Iain Benson, Rebutted
I was reading PZ's blog and came across this post which I felt, as a Canadian, I had to address. Here's the link to the original posting by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney and some dude named Iain Benson, who says:
Every citizen has faith and belief in something and contrary to popular opinion, there is no such thing as an unbelieverIf you look under "tired old tropes about atheism", you'll likely find this one at the top of the list, right up there with, "Where do you get your morals from?" It's tremendously annoying to have answered this point a million times over with these blockheads just never getting around to understanding.
No, we don't have faith. We do have trust. Trust is that feeling you have when you're rounding a blind corner in your car - you trust that if anyone is coming the other way, they'll be in their lane. You trust that they've been to driving school, that they know the rules of the road, and that they don't have a death-wish where you play a starring role. It has nothing to do with faith (believing in something without evidence, many times in the face of contrary evidence) and everything to do with prior knowledge. Get it the fuck straight.
Atheists are men and women of faith. Their faiths are different but they are still faiths and their beliefs still beliefs, no matter how much (Richard) Dawkins and those like him wish it was different. Humans are stuck being believers, and that's all there is to it,Here Benson is making an equality between the words "faith" and "beliefs". I have no faith, but I along with most - if not all - atheists have many strongly held beliefs. For example, I believe that freedom of speech is of utmost importance, especially when questioning nonsense that has a position of privilege in the public sphere. I believe that the government has no place in the bedrooms of the state. These beliefs have no basis on faith because beliefs and faith are two different things. Making them equal is disingenuous and scummy and uses fatuous reasoning to attempt to make atheism and religion stand on even ground.
Religion doesn't stand on ground.
Benson then makes an argument that "secular" should be replaced with "public" when talking about non-religious topics/people. He says, "Secular was used historically to distinguish between those things that were deemed to be 'in the world' and those that were expressly and technically 'religious..." Alrighty, my Oxford English Dictionary defines "secular" as:
1. concerned with or belonging to the material world and the affairs of this world as opposed to the external or spiritual world. 2a. (of literature, music, an artist, etc.) not concerned with religious subjects b. (of education, etc.) excluding religious instruction; not promoting religious belief. 3. (of clergy) not bound by a religious or monastic rule. 4. occurring once in an age or century (the secular games) 5. lasting for or occurring over an indefinitely long timeHm, seems to me that Benson is trying to use definition 3 exclusively instead of the variety of usages we see above. Seems to me we can use definitions 1, 2a and b instead of Benson's preference and dispense with the silliness he's promoting.
We need to start by speaking of 'public' when we are tempted to use 'secular' and we need to stop speaking of 'non-believers' when we should address those who believe other than what we do...The public sphere has a variety of competing belief systems that are religious and non religious and the only way atheism and agnosticism can be understood is as participants in the public sphere, but not as the dominant participants.See what he's doing? He wants to make religious faith and non-religious beliefs the same. Don't be fooled, they're not. When non-religious people say that same-sex couples should have the right to get married or have the same rights as hetero couples, that's based on humanity and reason and logic. When religious people say that same-sex couples should not have the same rights, that is based on bronze-age nonsense and rules that come from a book they think was dictated by a magical sky-daddy. See the difference?
Likewise religious institutions have as much right as non-religious institutions. Everyone has a belief system of some sort and those who draw on religious sources should not be put at a disadvantageOh, yes. Yes, they should. See, where you draw your beliefs from is very important. Sure, everyone has a set of beliefs, but if Person A believes that safe sex education and distribution of condoms is important for junior high school and high school students to curb teen pregnancy and STI rates; that belief is based on logic, statistics, and reason. If Person B believes that condoms cause pregnancy, that sex education is "icky" and not appropriate for students, and that abstinence-only is the way to go, that belief is based on personal prejudices and ignores the evidence (see page 12 specifically).
Everyone is free to believe whatever the hell they want, provided those beliefs do not harm anyone else - that is what a free society means. That said, if you believe nonsense, in a free society you will be called upon occasionally to defend that nonsense or be cast aside in the marketplace of ideas. Religion is being cast aside and the people who believe are not too happy about that.
Today's struggle is not between belief and unbelief, nor between those with faith and those who do not recognise faith, but rather a set of public struggles for recognition and fair treatment between competing belief systemsReligion has had a long, long time of being fairly recognized as a belief system and it has failed. With the explosion of information, young people are fact-checking their authority figures and the leaders of religions are looking pretty squirmy under the microscope while scientific inquiry comes out squeaky clean. You can learn science, you can put the time in and figure out new approaches, and you can realize that science is honest in its appraisal of itself (i.e. "We know we don't know everything, and the areas of darkness are the greatest areas for research").
Finally, under a picture of Christopher Hitchens, there is a caption that reads:
the late Christopher Hitchens did not recognise himself as a believer and follower of the dogma of aethismOnce again, the OED defines "dogma" as: noun - 1. a belief or set of beliefs held by an authority or group, which others are expected to accept without argument. 2 an arrogant declaration of opinion. [Latin from Greek dogma -matos opinion, from dokeo seem] Hm. Odd, isn't it? There are NO beliefs within a group of atheists that are "accepted without argument". In fact, I would argue that arguing is the quality most atheists share, especially when the belief comes from an "authority". Stating that Christopher Hitchens accepted the "dogma of atheism" is absurd to the point where I would question if Benson ever read Hitchens' books & essays or ever saw the man debate. It's embarrassing.
Iain Benson, you do not know of what you speak.