RJ Eskow has a set of 15 questions he wants us “militant atheists” to answer. Apparently, we’ve been blaming every problem in the universe on religion and religion alone, and we need to eradicate faith in order to inaugurate our new world order of peace, prosperity, and reason. That isn’t really hyperbole: his questions really are exercises in the obvious. Here’s one, for instance (no, I’m not going to waste my time with all 15):
Where the wars so often cited by militants (the Crusades, etc.) primarily religious in nature, or did their root causes stem from other factors such as economics, nationalism, and territorial expansion—as many experts in the field suggest? Or is the truth somewhere in between?
Religion was one factor among many. Was that so hard? All of his questions are along this line—all they do is demand that the answerer recognize nuance and complexity, and Eskow gets to pat himself on the back and act as if he has been shown to be right. But again, this is a fellow ranting against a nonexistent position, trying to tar atheists with the intolerance he is inventing.
I’ll make it simple for him. I’m a militant atheist, whatever that means. I do not believe that religion is the root of all evil, and I don’t know any atheists who do. If religion vanished overnight, we would still have the same wars, the same petty differences inflated into reasons to destroy those who are different, the same tribalism. We would not usher in an atheist utopia (or as some are fond of whining, dystopia). These problems are built on human follies, of which religion is just one.
My gripe with religion is two-fold.
We have been sold a bill of goods. If the best utilitarian argument for religion is that if we got rid of it, we’d still be fighting, that’s awfully tepid support. Religion is supposed to be this force for goodness and unity and morality, remember, but it sure doesn’t seem to do anything along those lines. This is the false dichotomy with which we are so familiar in creationist arguments: that apologists for faith can argue that atheism is not an automatic love-and-peace generator (and that atheists agree) does not mean that religion therefore is. You don’t get to argue for religion by complaining about atheism, especially when all the evidence indicates that religion is one factor that does contribute to discord. Or would Eskow like to claim that religion played absolutely no role in the Crusades?
My other complaint is that is that the position of the defenders of religion has become inherently cynical and anti-Enlightenment. I do not believe that abandoning superstition is all it takes to make a better world, but sweet jebus, demanding reason and evidence and questioning those glib old dogmas is certainly part of the answer, and I think people are capable of it. This is the start, the foundation, not the complete solution, but people like Eskow demand that we must build on lies, superstition, and naive belief. He pretends that he’s demanding rigor, but I think it’s clear that religion is a failed paradigm, and making excuses for it is an exercise in futility.
Eskow cloaks all this in a plea that we join forces to fight fundamentalism. I’m all for that, and I think it’s a fine idea to oppose the most malignant eruptions of religious thinking. However, I don’t think it’s enough to fight the nastiest symptoms while pretending the underlying disease is a beautiful thing. Sure, I’ll join moderate Christians in arguing against the excess of fundamentalism, but that doesn’t mean I have to retire from arguing against the inanity of faith; it’s that lack of critical thought at the core of religious belief that allows fundamentalism to flourish. So why is it that the first thing defenders of moderate superstition demand is a suspension of criticism?