June 26, 2011

Priest Advocates Taking Up Intellectual Arms Against Advancing Atheist Horde

AtheismI mentioned CNN's Belief Blog recently when I highlighted a couple of lessons they shared from their first year of blogging, one of which involved the number of atheist commenters. It looks like I was not the only one who found this post interesting. A reader directed me to a post written by Father Robert Barron, head of a "global media ministry" that seeks to "evangelize the culture." On the recommendation of this reader, I decided to check out what Barron had to say about atheists.

Why Atheists Comment on Religious Sites

Barron started with CNN's observation that atheists are among the most frequent to comment on religious stories and said that he has noticed the same thing.
Every day, my website and YouTube page are inundated with remarks, usually of a sharply negative or dismissive nature, from atheists, agnostics, and critics of religion.
I do not doubt for a minute that he has had this experience. On average, atheists are better informed about religion than the religious. Given the tremendous pressure many of us face to embrace religion, it makes sense that many of us who have rejected it would have given it serious consideration before doing so. That it, many of us have formed opinions on the subject of religion.

There are many reasons why atheists might leave comments on CNN's Belief Blog or similar sites addressing religion. Some cannot believe that a legitimate news site would devote so much space to religion. Others are easily entertained by highlighting examples of religious illiteracy on the part of some self-identified believers. And certainly, some are annoying trolls who come for no other purpose than to hurl immature insults.

Judgment dayThere is another reason why Barron in particular has attracted atheists. By his own admission, he has been evangelizing. One of the things we know about the public forum is that when irrational or harmful ideas are tossed into it, someone is likely to criticize them. We all agree that this is a beneficial (if not always pleasant) process. Some want to make religion exempt from such criticism; others see the criticism of religious ideas to be essential. But one cannot very well evangelize and then seem surprised when one attracts attention for doing so.

What Father Barron Gets Right

Barron is absolutely correct when he points out that many atheists are "no longer content to hold on to their conviction as a private opinion" or that we believe that religion is harmful. Unlike many Christians, Barron recognizes our right to free expression and says that he does not seek to silence us. He should be applauded for this; it is an unfortunately rare sentiment, and it is nice to see.

While Barron doesn't come right out and say that some atheists have behaved like jackasses on his blog and other blogs where he writes, it is implied. This would not surprise me in the least, and he's right to call it out. Vitriol is one thing; blatant asshattery is quite another. We can do better.

What Father Barron Gets Wrong

Unfortunately, Barron seems to generalize from his experience with some atheists commenting on his writing to all atheists. He characterizes us as having come out of the closet "aggressively" and suggests that we are following our own atheist evangelists (e.g., Dawkins, Hitchens, etc.).

Civil rightsI wonder if Barron realizes that most atheists in the U.S. are still very much in the closet because they fear Christian retaliation. Some worry that they would be disowned by their Christian families, others suspect that they would be fired by their Christian employers, and still others fear vandalism and assault at the hands of Christian strangers who have been taught to hate atheists.

Does Barron really believe that atheists are coming out in record numbers because we are mindlessly following a handful of authors? I have not heard many claim that gays want to come out because they were influenced by a few gay authors. Does Barron really think that atheists wouldn't also prefer to be themselves?

Barron sees himself in a battle against his "intellectual enemies," and he calls on his fellow religious believers to join him. He suggests that his fellow Christians should familiarize themselves with "our rich apologetic tradition" so that they can counter our arguments. Is reciting hollow apologetics really an adequate substitute for critical thought?

This may surprise you, but I actually feel sorry for Barron. He thinks his religion is under attack and that he needs to defend himself against the advancing hordes of atheism. But that isn't what is happening. Today's atheists do not need borrowed philosophical arguments. No argument on our part is necessary. Theists have not met their burden of proof on the question of god(s).

The Catholic Church has done far more to destroy itself than the atheist hordes could ever accomplish. If Barron is truly worried about the decline of his church, I'd direct him to three areas that would make a far greater difference than arguing with atheists:
  1. Pedophile priests and a church hierarchy that conceals their crimes, enabling them to harm additional children
  2. Genocide in Africa due to church opposition to contraception in regions where HIV/AIDS is epidemic
  3. Meddling in U.S. politics with the goals of ending reproductive freedom for women and opposing gay marriage
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