Apr 24, 2010

Bookends of Intolerance

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

"I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred and contempt, and I claim that right... If I said to a Protestant or Quaker or Muslim, 'Hey, at least I respect your belief,' I would be telling a lie." 
~ Christopher Hitchens

A priest who ran my youth group told me something that has always stuck with me. There was a growing evangelical movement within the Episcopal Church at the time. It made him very uncomfortable. I asked him what his problem was with these fundamentalist Christians. He said, "I've just never met a group of people who were so sure that they were right and everybody else was wrong." I have to wonder what he thinks of the growing atheist movement. As I wrote here, there is an equal dogmatism and aggression to be found in modern atheism. Evangelists and atheists: I've come to think of them as bookends of intolerance.

It seems I'm not the only one who's noticed this parallel. Skye Jethani on The Huffington Post writes:

Atheists and evangelicals often find themselves on opposite sides of the cultural battle line -- and those battles are becoming more frequent. The rise of "New Atheism" via best-selling books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, and the emergence of what I call "Constitutional Evangelicalism" comprised of Christians more likely to know the Second Amendment than the Second Commandment, has inflamed the tensions between the two groups.

But the new breed of atheists and evangelicals may have more in common than they'd like to admit.

For example, some within New Atheism are proselytizing their beliefs with the fervor, and in come cases anger, more often associated with evangelicals. From an international ad campaign on buses dismissing belief in God, to rallies at universities inviting students to exchange their Bibles for pornography, atheists are no longer content with a live-and-let-live approach to those adhering to religion. Instead, they are actively trying to convert (or is the word un-convert?) the masses.

What makes me very nervous about both of these camps is the certitude. Certainty is the enemy of learning and growth. So people who are certain there is no god make me as uncomfortable as those who are certain that their god is The God. It's judgmental and divisive. Most importantly, it seeks to deprive people of their own, individual process of discovery. There is always something dangerous about enacting the belief that you have the answers not just for yourself but for everybody. You can't do that without stealing power from other people; without crushing their spirits. Sadly, this is what some of the most prominent atheists are doing, apparently oblivious to the irony.

It appears some New Atheists are incorporating the very traits they've often condemned about evangelicals -- intolerance, dogmatism, and now even the church's penchant for schism. It seems anything can be turned into a religion, even anti-religion.

"The God of Islam is not the same God. He's not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It's a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion." 
~ Franklin Graham

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