Thank God for the Atheists

Without the challenges of the atheists, religion would have more of a free pass than it already has.

If you truly believe in a religion, then you do not try to suppress criticism, you try to answer it. If you truly believe in your scriptures, then you show others how right they are, how beautiful their teachings can be. You don't try to insult and bully all your opponents. You try to win them over.

Without the challenges and questions of atheists, there's no doubt in my mind that religious fanaticism would be more fanatical, mysticism would be more esoteric, triumphalism would be more militant.

Religion is power. Good people use religion to do powerfully good things. Bad people use religion to exploit and mislead.

So I read Dawkins (“The God Delusion”) and Harris (“Letter to a Christian Nation”) and I say Bravo. Stand up for your beliefs. Their books are not really that good. But they have the right and the obligation to preach their atheism.

In today's New York Times, Kristoff criticizes these folks for being too "fundamentalist" in their attacks on religion. He is right, that these are vocal critics who are getting some attention. And clever.

Kristoff says, "If God is omniscient and omnipotent, you can’t help wondering why she doesn’t pull out a thunderbolt and strike down Richard Dawkins. Or, at least, crash the Web site of http://www.whydoesgodhateamputees.com/. That’s a snarky site that notes that while people regularly credit God for curing cancer or other ailments, amputees never seem to enjoy divine intervention."

Snarky is slang meaning, "describes a witty mannerism, personality, or behavior that is a combination of sarcasm and cynicism. Usually accepted as a complimentary term. Snark is sometimes mistaken for a snotty or arrogant attitude."

Spokesmen for religion and atheism on both sides of this debate could be "mistaken for snotty or arrogant." But indeed the web site in question and the atheists in question -- cannot be dismissed. If God is reponsible for all things, then is he indeed the most egregious abortionist? Kristoff quotes Harris:

Mr. Harris mocks conservative Christians for opposing abortion, writing: “20 percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. There is an obvious truth here that cries out for acknowledgment: if God exists, He is the most prolific abortionist of all.”
Kristoff calls his essay, "A Modest Proposal for a Truce on Religion." He cites all the good religion does in the world, building hospitals, helping the weak and unfortunate. True enough, but not the point.

I disagree with Kristoff's proposal. This is not a war -- so there is no call for a truce.

We need more criticism of religion, not less. We need more challenges to theologians, not fewer.

Many of the theologians that I know are lazy and complacent. Others have become bullies rather than teachers.

A good challenge is healthy. It is at the heart of the American way to encourage the free expression of all ideas. It is at the core of academic freedom to subject all assertions to critical scrutiny.

Really now Mr. Kristoff. You are calling for a truce between an obscure web site and two best-selling critics of religion on the one side and three billion proponents of religion on the other.

Come back to the planet earth.

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