Newsweek’s On Faith column asks its panel of contributors to comment on ‘new-atheist’ Christopher Hitchens. “Best-selling atheist Christopher Hitchens wrote: “Religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.” Why is he right or wrong?”
Panelists – including Sam Harris, Greg Epstein, and the Bishop of Durham – take a variety of stances and are not simply split along lines of belief. Here’s a few that I agree with, that do not swing entirely for or against. Firstly from Susan Jacoby author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, (2004):
All belief….is irrational by definition. But there are many religious denominations that are no longer violent, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children. You know which ones they are. These are all, as Sam Harris has pointed out, religions that have allowed themselves to be modified by secular knowledge. But I respecfully disagree with Harris, Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins, who have all suggested that “moderate” religion is even more dangerous than fundamentalist religion because moderate religion is the stalking horse for the worst forms of religious fanaticism.
Nonsense. It is fair to say that all religion originated in ignorance and tribalism, but I don’t think this has much to do with all of the peaceful Unitarians and Reform Jews who invite me to lecture to their congregations today. However, one of the most disturbing religious developments throughout the world today is that the most literal, anti-rational, and anti-intellectual forms of religion are gaining converts at the expense of faiths that have been open to secular knowledge.
Brian D. McLaren, pastor and intellectual leader of “emerging church,” a Christian evangelical movement:
I think Christopher Hitchens is, sadly, too often right. History makes this clear, and many of us who are religious have experienced our share of religious irrationality, intolerance, bigotry, contempt, exclusion, violence (if not physical, then verbal insult), and so on – whether with members of our own religion or members of other religions, or even members of no religion.
Unfortunately, religious people don’t have a monopoly on these behaviors. This fact may be obscured by the fact that most people in history, by a very large majority, have been religious, so the sample of irreligious people is smaller to begin with. That means that the total number of acts of ignorance and bigotry will be most commonly associated with religious people.
…We as deeply committed believers will gladly work side by side with you to make this world the kind of place it can become. We will try to be an example of a different kind of religion, a different kind of spirituality, a different way of life. We will fail and fall short, but we must, with God’s help, make this our aim.”