by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

I feel compelled to comment on the supposed connection between atheism and neoconservatism. I read Wright's piece on HuffPo, and I tried hard--and failed--to reconstruct a cogent argument that supports his thesis. He makes the logical leap that, because, say, Richard Dawkins thinks that, say, Muslim extremists are religiously motivated, then there is no reasoning with them and no point in looking for other motivators, and therefore force is the only possible way to deal with the problem. But of course, there is no contradiction in seeing religion as an aggravator of ethnic conflict and still believing that there are material and social causes in these conflicts as well.

I also read Yglesias's post that comments on the article, and I can hardly begin to fathom what he means when he says that Dawkins "has basically tried to reformulate atheism in the evangelizing and illiberal mode of illiberal envangelizing religion." The way evangelical religions are typically illiberal is, I think, the way in which they tend to want to legislate their beliefs and weave their religion into the fabric of government. I have never known an atheist in the U.S. who has pushed to legislate atheism. The closest examples I can think of are efforts to remove "under God" from the Pledge or monuments to the Ten Commandments from courthouses or such legal actions, which are not atheist but secular, and are in fact more inclusive of different identities and in no way impede the practice of religion in this country. We can talk illiberal when atheists are trying to insert "under no God" into the Pledge of Allegiance. Meanwhile, there is no equivalence to be drawn.

I also take issue with your claim that anyone believes that religion is the "root of all evil." None of the "new atheists" have said that or anything like that. The only place where the phrase appears is in the title of a documentary written by Richard Dawkins, and he opposed the title. The common belief is that religion is a source of more evil than good, but there is absolutely no political conclusion that follows from that. Apart from making their arguments public and advocating for inclusion, atheists tend to overwhelmingly espouse a philosophy of live and let live.

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