You Respond: Why be anti-religion?
For details/rules, please see The Unapologetics Challenge.
The next entry in the Unapologetics Challenge is a blog by 'valmorbia' or 'immanuel goldberg', Why be anti-religion?, which seems to be sincerely wondering why atheists speak out actively against religion. Unfortunately, he also falls into the trap of assuming that anyone who does is a "Militant Atheist" as opposed to a "Friendly Atheist". Though he doesn't want to "veer off into the more 'bitchy' things that anti-religion people do", he does make the claim that "there's no reason to be anti-religion". (Aside: Personally, I think the two are intimately connected.)
This one could be a good opportunity to defend both the reasons for being 'anti-religion' and the tactics of being 'bitchy' about it.
Got an angle on it? Try it out.
Why be anti-religion?
Actually it's just a little niggling question that's been with me for awhile now and I've just encountered yet another one of those instances, so now I'm writing this. I just wonder, why are so many people who are intelligent (and really quite logical and reasonable in many aspects) not satisfied with just being atheist, but have to be the sort of atheist who thinks that religion is some sort of scourge? To give an example of this sort of 'nice' atheist, check out this forum called "Friendly Atheist", I have yet to have a look at it, but my friend has given me a pretty thorough run-down of the place. "Friendly Atheist" is run by a guy who is an atheist, believes that everyone should be an atheist and that one day in a more enlightened future, everybody will be an atheist; everyone who posts on that forum is the same way, and they call themselves Friendly Atheists because they are polite and willing to talk to religious people until religious people finally see the Truth and 'convert' to their school of thought. And then, well, besides Friendly Atheists, there are also atheists who are not civil at all and they're called "Militant Atheists", these are the same as Friendly Atheists, except for a different, more aggressive demeanor. However, that's just an example to illustrate that people like that do exist and I'm not just inventing this so that I may vaunt the virtues of religion ... nothing of that sort. I'm just going to write a little about people who are not satisfied with not being religious themselves, but who also insist that others should be.
I'm a religious person, who practices and has faith in the truth value of my religion, and so this sort of attitude puzzles me for a number of reasons.
First of all, I notice that people who are anti-religion tend to lump all religions together and criticize religion as a homogenous group. That's quite misguided because religions are not all the same, and if people wish to criticize a religion, they ought to learn a little something about it first instead of accusing this vague entity (monolith?) that starts with a capital R. I'm not a Christian, so I often feel this annoyance and impatience mingled with slight dread when I read or hear atheist rhetoric that criticizes all religions for encouraging strife and fanaticism, for being a salve to the foolish (by promising them a wonderful afterlife), for being full of priests who only want money. No religion is actually like that, only certain sorts of Christianity that has been corrupted by human beings.
I could veer off into the more 'bitchy' things that anti-religion people do, and thus make the job of writing this thing easier, but I don't think I will. You'd most probably agree with me that the idea that some people hold, that religious people only do good things so that they can get a reward in the afterlife (ie. be selfish, small-minded and superstitious) is wrong and unsound logic on many levels. --And, well, if anyone doesn't agree with me, I'll save the argument for another day, because it's a pretty long one.
So, skipping past the anti-religious arguments about religion and religious people being a social ill, I'll go into a discussion of the truth value of religion (versus the truth value of atheistic beliefs). And I'll begin with a short definition of my understanding of atheistic beliefs, that is free of value judgement: to put it shortly, atheists believe that there is no divinity, and subscribe to a more materialist, empirical view of the world, that it is made of atoms and everything is caused by the laws of physics and chemistry and that life arises when the configuration of atoms and energy has reached a high enough level of sophistication. And since anti-religion people are atheists, anti-religious people hold these views.
Now, because anti-religion people hold a materialist, empirical view of the universe, they criticize religion for being fluffy, waffly, illogical. And why do they do this? Let's take their criticism of Christianity as an illustration (because no anti-religion person has yet had the guts to take on Buddhism...) Because, they say that the theory of evolution proves that the beasts and birds were not created all at once, they took millions of years of constant to change to get to be the way they are now. And because the rocks and mountains carry proof that the earth was formed over billions of years, not six days. I believe both the theory of evolution and the findings of geologists, however, as I have learnt from my sister, people did not read the Bible literally until very recent times. In fact, only Christian Fundamentalists, a class of people who pervert knowledge to their own ends (whatever it may be... just that this particular group chose to use a religion) read the Bible literally. So actually, six days might not mean six days as we know them now. For a Christian's argument on how the teachings of the Bible can be consistent with modern scientific discoveries, check out John Haught's interview at Salon.com.
Another problem that I have with anti-religion people is how they see religion as a sort of hysteria. I once came upon the journal of girl my age, and in one of her posts she wrote about how ridiculous this Christian practice of speaking in tongues was/is. While I'm not a Christian and therefore will never have a personal experience of speaking in tongues, I do understand that whatever it is, that's a private experience and therefore very hard to explicate to people who don't share the belief. But what I mean to say is that religion is about more than wild paroxysms, sensations and visions (although from reading the visionary experiences of saints, they really are a serious and soul-searing experience that people just misunderstand). In fact, religion isn't even about being a good member of society and reaching out to others, being kind etc. Religion is a sort of knowledge of what the universe is, it's a sort of metaphysics. When I read Dante's Purgatorio, that was the understanding I gained. As Dante and Virgil ascended that enormous mountain, they saw souls being cleansed of their sin and coming to an understanding of their wrongdoing, and consequently, understanding the immutable laws of the universe. And Dante learns something himself, and finally, when he meets Beatrice, the light of truth is startlingly bright, nothing he could have imagined and it's frightening at first.
Religion is essentially knowledge of what lies outside the self, and being religious is to be on a journey outside of the boundaries of the 'I', to come out of the obscurity we are born in. I don't see anything waffly or hysterical or illogical in that.
Anyway, to round things up, both the denial of and the belief in the existence of the divine are claims of universal knowledge. Religious people have reasons for what they believe, just as atheist people, and very often the reasons are convincing and do strike upon a glimmer of the truth. But to look at things from the perspective of an alien for whom such things are not important, both are claims of universal knowledge, which man cannot ever conclusively achieve. Therefore neither opinion can be said to be more sound. Therefore, there's no reason to be anti-religion. We should always be the best person we can be, and never give up trying to learn more.