Sastra here again.
We anticipate it. Or, at least, I do. Whenever some lunatic in a not-so-happy place in his life goes into a happy place with a gun and starts to shoot at random human targets, sooner or later someone blames it on atheism. Or links it to atheism. Or compares it to atheism. Or otherwise brings up atheism, as the not very random target of ultimate explanation.
It didn’t take long for someone to use the recent tragic shootings in the Unitarian Church in Tennessee to illustrate the dangers of “militant atheism.” The Life!beliefs section of my local paper regularly features a syndicated columnist, Rev. Norris Burkes, who is “a civilian hospital chaplain and an Air Guard chaplain in northern California.” I occasionally glance through his column, which tends to focus on the pleasant, reasonable, ecumenical spirituality of good works and thoughtful counsel. He seems like a nice guy. He almost certainly is.
I didn’t much care for his recent column, though, which was titled “Turn deaf ears to whispers of hatred.”
After bemoaning the hatred that drove killer Jim Adkinson and others like him, Burkes rhetorically asks where it came from. Whence that infectious strand of ignorance, apathy, violence, and hate? Well, the killers yell what others whisper.
“In the world of religion, I’ve yet to see more infectious carriers than I’ve seen in the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. These evangelical atheists would have you believe that all our problems stem from all forms of religious faith.”
Oh NOES! Not “atheists think ALL our problems stem from religion!” Not the “atheists only see the bad side of religion” meme again! And what about STALIN and POL POT? How do you explain THAT? Yes, the ‘pygmies and dwarves’ of atheism show up, on schedule.
I’m not sure if Burkes has read any of the books himself, or if he’s only read the Nicholas Kristof op-ed which ran in the Times last December. He assures the reader that what Kristof characterized as “the increasingly assertive, often obnoxious atheist offensive” was subsequently soundly trumped and defeated by bringing up Stalin on one side, and soup kitchens on the other. Poor Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins apparently never considered, never addressed, never even thought about either totalitarian Communism, or the fact that religions do good works, too — in addition to the witch hunts, honor killings, and massacres, of course.
You know, I’ve read the books by all three gentlemen – Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins – and I have a vague sort of recollection that maybe they did deal with those issues once or twice, in passing. Like devoting several chapters to them, or setting them up as the starting point for their theme, or something like that.
But no matter. Enough of religious intolerance, on both sides. Burkes puts forth the solution: “We must allow room for the conversation.” Conversations, that is, with GOOD atheists, and not the hate-filled, militant, in-your-face kind. Rather, Christians seek and honor the brand of non-believer who is gentle, nice, and neither in-your-face nor in your bookstore nor in your television on PBS. And he specifically spells out what it takes to be the right kind of atheist:
“When I ask them what they want from the faithful, they tell me two things. First, they are tired of people making the assumption that an atheist can’t possibly be a moral, upstanding, civic-minded person and not believe in God. But mostly they tell me what I hear from nearly everyone.”I want a conversation in which you aren’t trying to make me think like you. I just need you to respect me. Respecting me will help me feel a lot better about respecting you.”
Ah, it all comes down to “respect” — and what that rather loaded and ambiguous term can mean.
It seems that in the minds of many people, respect takes the place of debate. No, it’s not the necessary prerequisite for debate. It’s the substitute. You can have one, or you can have the other. Not both. Do not MAKE other people try to think like you. Don’t force them. Don’t violate their minds. Don’t rape their viewpoints. Don’t steal their faith. Everybody leave everybody alone on religion, and talk about something else. No arguing.
Sort of like a big self-esteem support group. Which is nice. Sort of. Sometimes.
The problem with Militant Atheists apparently is that they are NOT content to leave the religious alone. Oh, they don’t go to their houses or picket their churches. But they don’t shut up, either. They go into forums intended for the free expression of ideas and niggle at them. They bring up religion-inspired violence. They criticize and critique.
Militant atheists will even bring up whether God exists or not. They make a case for naturalism and reason, and then examine the case for God. They actually ask the religious to consider the existence of God as a fact claim about the world, as a hypothesis which may be false, and they address ordinary people. Oh, those aggressive carriers of dis-ease and doubt. Damn them all. They go right out in public where everyone can see and hear to try to FORCE people to seriously consider the possibility that God does not exist.
And what bombs they drop. When religion is sensible, it stands on its own without God. But when religion doesn’t make sense, it carries its own, special, irrefutable form of dogmatism and irrationality. Belief in God can justify what can’t be justified on rational grounds, and gives it an unearned authority. Militant atheists point that out and declare that this is not a distortion of religion – it’s an inherent flaw within the system. It’s not the people. There is something wrong with faith itself.
Yes, indeed. Saying that is just like shooting up a church. Great comparison, Mr. Burkes.
Militant atheists shut off “the conversation.” How can you possibly have any sort of dialogue with people who are trying to persuade you to change your mind?