Secular was used historically to distinguish between those things that were deemed to be ‘in the world’ and those that were expressly and technically ‘religious,’” he explains using the Catholic tradition to distinguish “secular priests” or those who work “in the world” from “religious” for those men and women who have taken specific religious vows and may live a cloistered life.
Yeeeeeessss? Atheists know what “secular” means. Perhaps Mr Benson should talk to a few sometime — his babblings reveal a profound ignorance.
According to Professor Benson, religious believers have as much right as anyone else to function in society according to these beliefs.
“Likewise religious institutions have as much right as non-religious institutions. Everyone has a belief system of some sort and those who draw on religious sources should not be put at a disadvantage,” he insists.
His support of equality for religious and secular institutions is commendable. Then I suppose he’d agree with me that the special privileges of tax exemptions and lack of regulatory oversight for changes should be abolished?
Since both religious people and atheists can share secular values, I don’t think it’s depriving the religious of their rights by insisting that everyone should be competent at their secular role; the special knowledge of religion/spirituality ought to have as much relevance to secular positions as knowledge of the rules of Dungeons & Dragons.