Sigfried Gold has a Washington Post column about the new atheist “churches” being set up. While some of the more strident atheist voices dislike the idea because it too closely replicates religion, Gold seems to think it’s a bad idea because it doesn’t sufficiently “respect” religious views. And by “respect” he means consider them equally likely to be true.
The market for new religions is so hot at the moment that atheists are getting into the act. Alain de Botton’s 2012 book “Religion for Atheists” exhorts nonbelievers to replicate the comforts of religion–the choirs, the beautiful architecture, the mutual aid and charity, rituals to mourn the dead–without all the faith claptrap. The Sunday Assembly and Jerry De Witt’s atheist church are two efforts that have received recent press. I am personally more sympathetic to Religious Naturalism or the Spiritual Naturalist Society, but I applaud all these developments, being an atheist who is particularly friendly toward religion in general. But I worry that some of the new religions or quasi-religions in the works may replicate some of the worst qualities of the old ones.
To my mind there is one measure by which religions can be judged that is arguably more important than all others: does it truly treat other religions and non-religious belief systems with respect and friendliness, refraining entirely from claiming that it holds exclusive or privileged access to the truth? This measure, I posit, is most important because without it, any claim that a religion makes to universal love, brotherhood, humanity, etc., is contradicted by the attitude its believers will take towards others with different beliefs.
I’ll take relativistic bullshit for $1000, Alex. First of all, ideas are not people. We can treat people with respect and friendliness (and should, most of the time), but the idea of treating “belief systems” that way is absurd. Secondly, the whole idea of “universal love” is a pie-in-the-sky fairy tale. And he shows just how committed he is to relativism here:
No, it can’t, unless they are just spouting this kind of new-agey nonsense. It simply isn’t true that all beliefs “have just as much claim on the truth.” If your religion teaches you that the earth is 6000 years old, that belief is false. Period. It has no claim on the truth because it is definitively disproven by the evidence, and no amount of holding hands and singing Kumbaya can change that. This position is not “philosophically sophisticated,” it is utter stupidity. And if he feels I’m not showing sufficient “respect” or “universal love” for his position, that’s just too bad.
Atheists have an amazing opportunity in this regard. It takes a considerable amount of philosophical sophistication for a believer to worship a God while granting that contrary beliefs have just as much claim on the truth as her own. For atheists and agnostics, though, this can be easy.
Worse yet, he specifically targets James Croft, of all people, as not being sufficiently loving and kind:
The effort to spread atheist quasi-religious communities will be continued by others, including James Croft. He visited DC recently with a talk he’s been giving around the country called “God is Dead. So What?” He is an engaging, funny, charismatic preacher, but one of his primary points in arguing for atheist congregations is that we atheists need our own churches, our own “echo chambers for values” to combat the political power of the religious right…
I come to religion to learn to love people different from myself, not to combat them. Religions have done great and amazing things in the name of social justice, but Martin Luther King showed more compassion for his racist jailers than Croft shows for conservative Christians.
If James Croft, one of the kindest and most generous people in the humanist community, is too harsh a voice for you, your criteria is seriously flawed.