No, Atheists Don't Have to Show "Respect" for Religion
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I've been in a lot of debates with religious believers over the years. And some of the ugliest, nastiest, most bigoted anti-atheist rhetoric I've heard has come from progressive and moderate believers espousing the supposedly tolerant principles of ecumenicalism. I've been called a fascist, a zealot, a missionary; I've been called hateful, intolerant, close-minded, dogmatic; I've been compared to Glenn Beck and Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler more times than I can count. All by progressive and moderate believers, who were outraged at the very notion of atheists pointing out the flaws in religious ideas and making an argument that these ideas are probably not true. Progressive and moderate believers who normally are passionate advocates for free expression of ideas will get equally passionate about demanding that atheists shut the hell up. Progressive and moderate believers who normally are all over the idea of diversity and multiculturalism will get intensely defensive of homogeny when one of the voices in the rich cultural tapestry is saying, "I don't think God exists, and here's why."
In a way, I can see it. Ecumenicalism is a big, comfy love-fest. (Or, to use a less polite metaphor, a big, happy circle-jerk.) Everyone stands around telling each other how wonderful they are, how fascinating their viewpoint is, how much they contribute to humanity's rich and evolving vision of God. Everyone is self-deprecating about how their own vision of God is of course human and flawed and limited, and how they're both humbled and uplifted to see such different perspectives on him/ her/ it/ them/ whatever. Everyone tells the story of the six blind men and the elephant, and how God is too vast and complex and unfathomable for any one person to perfectly understand him, and how all these different religions are just perceiving different aspects of his immensity. And no one ever says anything critical, or even seriously questioning. About anyone. Ever. It's one gigantic mutual admiration society.
And then atheists come along, and ruin everyone's party. Atheists come along and say, "Well, actually, we don't think any of you are getting it right." Atheists come along and ask hard questions, like, "You actually have important differences between your religions -- how do you decide which one is true?" Or, "Religion has never once in all of human history turned out to be the right answer to any question -- why would you think it's the right answer to anything we don't currently understand?" Or, "If there's no way your belief can be proven wrong, how do you know that it's right?" Or, "Why do the six blind men just give up? Why don't they compare notes and trade places and carefully examine the elephant and actually try to figure out what it is? You know -- the way we do in science? Why doesn't this work with religion? Sure, if God existed, he/she/it/they would be vast and complex and hard to fathom... and what, the physical universe isn't? Doesn't the fact that this never, ever works with religion strongly suggest that it's all made up, and there is, in fact, no elephant?" Atheists come along and make unnerving points, like, "The fact that you can't come to any consensus about religion isn't a point in your favor -- it's actually one of the strongest points against you." Atheists come along, like the rain god on everyone's parade, and say things like, "What reason do any you have to think any of this is true?"
No wonder they don't like us.
Which leads me to the final objection I have to religious ecumenicalism, and by far the most important one: