Hi Friendly Atheist friends! Mike Clawson here. I know it’s been forever since I’ve posted (that’s the problem with graduate school – it doesn’t leave you much time to write anything not class related), but I recently came across an interesting article on AlterNet.org that I wanted to share with y’all. Titled “Should I Quit My Religion? Some Questions for the New Atheists,” the author, a Unitarian/Universalist, challenges the New Atheist claim that “moderate religion”
is just as bad as fundamentalism provides legitimacy or justification for extremist religion. (UPDATE: My apologies for being too general in my earlier statement. I assumed y’all would know which arguments I was referring to, but I should have been more precise.)
For his first counter-argument the author questions the logic of such a claim in the first place:
The first question I have for Harris and Dawkins is this, do other liberal and moderate things justify their extreme forms? For example if Harris drinks liberally or moderately shall we conclude that he lends credibility or legitimacy to alcoholism? Does his liberal behavior justify the tens of thousands of deaths each year which are attributable to alcohol abuse? Why? Why not? Does the pot smoker give credence to the heroin addict? How about politics? Does the liberal congressman Dennis Kucinich lend credibility to the Bush administration era policies that led to torture, war and occupation? Is Kucinich guilty for associating with the political system despite his fierce criticism of U.S. Imperialism? Was it enough for congressmen to speak out against the Vietnam War? Or should they have rid themselves of all government? Following Harris’ logic one could also say that the child building a baking soda volcano for her science fair legitimizes the most dangerous nuclear weapons that we have ever known because they both employ science. Can you think of any other real world examples that the logic of Dawkins or Harris would actually apply to? Or is this only true when it comes to religion? If so, what is unique about religion that makes this principle valid?
If the new atheists engaged in modern theological study they would read things like this from Pacific School of the Religion (PSR) Biblical studies professor and Methodist lay minister Jeffrey Kuan, “All talk of God is a construct.” It was in my Bible studies class at PSR that I first learned that the Exodus was not a real historical event and it was in my Christian history class that my professor said, “You can’t prove the existence of Jesus.” It is also where I read “Is God a White Racist?” by the black theologian William Jones. Any mainstream or progressive seminary such as Harvard, Yale, Duke, Union, Emory, Pacific School of the Religion (PSR) or my school Starr King School teaches a critical, historical and scientific understanding of the Bible, Christianity and religion. If the goal is to get people reflecting on why they believe what they believe, to understand the history of Christianity and Empire, to see how patriarchy and racism are within traditional theology and to employ reason, science and archaeology in religion then the new atheists have a friend in many seminaries and religious institutions.
And anyone involved in causes like civil rights or the queer liberation movement knows that religious people are on the forefront of them. Yes, of course much of the bigotry advanced is done so by religious people and institutions. However, there are many queer religious leaders and lay people who are passionately engaged in issues of social justice and human rights. The “you’re either with us or against us” approach of the new atheists isn’t helpful because it negates the contributions of religious people in the reforming of religion and the resisting of injustice. The reality is that liberal religious people have done way more to effectively transform religion than any atheist ever has or will.
Of course, I wouldn’t expect that everyone here will agree with his arguments (and as he points out, he’s open to being persuaded otherwise), but either way, it is a well-written piece from someone (like myself) who is sympathetic towards atheist concerns and causes, and would prefer to see atheists and liberal religious people work together on the larger problems of society rather than being mutually dismissive of each other. I thought it might provide good fodder for discussion. You can read the rest of the article here.