In yesterday's USA Today, a gentleman named Don Feder wrote a column that seems to be of a type that's popping up recently - the "my, these atheists do seem to be getting a bit uppity these days" column. In response to books like The God Delusion and Letter to a Christian Nation, religionists are wondering why there seems to be a sudden interest in atheism. The answer seems pretty obvious - after years and years of having fundamentalist Christianity pushed in our faces, we've gotten a bit tired of it and decided to speak up, too. After all, the First Amendment gives atheists the same right to believe what we will and talk about it as Christians, Muslims, Hindus, you name it.
For what it's worth, Feder's conclusion is a valid, common sense one: the debate over faith, belief, the existence of God, is not over or settled in favor of either side. That's undeniable - a debate that's raged for millennia won't go away any time soon. To the extent that the more vocal atheist writers claim otherwise, perhaps in strident tones, they're wrong and (frequently) obnoxious. However, while getting to the right destination, Feder makes a couple of dubious detours.
For one, he brings up the classic canard regarding atheists and morality:
What would a world without God look like? Well, for one, morality becomes, if not impossible, exceedingly difficult. "Thou shalt not kill" loses much of its force when reduced from commandment to a suggestion. How inspiring can it be to wake in the morning, look in the mirror, and see an accident of evolutionary history — the end product of the random collision of molecules?That's wrong on so many levels, it's hard to know where to start. Morality can be easily divorced from belief in God and has been in other cultures for centuries. Logical systems of how to relate with our fellow man exist, many of them similar to the Golden Rule, which is hardly unique to Jesus and Christianity. It doesn't take a father figure in the sky threatening eternal damnation to get to the non-worship versions of the Commandments (don't kill, steal, lie, etc.) or the Sermon on the Mount (the aforementioned Golden Rule, help the poor, etc.). I'm not quite sure how the Declaration gets in there, given Jefferson's rather peculiar religious beliefs.
A universe that isn't God-centered becomes ego-centered. People come to see choices through the prism of self: what promotes the individual's well-being and happiness. Such a worldview does not naturally lead to benevolence or self-sacrifice.
An affirmation of God can lead to the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and the Declaration of Independence. In terms of morality, a denial of God leads nowhere.
Furthermore, how is acting morally because God, who will smite you if you don't, not "ego-centered." Doing what you think is right to avoid eternal damnation is as ego-centered as it gets. In any event, being good to each other and defining a non-God based morality means quite a bit more when you believe that this world is all there is and the only way for it to get better is via human progress.
Secondly, in arguing that God's fingerprints are all over history, Feder writes:
Jews introduced the world to monotheism.Or not. The Zoroastrians might have something to say about that, although they're a lot harder to find these days than Jews.
Like I said, in the end, Feder gets it right - the debate is not settled and it likely never will be. But the believers out there need to realize that the debate has two sides and they can't be surprised or offended when that side starts to speak up.