As with many of my blog posts, this one grew out of a conversation that I had with someone about the subject of faith and reason.
In this case, I raised the point that I felt many of the anti-theists of my acquaintance had noble goals (promoting reason and fighting ignorance) but were fighting the wrong enemy and doing it in a way that furthered neither of those goals. That were, in fact, counterproductive.
I called into question the rhetoric I and other “believers” are subjected to—rhetoric that is sarcastic rather than informative, condescending rather than responsive, demeaning rather than exploratory.
Many of the atheists who post in the various online forums and on Facebook and Twitter spend a lot of time telling believers what they believe. Literally. The discourse goes something like this: “You (religious people) believe X, Y, and Z, and that’s irrational.”
Often, when I state that I do not believe X, Y, or Z, I am informed that this cannot be so. I must believe these things because I am religious and this is what religious people believe.
This means that I spend a fair amount of time pointing out what, to me, seems obvious —that not all believers or beliefs are created equal.
I find it ironic that a narrow, and inescapably irrational, set of beliefs is being extended to every religious person who dares wander into the discussion and so, it becomes necessary to wade through the polemics, the generalizations and the condescension to be able to say: “Er, excuse me, but I don’t believe that. Will someone talk to ME directly?”
But that rarely gets heard. It’s much easier to hold onto one’s treasured assumptions about the other guy’s beliefs than it is to grapple with the possibility that religious belief, like any belief, has many variations—rational, irrational, logical, illogical. One correspondent acknowledged this anomaly, saying: “Indeed, not all people who call themselves religious exhibit the same X behavior, however since the atheists’ crusade is against religion, the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ would be valid in this case—by definition of the word ‘atheist’.”
Bearing in mind that “atheist” simply means one who does not believe in God and has no necessary addendum “and crusades against those who do,” I have to ask how much sense this statement makes. If religious belief and believers are indeed that varied, isn’t it irrational for the atheist’s crusade to be against “religion” as a mo
nolithic entity THAT DOESN’T EXIST? Doesn’t it make more sense to crusade against dogmatic thinking, against irrationality itself, no matter where it makes its home?
I submit that anti-theists are fighting the wrong crusade. And if they would target dogmatic thinking instead, a great number of religious people would join them in their crusade as willing allies.
We will have found common ground.