By Robert. E. Meyer
In a recent local letter to the editor, Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Madison, Wisconsin based Freedom From Religion Foundation, promotes the tenor of The New Atheist movement, which contends that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”
Gaylor had responded to a previous writer who was upset that Gaylor had warned Green Bay Mayor, Jim Schmitt that he was out of line for inviting the Pope to the city to visit a famous Roman Catholic shrine, associated with the alleged apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1859.
Gaylor began by expressing the opinion that Schmitt had violated the constitutional prohibition against religious establishment, but quickly digressed into a critique of Roman Catholicism.
While I’m not a Roman Catholic and don’t share a particular homage to shrines, I find the activities of the FFRF to be obnoxious.
Gaylor and others are certainly free to disparage religious belief if they choose, but the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion, which encompasses more than tolerance of worship and the private right to hold particular beliefs. This protection is not contingent upon those beliefs being deemed reasonable to folk like Gaylor.
However, she should recognize such posturing creates impressions that her organization promotes religious suppression, rather than defending civil liberties. The big problem with the FFRF is not that they don’t have the legal right to object, but that the style of their objections; rudeness and petulance, nullifies the atheist claim to superior “enlightenment.”
Ironically, Gaylor cites a remark made by the late Carl Sagan to buttress her view that religious belief is foolishness, thus any belief in supernatural events as well. Sagan said…”Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
But who decides what is an extraordinary claim or what constitutes extraordinary evidence to begin with? People with such strong anti-religious biases aren’t any more objective than the people making the claim.
Sagan’s personal pursuits can’t be excluded or immune from his own standards. Sagan was a big promoter of the expensive SETI project (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). Is there a scrap of evidence to suggest extraterrestrial beings are somewhere out in the universe, much less the “extraordinary evidence” which Sagan demands of others? Sagan merely has a hope based on theoretical “probability.” Sagan had faith in advanced intelligence without any empirical evidence, but not in an intelligent designer. Was that because of his scientific knowledge or his philosophical preferences?
Interestingly, for some people the whole “advanced extraterrestrial life” hypothesis is a secular version of deliverance, aping Christianity’s doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ. This advanced race of extraterrestrial beings Sagan searched for, is by definition more technologically advanced. As such they will provide us with advanced technology, medical advances and show us how to live together in tranquillity, without war or conflict. They will provide salvation from the foibles and curses of human existence. Or so goes the utopian fairy tale.
Gaylor’s final paragraph contains a diatribe, that in principle, perpetuates the very “mythologies” she supposedly abhors. Why support a church “which openly seeks to deny all women the right to safe, legal birth control; to deny gays rights and marriage equality; to ban stem cell research to mitigate misery; and to thwart death with dignity.”
So does Gaylor consider abortion to be birth control? Would developing humans call such a procedure safe if they were able to talk? Don’t Catholics have there own proscribed method of natural birth control? How could Catholics deny birth control to women who are not part of their church? This sort of hyperbole has the hysterical earmarks of the politically charged allegation of the “War on Women.”
All people attaining statutory age have the equal opportunity to marry. There is no “marriage inequality,” but an affirmation of what constitutes a marriage based on the created order. Again, the clever use of terminology to distort the truth.
Christians don’t oppose “stem-cell research,” but only those therapies which results in destruction of embryos. Ironically, the preponderance of scientific breakthroughs have come from the use of adult stem-cells and cord blood stems-cells which aren’t morally objectionable. So why not proceed with a methodology that is not objectionable for either side? Gaylor gets away with this nonsensical assertion only because the mainstream media has been derelict in failing to delineate and educate the public regarding this nuance.
Atheists are always complaining about Christianity being anti-science or anti-progress. It seems such labels are at least partially due to mischaracterizing the positions. Does Gaylor denounce the tethering of science to ethics as impeding scientific progress?
Further, nobody opposes “Death with Dignity,” unless that term is used as a euphemism for assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia.
A constructive critique may be useful, but senseless mockery predicated on false stereotypes is onerous no matter how frequently it is repeated.
Gaylor put all her cards on the table in her closing by declaring her affinity for Voltaire who famously said, “Ecrassez l’infame!” Translated in English it means “Crush the infamous thing.” Voltaire once predicted the extinction of Christianity within 100 years. It seems the “infamous thing” crushed his prophetic vision.