Michael Shermer has an interesting article in the September issue of Scientific American.
The article is called, “Rational Atheism: An open letter to Messrs. Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens” and basically is a call for unbelievers to limit our “irrational exuberance” and not to make fun of those who believe in woo. In short, Shermer is advocating the following five rules (each is explained in the article):
1. Anti-something movements by themselves will fail.
2. Positive assertions are necessary.
3. Rational is as rational does.
4. The golden rule is symmetrical.
5. Promote freedom of belief and disbelief.
(Hat tip to Hemant at The Friendly Atheist for the link and article summary.)
Shermer’s main point seems to be that people are and should be free to hold whatever beliefs they want. While I can’t disagree specifially with anything Shermer is saying here, and I want to feel the same way he does about this issue, I’m not completely sold.
A ex-fundamentalist friend of mine recently wrote this on her blog:
If you doubt [the fundies’] intentions, just look at where they’re putting their energies. Bitterly disappointed by the limits of government power, they are now focusing intently on accruing military power instead. Dave wrote about the OSU’s officially-sanctioned efforts to proselytize to our soldiers in Iraq. Other groups are targeting these soldiers after they come home, seeking to fill the hole left by the paucity of VA counseling and transition services. Mikey Weinstein has made the case that they’ve deeply infiltrated both the faculties and the cadet corps of our military academies. They’ve also made specific appeals to the military leadership: Jerry Boykin is far from the only general who puts his duty to God ahead of his duty to country, and being “born-again”Â is increasingly viewed as a requirement for promotion in certain areas of the service. And, through Ron Luce’s “Battle Cry”Â rallies, millions of teenagers are being schooled in the logic and aesthetics of spiritual (and real-life) warfare, priming the pipeline with another generation of Christian soldiers. Across the fundamentalist world, there’s a new militance. They’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it any more.
When I read things like this (and there are many sources for similar information online and in print, including Chris Hedgesâ€™s American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America), I think that Dawkins, Harris, etc., are not being strong enough in their rhetoric. After all, thatâ€™s all it is: talk. Atheists are not carrying weapons, bombing abortion clinics, beating up gays, or performing any other violent acts in the name of their (un)belief.
Is being nice and tolerating unfounded beliefs really the way to fight back against religious militants? I donâ€™t think it will work, frankly.
What do you think?