An emailer to the Daily Dish violently misunderstands. To be honest, the strawmanning is so intense I'm shocked Patrick Appel posted it.
"Apparently, once you don't believe in a deity, any and all earthly concerns about the real, observable effects of religion in the world we all share become irrelevant."
Of course not. Look, if you're going to ignore the content of the post, I'm not sure why you would bother to engage at all. I oppose the actions that lead to these negative effects the same way that I oppose anything else, by participating in democracy. That opposition is independent of any belief or non-belief in religion. There are a whole host of arguments for the limitations on religious action that do not begin from an assumption of atheism. Indeed, a great number of them are referred to as "Enlightenment values." Again, I don't know why this is so hard to understand: many of the most vocal and effective defenders of the separation of church and state are religious and practicing. The large majority of the intellectual figures who devised the liberal Enlightenment values that compel us to separate church and state were themselves Christians. If you can't imagine how you can both believe and not want that belief to be involved in politics, science or medicine, I'm afraid that's simply a failure of your own imagination, and a flagrant one, considering that this is how most of the population of the world operates.
"Since Harris does not believe in a god he should not concern himself over the trifling matter of jihadists flying planes into buildings. Since Hitchens is an atheist the murder of teenage girls at the hands of their fundamentalist fathers, brothers and uncles should be of no concern to him."
This is a strawman of such pathetic character I'm tempted merely to ignore it. As I said, and I have always said, people do things out of religious conviction that must be opposed. Opposing those actions has nothing to do with eliminating the religious devotion that supposedly inspires them. Killing your teenage daughter is illegal regardless of why you intend to do it. It isn't the justification that matters. It's the action. Flying planes into buildings is an action. I am opposed to violent actions such at that whether they are undertaken for political or religious or any other reason. You stop a terrorist by killing him. You don't stop him by arguing away his religion, in part because it is precisely because of his fanaticism that he is immune to convincing.
"Later in the post he makes the almost as ridiculous claim that though of course there are people who would like to force their religious views on the rest of us and this must be fought against (gee, I forget, who are the strongest voices against this sort of thing....Sam something, Christopher someone else) the underlying truth of the religious claims on which policies are formed is irrelevant to the discussion. How someone is supposed to make the argument that a religiously mandated death penalty for homosexuality can be argued against without touching the underlying theology and rationality he does not say."
Simple: by arguing that his religious beliefs are inappropriate justification in political discourse in a democracy, the same way we have been doing for hundreds of years. People have been arguing the separation of church and state without pushing for atheism since the idea of such a separation was created. Really, this is elementary stuff, dude.
Let's talk tactics, shall we? This emailer with the terrible reading comprehension and I have as a first goal the same thing, which is keeping religious conviction out of politics, science and medicine. The history of the world teaches us that this is best accomplished not through atheism but through religious moderation. This is something many atheists must come to grips with if they are ever going to grow up: religious moderates do a far better job of opposing extremists than atheists do. Look, aside from all of the "American theocracy" hysterics, this country does quite a good job of keeping the secular and the religious separate. There is much work to be done, but this is not Saudia Arabia, it is not Yemen. And why? Not because of atheism, but because of moderate religious people who have worked to divide theology from governance for centuries. When people express incredulity at the idea that people can both be practicing and religious and yet function in a secular society, I wonder what world they live in. Here on Planet Earth, in America, you interact with such people every day. They seem to have no trouble with it whatsoever.
Look to the Muslim world. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. It has a significant Muslim minority. And yet it also has significant Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities that live quite unmolested. Women wear pants, work in public, vote, hold office. Why? Not because some tide of atheism swept through Indonesia, but because of religious moderates embracing Enlightenment values and liberal democracy. I assure you, the large majority of these people are devout. They simply see no conflict between their religious devotion and their participation in civic life. If denying terrorism or other kinds of religious extremism can come only through the enforcement of atheism-- if I am compelled, as this emailer insists, to wish to convert the unfaithful-- then the prospects of liberal democracy and Enlightenment values are threatened indeed. Those values defend the religious as well as the areligious.
There is a lot of nonsense in the competing claims of the public face of atheism, but none is more obvious than what claims it is credulous to and what it is overly skeptical about. Many atheists, presumably like this emailer, have overly skeptical opinions about the ability of most religious believers to balance religious and civic life. Again, you probably know many people who believe, go to church, and yet never think to inject their religion into politics. Balanced against that is a frankly absurd naivete about the power of argument to convince people to abandon God or religion altogether. Which do you think is easier? To convince someone who has religious faith to totally abandon that identity? Or to convince them of the righteousness of dividing it from political life? Elementary human psychology teaches me that the more you attack the fundamental basis for someone's worldview, the more likely you are to earn violent pushback as a result. If you are a liberal, you don't try to bring a conservative around on a particular issue by asking him to abandon conservatism altogether. You ask him to reconsider the issue at hand, and you do so in a way that demonstrates respect to that larger overarching belief.
This is not fun. You can't post a vlog about it on Youtube and get people applauding you for it. You can't posit that you are one of the few brilliant geniuses in a sea of idiocy by doing it. You can't come up with all sorts of self-aggrandizing narratives with it. But it is the basic task of liberal democracy and it is the path of adulthood.
I have written about a great many controversial topics since I started blogging. I never get email that is more angry or embittered than I do when I criticize militant atheism. Why? I think it's because, for most people, atheism is not just inimical to belief in God. It is inimical to pluralism. Some people just don't like to be disagreed with. Left unchecked, that can devolve to obsession with the people who you oppose. And that's exactly the poverty which I described, being defined by what you aren't.
Update: A commenter at Secular Right quotes this (perfect) passage:
I was reminded of the English novelist Howard Jacobson’s brilliant insight about Holocaust deniers: “You will know them because they know more about the Jewish religion than you do. As soon as you meet one of those, and think, by God they’ve got a lot of quotations, by God they know everything about Jews—then that’s what they are. And what cheers me about all this, is that your true anti-Semite, like your true Holocaust denier, is doomed to a kind of Dante-esque hell of living among Jewish things, Jewish books, Jewish artifacts. You can see them in the library, they’ve got the Talmud up here, and they’re burrowing away to find more and more evidence against the Jews. Few Jews live a more perfect scholarly Jewish life.”