Two days ago on The Friendly Atheist Chris Stedman offered the long-awaited response to criticism of his book Faitheist: read it here. I find it a thoughtful, balanced, and indeed rather wise expression of important Humanist values. Some choice excerpts below.
On New Atheism:
I’d like to make it clear that I intended merely to point to a specific set of behaviors, not New Atheism as a whole. I agree with New Atheists on many points, as when I wrote in that excerpt: “I believe that many New Atheist critiques of religion are correct and have helped many people find liberation from oppressive beliefs.” Additionally, I observed that the behaviors and memes I’m critical of in my book are probably promoted by a highly visible minority of atheists, not by all New Atheists. I take issue with a very particular sort of New Atheist activism: I believe that an exclusive focus on religion as the source of human problems is short-sighted, and that painting religious believers with sweeping generalizations is inaccurate and unfair. I can’t fairly dismiss all self-identified New Atheists, and I wouldn’t want to, because I work closely with many.
On Atheist Participation in Interfaith Efforts:
Interfaith engagement is unique because it puts religious differences to the forefront. We can no longer be tokenized as the atheist neighbor who happens to be a good person; instead, with our atheism at the forefront, we show how our Humanist beliefs inspire us to be good people. We demonstrate not only our shared values and a sense of common humanity, but we help legitimize atheists as a moral community.
The pursuit of truth matters. I believe that a naturalistic worldview that prioritizes scientific skepticism provides the best lens to consider our world. I have often relished debates about the legitimacy of religious claims. My worldview includes a commitment to critical inquiry — for example, I write in Faitheist about a conversation I had with a professor who urged me to consider using the word God when talking about justice. She argued for its symbolic weight, but I couldn’t sacrifice intellectual integrity. Ideas and words have consequences. Blind confidence in unsubstantiated beliefs can directly contribute to the problems our society faces. Well-reasoned conclusions, not faith-based dogma, ought to be the basis for public policy.
A commitment to knowledge is important, but it is not the only important commitment. In a world full of suffering and splintered by religious disagreements, I think we should sometimes prioritize the pursuit of justice over pursuing philosophical agreement — especially because hostile arguments over matters of truth frequently do little more than convince all involved of their own correctness. In the face of hostility, few people become more open; more often than not, we become defensive.
Another kind of conversation about religion and atheism is possible — one that seeks to balance disagreement with accuracy, truth with compassion, and a focus on our very real differences with a desire to work together for a better, less tribalistic, more rational world.