Silly Beliefs

Gunther Dawn writes:

In the otherwise brilliant introduction to Believer Beware, Jeff Sharlet glibly overstuffs the following Straw Man of false equivalence: “It is not enough for the new atheists to simply not believe; what matters is making sure that you don’t believe. They are evangelists; and like evangelicalism itself—a faith built around the Great Commission and a hope for the conversion of every man, woman, and child—their cause is hopeless.”

I challenge any of you to find written or spoken evidence of this. On the contrary, the so-called “New Atheists”, (at least the famous ones so often mischaracterized by accommodationists and creationists alike as a way of finding some common ground) are usually careful to state that they have no problem with silly religious beliefs as long as they don’t corrupt education, science, and politics or infringe on the freedoms of others. This conversation can only progress if the sides are depicted accurately.

Dear Gunther — I’m a big fan of the song “Which Side Are You On” and the clarity it demands of us in moral situations, especially the kind where there are company goons on the other side. But in this fight, I’m playing both sides. Hell, I was a keynote speaker at the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s annual convention last year! While I was there, I met a bunch of fabulous, passionate, intelligent folks who absolutely believed that it was important that others not believe. Why? Because they think “silly religious beliefs” can’t help but corrupt education, science, politics, or infringe on the freedom of others.

And, as an admirer of silly religious beliefs, I agree. It’s the rare religious belief of any level of seriousness that has no bearing on education, science, politics, or the meaning of freedom. So those New Atheists who offer that out are setting up an impossible standard. That’s fine. That’s what silly beliefs are all about. God bless ’em, each and every one.

Jeff Sharlet is a founding editor of Killing the Buddha, coauthor with Peter Manseau of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (2004) and co-editor of Believer, Beware (2009). Sharlet is also the author of Sweet Heaven When I Die, (2011), C Street, (2010), and the New York Times bestseller The Family (2008).