I am endlessly frustrated with arguments and dogmatism around religious beliefs. I’m not talking wars between religions here, at least, not specifically. In fact, other atheists are rapidly becoming some of the worst offenders in making a war out of beliefs, though they limit their violence to words. They may not blow up people who disagree with them, but they do something that is just as arrogant and hostile by standing up and shouting to the rest of the world they they alone are right, while everyone else is crazy, deluded, stupid, and foolish. And that arrogance and superiority are and have always been the problem.
Take Richard Dawkins as a perfect example. For several years he has been running an ad campaign on the side of buses in the UK. The ads bear the slogan “There is probably no God. Stop worrying and enjoy your life.” I have conflicted feelings about this message, and more to the point, the intentions behind it. Dawkins, and many atheists, share a common belief that religion is the source of all the world’s problems, from war to discrimination. It’s not hard to understand why, either, with the religious right in much of the western world screaming louder every day against birth control, abortion, homosexuality, and the “dangers of Islam.” However, to me, the problem is not with people’s faith in God, but with fanaticism within their ranks, and with the sense of superiority that a minority of people, regardless of faith, feel over the rest of the world. What Dawkins and his own fanatics don’t seem to recognize is that this kind of confrontational campaign is the atheist community taking a step in that same direction.
Of course, they’re hardly the Taliban or Westboro Baptist Church, but in the long term, as their numbers grow, it is hard to imagine that the atheist community would not fragment and become as diverse as any other faith. Think about children being raised in families who accept all of this as good and right; children taught from before they could walk that all religions are just stupid fairy tales, and that religion is the cause of all conflict, all war, all suffering. How different, really, is that from the children in Islamic countries being raised to believe that Judaism and Christianity are the cause of all the world’s problems? Or children in America being taught that Islam is? Is it hard to imagine a fraction of these children growing up troubled – as many do, regardless of faith or upbringing – and turning to violence against religion in general? For me, it is hard to imagine it not happening.
A final point, if their intention is to convert people to atheism, their strategy is ham-fisted to the point of absurdity. Do Christian missionaries abroad introduce themselves to the locals by saying that their beliefs are false? Do the Mormons and Jehovia’s Witnesses at your door open with “Your current beliefs are lies?” Of course not. Centuries of experience with converting people have taught religions the bloody obvious, that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. If they really want to convert more people to atheism, I’d suggest they do it by example, by demonstrating that atheists can still be moral, that they can be as polite and sincere, as compassionate and caring, as respectful and tolerant as the best people of any other faith. Direct attacks like these bus ads will serve only to put people on the defensive, and that will only continue to foster conflict in the future.