How Atheists Respect Religion
After the aftermath of the decision in the Supreme Court to strike down all state restrictions on gay marriage, I took to the only debate forum I haunt – debate.org – to check for any blowback. I encountered a pro-gay liberal who uttered the following: (I have quoted select statements from the author and cleaned up grammar where appropriate.)
All those against gay marriage use religion to argument their view. To me it is not valid. I respect religion, I truly do! I think everyone is entitled to believe and should be free to do so. But using religion to make a law or to not change a law is not fair. It is not fair because you take your views and force others to live by them.
I am a liberal. I am also an atheist. I respect religion, but do not believe myself. I am also a part of one of the best functioning social security systems in the world. And we are some of the happiest people on Earth, maybe because the majority does not tolerate violence and hate against minorities.
I responded briefly – before the frequent quoting of previous material made the thread of the conversation unreadable – to point out that this response was typical of atheist and evolutionist treatment of religion and Christianity in general in the west. They say they “respect” religion as long as it interferes with nobody. In laymen’s terms, that means people are to keep their religion to themselves. What kind of respect is that, though? Imagine if I had told this author that I “respect” his or her thoughts but that those thoughts ought to be kept silent and not use such thoughts to change anybody’s behavior. It wouldn’t be too long before I’d find out what he or she thought of my “respect” – which is no respect at all.
The problem with this atheist response is that most religions – from Scientology to Christianity to Islam, for instance - carry with them certain demands of members that impact the rest of society. Joseph Sobran has said it well:
All religion implies a divine communication that is true and authoritative. It may be natural or supernatural, inferred by one’s own reason or revealed from above. In either case, it embodies not only truths about the universe, but personal obligations, explicit or derivative. If murder and adultery are intrinsically wrong (and not merely ritually proscribed), then not only am I forbidden to commit them, I must do my best to see that society forbids them, or appropriately discourages them. If men are created equal, with certain unalienable rights, I must respect those rights myself, and do my part to see that government is organized with due reference to them. The application of even a simple principle may be very complicated, but the obligation to apply it intelligently is not on that account lessened. One of my duties is to persuade others. If I fail in that, I still have the duty to respect the rights myself, to continue trying to persuade, and to use my personal influence on behalf of the rights.
So maybe atheists should not waste their time saying they respect religious belief any more than one respects a root canal and waste their time asking the religious to shut up.