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Austin Cline

Is There a Growing Atheist Backlash Against Christians?

By December 3, 2006

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Atheistic critiques of religion and religious belief are nothing new. Atheists have been raising objections to religion and pointing out problems in religion for centuries. It isn't even new that these critiques are getting widespread attention — freethinkers Joseph McCabe and Robert Green Ingersoll reached a large number of people. Why, then, are some Christians treating atheists and their criticisms today as if there was some sort of massive movement against Christianity?
[Christian author and philosopher Os] Guinness says, "The backlash against Christian faith in general is mounting, and now in certain circles is becoming quite vicious and vehement."

He hopes there can be a respectful exchange of ideas somewhere between the militant extremes of religious violence and militant atheism.

Source: KTHV Little Rock

Notice how Guinness contrasts "religious violence" and "militant atheism" as if they were opposites on the same spectrum. This is a reprehensible distortion of reality because there is nothing even remotely comparable between the two. On the one side are religious believers who are willing and able to justify torture, mass murder, and terrorism on the basis for their religion; on the other side are atheists who use harsh words, pointed criticism, and sometimes even mockery to make their case against religion.

Os Guinness sounds upset that atheists aren't willing to moderate their criticisms and treat religion with the sort of respect, deference, and honor which religious believers do. That, however, is no excuse to depict such atheists as though they were the equivalent of violent religious terrorists. If Os Guinness is sincere in his wish that there can be a "respectful exchange" between atheists and theists, then the first step will be for him to stop misrepresenting atheists like this; so long as he continues, he communicates to us that he's more interested propping himself up at others' expense.

Sadly, he's not alone in this sort tactic...

What worries [Robert Wright, a visiting lecturer at Princeton University] most about the new atheists is that they might undercut the very thing that makes America work as a civil society. "We restrain ourselves from saying bad things about religion, from talking about it at the dinner table. These guys want to talk about religion at the dinner table."

Source: U.S. News

Since when has "America" traditionally avoided talking about religion at the dinner table? I know that there is a traditional saying about not discussing religion and politics at the dinner table, but that saying keeps being brought up because people keep doing it anyway — discussing religion and politics is not something Americans are shy about.

As Daylight Atheism observes, "I am puzzled by the assumption on display here that discussing religion openly is somehow a bad thing." The answer here, I think, is that people are not really trying to say that discussing religion openly is a bad thing — what they are trying to say is that being critical of religion and openly dissenting from the attitude that religion automatically deserves respect and deference is a bad thing.

Robert Wright's statement is misleading because he makes clear what he means at the beginning when he says "We restrain ourselves from saying bad things about religion," but then deflects attention from that by "explaining" this with something else, "...from talking about it at the dinner table. These guys want to talk about religion at the dinner table."

The second half, because it derives from popular saying, appears unobjectionable and reasonable. If we examine the first half, which is what he's really driving at, then we find that what he wants is objectionable and unreasonable: Robert Wright is claiming that we shouldn't say bad things about religion. Instead, we should be respectful of and deferential towards religion, exactly what religious believers want and exactly what gives the impression that religion is inherently good, positive, and worthy of belief.

That, however, is the opposite of many atheistic critique of religion. What this means, then, is people like Robert Wright want to completely undercut those critiques by portraying them as inherently unreasonable. There is no effort to engage the critiques specifically or to address their content. People like Robert Wright may disagree with those critiques, but there is no effort to explain how the critique are unreasonable, unfair, or incorrect.

Instead, they are trying to prevent the critiques from ever being aired to begin with by portraying them as contrary to whatever "makes America work as a civil society." Since when has America required people to hush up criticism of powerful traditions and institutions? This is both ethically and intellectually deplorable and I hope that no atheists, freethinkers, or skeptics take him seriously. If anything, his statement should be treated as a sign that atheistic critiques of religion are starting to afflict the comfortable and discomfit those who had grown used to their positions of intellectual respectability. In other words, it's a sign that atheistic critiques of religion may be having an impact and that's a reason to keep pressing forward.

Comments
December 8, 2006 at 9:06 pm
(1) Paul Buchman says:

I thought that not discussing religion and politics at the dinner table was a form of politeness because people tend to disagree about them, thus disrupting the pleasant holiday meal.

Protestant Christianity in America appears to be fragmenting, thus creating more disagreements. So it would seem wise to avoid the subject if you want to enjoy the meal.

Until recently, atheists weren’t even on most people’s radar. I think the “no religion at the table” crowd want to avoid theological disagreements.

December 9, 2006 at 10:43 am
(2) JayFTL says:

When people say “Religious views should be respected”, what they really mean is, “MY religious views should be respected”.

September 25, 2008 at 12:39 am
(3) Bill Peters says:

Don’t Christians and other Belivers have just as many rights to practice and Teach there Religion as atheist do or do you belive that Atheist have all the answers and all others should be baned. The Article in this weeks newsweek makes me mad because It makes it sound like the only people who have rights to lead or Belive are Atheist and no one else…the constution does defend our right to pratice religion and I personaly think that trying to force Atheism on Belivers in God is somehow a break in that holy grail of Atheism called Seperation of Church and State,by the way those words never apear in our constution but do in the constutions of the USSR’s as well as the Peoples Republic of China,North Korea and Cuba so why don’t Atheist want to live there?

September 25, 2008 at 6:38 am
(4) Austin Cline says:

Don’t Christians and other Belivers have just as many rights to practice and Teach there Religion

Of course they do. Is there anything in the above article which even implies differently?

The Article in this weeks newsweek makes me mad because It makes it sound like the only people who have rights to lead or Belive are Atheist

So, a single article by a single atheist criticizing a single Christian gets you “mad”? Did you ever complain about all the attacks atheists have to read about atheism in all sorts of media?

Seperation of Church and State,by the way those words never apear in our constution but do in the constutions of the USSR’s as well as the Peoples Republic of China,North Korea and Cuba so why don’t Atheist want to live there?

The phrases “right to a fair trial” and “separation of powers” also don’t appear in the Constitution. What do you think that means?

September 26, 2008 at 9:33 pm
(5) TomEdgar says:

Nobody wishes to restrict your right to believe nor to disagree and make denigratory remarks towards “Non Believers.”

The objection is that “Believers” wish to restrict, or at least control, how we atheists
should behave towards religions.

I have said before and I now reiterate. I think religion is childish superstition.
The indoctrination from birth is the self perpetuating reason for all of the religions surviving.
Most religious people maintain the basic beliefs with which they were originally brainwashed.

Jesus, Mohamed, Abraham, et al. Were all either in the same category as the aforementioned, alternatively they were religiously demented, or opportunists motivating others for self aggrandaisment. They were certainly, in my opinion, mentally unstable when seeing apparitions, angels etc., quite possibly schizoid/manic depressives.

I have absolutely no respect for any of the religions. I have respect for your right to disagree. Your right to believe, and I respect the Believer. I was married to one for 46 years.

tomedgar@halenet.com.au

September 27, 2008 at 6:40 am
(6) Zack says:

…by the way those words never apear in our constution but do in the constutions of the USSR’s as well as the Peoples Republic of China,North Korea and Cuba so why don’t Atheist want to live there? — Bill Peters on September 25, 2008 at 12:39 am

The phrase “separation of church and state” was coined by Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Baptists of Danbury. You have heard of Thomas Jefferson, right?

I have not read the constitutions of China or North Korea, and I suspect that neither have you. I would be a little surprised if those countries even have constitutions. The U.S.S.R., of course, has been out of business for nearly two decades.

What is the deal with you Christians, constantly making up your “facts”? Doesn’t your Bible have a rule against bearing false witness? Aren’t you placing yourself at risk of hellfire when you ignore it?

February 7, 2011 at 7:55 am
(7) Qlidnaque says:

I always find it rude of Christians and religious people in general how they think they deserve some kind of respect.

When one person believes in superstition, he’s called mentally ill, when many people believe it, it’s called religion.

And if your wondering why your religion is still getting hammered, maybe it’s because religion does a lot of things to make itself a legitimate target.

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