An Atheist for Religion

Norm Geras is an admirably honest fellow: a leftist who supports democratization in the Middle East, and an atheist who refuses to dismiss all religion as somehow dangerous or untrue. The truth, as he rightly points out, is much more complex. There are many types of religion. Sadly, fundamentalism of all varieties - Christian, Muslim, Jewish - has somehwat eclipsed the other religious pathways. Worse, in the rants of the Christianist or Islamist right, some fundamentalists have begun to assert that they are the only valid forms of faith. Norm provides some perspective. Money quote:

"In Warsaw in 1943, a Polish Catholic risks her life to save an endangered Jew. She does so because she has been taught from childhood that all people are the children of God and it is a sin to take innocent life. How, in the face of that - which has happened plenty, and in many other historical variants as well - can one say there has been no good in religion, or that this good is merely apparent because of what it is mixed together with? I could give more than this, but it is enough. Just two things: that religious believers have often been motivated by their beliefs to act in beneficent, caring, selfless, heroic ways; and that there are universalist variants of religious belief which, in historical context, have marked a significant progress for humankind - that is quite enough empirically, against the notion that the bad in religion undoes the good."

I'm not sure that's quite enough. Religion can be a force for both good and evil. Fundamentalism, however, skews the balance toward the bad. Which is why it is up to the rest of us people of faith, those of us who are not fundamentalists, to criticize and call to account the extremists now giving faith a bad name.