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Religion Is Fair Game for Debate, Criticism

8/26/2010 2:59:21 PM

Tags: religion, religious debate, secular humanism, new atheists, civility, spirituality, Keith Goetzman

Church signShould nonbelievers shy away from examining or criticizing the religious beliefs of the devout because it might offend them? Certainly not, writes senior editor Ronald A. Lindsay at Free Inquiry in his commentary “Expressing One’s Views on Religion”:

Religions make certain claims about reality, for example, that there is a god, there is an afterlife, and natural disasters constitute divine punishment. Believers assert these claims and in many cases try to persuade others to accept them. These claims should be subject to examination and criticism, just like any other claims about reality. In other words, there is no principled reason for placing religion off-limits. Religious claims and religious beliefs should be treated the same as claims and beliefs relating to physics, politics, or pottery. If we maintain that a religious belief is mistaken, unsupported, or vague to the point of being incomprehensible, we should feel free to say so. If the expression of our views offends a religious person, that person has no more right to tell us to keep quiet than a Democrat offended by criticism of President Barack Obama, a physicist offended by criticism of string theory, or a potter offended by criticism of the clay mixture in his or her earthenware.

Well aware that he’s wading into the debate stoked by the anti-religious fervor of the so-called new atheists, Lindsay proposes a measure of civility and religious tolerance tempered by the clear-eyed gaze of the secular humanist:

Of course, we must respect the religious. But respect is not manifested by treating the religious like children for fear they may be upset when someone questions their beliefs. That would be deeply insulting to our religious friends. They are our peers in all relevant respects, intellectually, morally, and otherwise. As fellow members of our moral community, they are entitled to have their beliefs treated seriously; they are entitled to have their beliefs probed, questioned, and critically examined; they are entitled to work with us in our efforts to understand reality.

Source: Free Inquiry

Image by au_tiger01, licensed under Creative Commons.

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