Aren’t atheists just as bad as religious people in telling people what to think? Atheists criticize religions for shoving their ideas down other people’s throats and at the very core of the New Atheism movement is the same arguments rehashed but with a more caustic tone coupled with forcefulness. How can you criticize people for spreading their religious ideas when you are doing the exact same thing?
The danger of this perspective is similar to that of many other theistic perspectives. On the surface, this perspective sounds reasonable and good. Similarly, it sounds reasonable and fair to say we should “respect everyone’s beliefs.” I find it morally degrading to even say that I respect, for example, the opinions of a homophobe regarding homosexuals. Beliefs are not inherently worthy of respect; respect must be earned.
The first disagreement I have to these claims is due to atheism simply meaning that one lacks a belief in a God or Gods. There is nothing inherent in this definition that makes it a religion. It is therefore not the spreading of a religious belief, which is what some criticize. To some, atheism is a religion. I ask those people then, is it even possible to not be religious? This is what most people mean by atheist. But what about the people who do more than simply not believe? The New Atheists involve themselves in many avenues to spread their opinions. Why isn’t this just as wrong and aren’t we hypocritical?
My second disagreement with this perspective is that there are additional central differences between atheism and religion. Religious claims are mostly demonstrably false. For example, the Earth being 6,000 years old or creationism are demonstrably false, but many of their other claims are as well. As for the remainder of the claims they have not met the burden of proof of their claims. Vocal atheists mostly point to these facts. One of the major “I gotcha!” arguments theists use against atheists are some of the following:
“Well, then how did we get here?”
“What is the meaning of everything?”
“Why is there something rather than nothing?”
Atheists do not have definitive or complete answers to these questions (though we do progressively have more answers every day through science). That is not the weakness of atheism; it is the strength of atheism. Atheists do not make unjustifiable and significant claims about the nature of the universe or existence.
My third contention with this perspective is the belief that religion is harmless and we should just leave people alone. It is through the guise of friendliness and kindness that religion does the most harm. Some of the most obvious examples, of which there are many more, are: the disenfranchisement of homosexuals, promoting the distrust of science, infusing politics with nonsense, denying a woman’s right to choose, and the spread of HIV in Africa. All of these are done in the name of good and in the name of God. Likewise, so many historical wrongdoings are justified by belief. There was a recent article on the CNN Belief Blog illustrating how belief was used on both sides of the Civil War to justify or condemn slavery — this is an excellent example of how belief is a poor basis to determine anything as there is often diametrically opposed views, both of which have members who claim they have God on their side.
It is these individuals who participate and count themselves among the numbers of religious that add to this problem. For example, politicians pander to religion because they know so many people are religious. Religion is harmful to the democratic process because it allows public figures like Sarah Palin to rise to power through mostly nonsense arguments and restatements of her faith and religious conviction. Additionally, donations to the Catholic Church and international support to avoid trials and subsequent justice in child abuse cases are directly related to individual support of the Church. To remove these overlying social problems, individuals must change.
Lastly, atheists do not spread their gospel the way theists do. Many theists go door to door, in early hours of the morning. Atheists do no such thing. Theists also often use threats to spread their message, such as threats of hell and the wrath of God. In the case of Christianity and Islam, the religion itself spread through violence. Atheists by and large protect freedom of religion. We recognize that it is a marketplace of ideas and that free inquiry will uncover the truth. It is theists who so often cross the line of church and state.