Atheism, Religion, Spotlight

Effective and Compassionate Atheism

This is an excerpt from an essay by Marcus Mann.

“To put it another way, atheists care very much about being correct and that when dealing with the most daunting problems in our collective life, it is of paramount importance that we are correct about the nature of the challenges we face. Atheists exhibit this value by revering the processes (rituals?) and institutions devoted solely to this value: the scientific method, education, and debate. It’s why atheists, including myself, are obsessed with “evidence.” I care deeply about this kind of empirical correctness and accord it a lofty position among the many other values I hold dear.

“But… I have to ask to what degree correctness crowds out other values important to me, particularly that part of me that strives to be kind. A helpful exercise then is to ask what intellectual role, on the level of belief and theology, does salvation play for the fundamentalist Christian screaming insults at a gay couple? What intellectual role does submission play for a fundamentalist Muslim suicide bomber? The answer, I propose, is that they are central ones. So too, atheists need to be wary of valuing correctness over the much more important values of kindness, sobriety, and pluralism.”

This essay was published on the blog “The Friendly Atheist” (which I don’t always find friendly). I was happy to read it, both because it highlights the work of my friend Chris Stedman and because I admire the compassionate view of the author. Yet I also find it terrible. No special soul searching should be needed to admit that kindness is as important as being right. Nor should it be radical to suggest respecting people despite their differences.

Yet interreligious respect is still in its infancy for atheism as a movement, and essays like this—or Chris’ book—are controversial among atheists.

When a movement does not support religious tolerance, I construe it as fundamentally against human rights. And that brings me great pain, because I likely have more beliefs in common with atheists than I do with most religious folks.

I hope you will read the rest and share your thoughts.

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