The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a God or not. The atheist is a religious person. He believes in atheism as though it were a new religion. He is an atheist with devoutness and unction. According to Renan, "The day after that on which the world should no longer believe in God, atheists would be the wretchedest of all men."
Freddie says some interesting things in his post, but along the way he falls into a confusion that is oddly common among those who don't believe in God. To wit, he writes that:
Above, beyond, and separate from any moral or ethical duty that atheists have to extend basic elements of tolerance and restraint towards the religious in a pluralistic society, there is a compelling, even essential, argument for an atheism of absence that is fundamentally an argument towards self-interest.
As we have noted on more occasions on this blog than I care to count atheists have no moral or ethical duties. Such duties must be imposed upon one and there's no one, other than themselves, who is in a position to lay such an imposition on anybody if there is no God.
If the individual atheist says that he does indeed place the duties upon himself, that's fine (though arbitrary), but he surely can't bind other atheists to that obligation as Freddie does above.
He goes on to chide Christopher Hitchens for writing, "as if atheists have some duty to oppose religion. [But] the absence of belief and the absence of duty are symmetrical qualities."
Hitchens is spanked for suggesting that is one's duty as an atheist to oppose religion, but Freddie thinks this is wrongheaded. The absence of belief, he avers, entails the absence of duty (a formulation with which I agree), but then what does Freddie mean in the first paragraph above when he talks about the duties his fellow atheists have to extend tolerance and restraint? First he says atheists have duties, now he says they have none. Which is it?
Then later there's this:
[T]here are those who shamelessly insert their religion into politics, in defiance of Enlightenment values and the American character, and yes they have to be fought.
If there are no duties, moral or ethical, how or why is anything at all "shameless?" Why, exactly, must it be "fought?" Surely not because it's wrong to insert religion into politics because for the atheist nothing is really wrong. Rather it must be because Freddie doesn't like it, but the fact that someone dislikes something is hardly a sufficient reason, by itself, to fight it.
One wishes that if people are going to insist on touting their atheism they'd at least have the good sense to stop making moral judgments. Or, failing that, at least explain to the rest of us upon what those judgments are based.RLC