Monday, April 17, 2006


Judging Religion

Do those of us in the skeptical community sometimes, falsely, conflate all religious belief with its several fundamentalist variants? Writing in The Guardian, Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford, accuses atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett of focusing "exclusively on the worst examples and excesses of religion."

"From time to time," writes Harries, "I see American creationist magazines with articles by people claiming to have doctorates in science. Judging religion only on the basis of its least credible examples is as though I judged all science on the basis of creationist science."

Part of the reason for the fireworks between secularists and some believers is that biblical literalists are making a concerted effort to write their narrow, sectarian religious beliefs, based on a tendentious biblical literalism, into the law. They demand that all of us, no matter what our beliefs may be, pray to their god -- even worse, they demand that our children pray to their god in tax-supported public schools.

In the current situation, it is natural that those of us who defend religious tolerance and separation of church and state speak out in the strongest terms against the fundamentalist onslaught.

Non-believers have rights.

We have the right to say, as Bertrand Russell once did: “I do not pretend to be able to prove that there is no God. I equally cannot prove that Satan is a fiction. The Christian god may exist; so may the gods of Olympus, or of ancient Egypt, or of Babylon. But no one of these hypotheses is more probable than any other: they lie outside the region of even probable knowledge, and therefore there is no reason to consider any of them.”

That being said, we also have duties.

Those duties include defending, effectively, freedom of religion, freedom from religion, science and reason, tolerance, the rights of minorities, freedom of speech, and separation of church and state.

As a minority, non-believers must make alliances with others who will fight with us to defend those values.

That's why we should be careful not to conflate people of faith who will work with us to defend secular government with those fundamentalists who work tirelessly to establish theocratic rule.


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