The Catholic faith teaches that we can make common cause with anybody of good will. Not about everything, of course, but about things we agree on. So, for instance, an atheist who believes in liberty and says, “I disagree with every word you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it” is somebody Catholics can work with. (An atheist who wishes to smash belief and murder believers, not so much.)
Recently, a group of atheists have complained to the UN that they are being persecuted “around the globe“. They complain that “atheism was banned by law in a number of states where people were forced to officially adopt a faith.” They noted that “In Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan ‘atheists can face the death penalty on the grounds of their belief.’”
Now, you may have noticed a certain common thread linking the countries where atheism is criminalized and even subjected to the death penalty. You may also have noticed that “the globe” basically means “the Islamosphere” and that the likelihood of somebody being arrested or killed for their atheism in America, Europe, Russia, Australia, or New Zealand is lower than the chance of being killed by lightning. Indeed, in some despotic countries, such as England or China, it is religious believers–well, actually *Christian* religious believers when it comes to England–who stand a high chance of being punished at law by the tin-plated atheist dictators filled with delusions of godhood. The worst that happens to atheists outside the Islamosphere is that you get unfriended on Facebook for being a socially maladept jerk who can’t see why people don’t recognize your superiority to them and who laugh off fellow atheist Phil Plait’s exhortation “Don’t Be a D–k” as the ravings of somebody who is soft on Reason and Science.
Still and all, outlawing and killing atheists for their atheism is bad and the Church, which teaches that belief must not be coerced, is agin it. It is also, by the way, agin the punishment and murder of Christians for being Christian. Islam and modern atheism are both, in their own curious ways, reactions against and derivations from the Christian tradition. Both have hived off with favorite mystical doctrines from the Christian tradition and set them up as the Only Things That Matter. (Monotheism and the sovereignty of God for Islam; the goodness and utility of human reason and the sciences for modern atheism.) So the question is, can people in either system find the wherewithal to look outside their cramped mental universes to the find things in the Catholic tradition that will help supply what is missing (and therefore frustrating to a flourishing human person). In many ways, Islam is actually *more* open than modern atheism, which is enjoying a bit of a resurgence and which therefore is feeling its oats and is full of cockiness and evinces little capacity for self-doubt. A number of Islamic leaders have actually had discussions with Pope Benedict. Benedict, to be sure has also had conversations with certain prominent European atheists, but these guys have very little impact on the “New Atheists” who are basically the simple-minded carnival barkers like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett who gin up the Internet troops with pious nostrums and mantras in the service of their religion.
What’s fascinating to me is that, in the conflict between Islam and the new atheism, everybody on both sides uses the language of Victimism. Speech defending the Muslim policies of persecution against non-Muslims is always cast in language that portrays the persecutor as the victim:
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the council on Monday there was a “rising trend” of Islamophobia, adding: “We condemn all sorts of incitement to hatred and religious discrimination against Muslims and people of other faiths.”
This is from the Islamosphere’s *freest* state. Meanwhile, in the West, we likewise see a curious timidity about acknowledging where the problem is–and this includes from atheists who complain that they are persecuted “around the globe” when what they actually mean is “Muslims persecute atheists in Muslim countries”. They do this partly because they are too cowardly to single out Islam as the central force for religious persecution in the world today and partly because, in their bigotry toward Christians, they want to play the game of “If you’ve seen one Abrahamic belief, you’ve seen them all.” The sensible thing, of course, would be to make common cause with Christians on the matter of freedom of–as well as from–religion. But that would require, you know, making common cause with religious believers and one may get cooties or even, Flying Spaghetti Monster forbid, start to see them as good and intelligent people and not buck-toothed morons from the Ozarks. It will be interesting to see if atheists are able to overcome their own bigotries in order to make common cause with Christians regarding the intolerance of the Islamosphere.