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No, Atheists Don't Have to Show "Respect" for Religion

Progressive believers often ignore religious differences in the name of tolerance. But this ecumenicalism promotes anti-atheist hostility and shows a disregard for the truth.

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They don't see that there's a third option.

They don't see that there's an option of respecting the important freedom of religious belief... while retaining the right to criticize those beliefs, and to treat them just like we'd treat any other idea we think is mistaken. They don't see the option of being passionate about the right to religious freedom, of fully supporting the right to believe whatever you like as one of our fundamental human rights... while at the same time seeing the right to criticize ideas we don't agree with as an equally fundamental right. They don't see the option of debating and disagreeing without resorting to hatred and violence. They don't see the option of disagreeing with what people say, while defending to the death their right to say it.

You know. The option advocated by most atheist activists.

I will say this: If the only religious believers in the world were progressive and moderate ecumenical ones, most atheists wouldn't care very much. We'd still disagree with religion; we'd still think it was implausible at best and ridiculous at worst. But it wouldn't really get up our noses that much. We'd see it about the same way we see, say, urban legends, or those Internet forwards your Aunt Tilda keeps sending you: kind of silly, mildly annoying, but mostly harmless, and not worth getting worked up about. (And, in fact, while I disagree pretty strongly with ecumenical believers, I'm happy to share a world with them, to work in alliance with them on issues we have in common, to sit down at the dinner table with them and enjoy a long evening of food and booze and conversation. As long as we don't talk about religion.)

But ecumenicalists are not the only believers. Not by a long shot. When it comes to religion, "live and let live" believers are very much in the minority. And progressive and moderate religion lends an unfortunate credibility to the conservative and extreme varieties. It lends credibility to the idea that faith is more valuable than evidence; to the idea that it's completely reasonable to believe things we have no good reason to think are true; to the idea that wishful thinking is a good enough reason to believe something. It lends credibility to all the things about religion that makes it most uniquely harmful.

And this ecumenical attitude that reality is an annoying distraction from the far more important business of feeling good -- and that insisting on reality is an ugly form of bigoted intolerance -- is part and parcel of this unique armor religion has built against valid criticism, questioning, and self- correction.

It is not a protection against the evils of religion.

It is one of them.

Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.

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