, Salem, MA

July 12, 2013

Letter: Atheists can be just as intolerant as believers

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

Over the last couple weeks, Brian Watson has written a series of columns describing the “problems” he sees with religion, namely that it promotes violence and intolerance, does more damage than good in society and claims immunity from intellectual questioning. His solution is to remove from the holy texts what he perceives as the “intolerant” and “outdated” portions so we can “take bigger steps toward peaceful coexistence.” It sounds like a nice idea on the surface, but his crusade is misguided at best.

Mr. Watson apparently sees credibility in the atheist alternative and references the claim of several atheist authors that the holy texts “contain exhortations to do both good and bad.” I find it ironic that Mr. Watson uses the terms “good” and “bad,” which imply a moral judgment. The atheistic worldview denies a point of reference for moral values. If we assume there is good and bad, we implicitly assume a moral law to differentiate between the two. According to atheist Richard Dawkins, however, we are just “dancing to our DNA,” devoid of meaning for our existence. So, why are atheists concerned with “good” and “bad” in the holy texts when these moral judgments don’t even exist in their worldview?

Mr. Watson further asserts religious texts are filled with “intolerance.” On March 24, 2012, the “Rally for Reason” was held in Washington, where Dawkins encouraged atheist followers to “mock them ... ridicule them with contempt,” referring to those who believe in a God. Is this the kind of tolerance Mr. Watson advocates?

As to the point about the “damage” and “violence” that religion promotes, we actually tried a world without religion in the 20th century under the socialist regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao Zedong, where an objective moral framework was replaced with the atheistic worldview. For example, many of Hitler’s writings in “Mein Kampf” were heavily influenced by the 19th century atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Under these regimes, 100 million people were murdered, and it turned out to be the bloodiest century in human history. Those who stood for religious beliefs were often executed. Is this the damage and violence that Mr. Watson was referring to?

Although I agree that all belief systems should be intellectually scrutinized, changing the holy texts doesn’t scrutinize them, it allows man to redefine morality. If the texts aren’t intellectually credible, why not simply abandon that system? If the teachings weren’t valid before, why do they become more valid after we change them? Where does our moral framework originate? The real question we should be asking is not how we can modify a belief system to fit today’s cultural preferences, but which belief system has justified its truth claims throughout history.

Charles Danforth Jr.