Last month I got a profanity-laced voicemail from a Florida reader who wanted to express his displeasure about all religious ideals. But more specifically, the inebriated caller thought that I was – and I paraphrase here – “an excrement-filled individual who was intent on reselling his manure to the masses.”
If I’d thought his rambling commentary merited a return call, I’d have asked him, “Hasn’t the world suffered enough from intolerant religions without adding your irreligious intolerance?”
The caller demonstrated a more intense atheism known as “anti-theism.” While it’s not an organized movement, a Religion News Service poll reveals that anti-theists compose 15% of atheists.
Their nonbelief is well defended by vocal writers like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. In his book “End of Faith,” the anti-theist Harris concludes that 9/11 makes it necessary to rid the world of all religion. Dawkins recently predicted the end of religion by 2041.
In his 2006 book “The God Delusion,” Dawkins asked readers to “Imagine a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch hunts … no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money.” His reference to televangelists is most ironic, as he’s downright evangelical in his effort to convert religious people to the anti-theist viewpoint.
If we are to imagine a world without religion, then we must also imagine a planet without Martin Luther King and Gandhi. What would the world be like without church soup kitchens, homeless shelters and Catholic hospitals such as the one that employees me?
Perhaps anti-theists can envision the absence of faith-based projects efforts to eliminate fight ebola, malaria, sex trafficking and the ISIS genocide. But I can’t. I can’t imagine a world without the believers, who far out-give anti-theists to help refugees from famine, wars and natural disasters.
But, hey, if you can be so imaginative, I challenge you to reinvent a place without the atheistic leadership of Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler. Of course the truth is that evil will exist with or without religion because bad people will always find a way to pursue their agenda of hate.
The best we can do is to deny intolerance from both varieties – religious or irreligious. We do that by making room for the conversation.
Fortunately, I know that many agnostics and atheists seek these conversations. They are people who put the human in “humanist.” When I ask them what they want from the faith community, they commonly give two answers.
First, they ask that religious people discard the assumption that an atheist can’t be a moral, upstanding or civic-minded person.
But mostly they tell me, “I want a conversation in which you aren’t trying to make me think like you. I just need you to respect me. Respecting me will help me feel a lot better about respecting you.”
At the end of the day, there must be freedom of religion, as well as freedom from religion. No one deserves to be blasted for his or her faith — or lack of it. So, whether you’re born again or atheistic, liberal or conservative, don’t give ear to the hate whisperer of intolerance.
By the way, if you’re the guy who called me with that dung obsession, let me ask you a few questions.
First, isn’t it kind of hypocritical for an anti-theist to read a spiritual column?
Second, how many beers did you drink before you called?
But more importantly, why didn’t you try to just talk to me? If you had, I think we could have found some common ground – especially if you’d offered me one of your beers.