With the Baltimore events going on, one readily recalls the Michael Brown incident last year, where an unarmed African American teenager was killed by a white cop in Ferguson, MO. The predominately left media seized on the story, virtually jumping to the conclusion that this was a racially motivated crime by this cop. This widespread belief led to both peaceful protests and violent riots. “Hands up, don’t shoot” became the slogan, referring to the alleged testimony that Brown put his hands up trying to surrender before being gunned down. Dissenting from this narrative brought accusations of closet racism.
The right, on the other hand, along with their news organization Fox News, were very skeptical and focused a lot on Michael Brown’s criminal history (which included that very same day, with him stealing from a convenient store and roughly dealing with the store owner). They argued that accusations of systematic racism were unwarranted, that the cop had no prior history of bad behavior, and that his injuries sustained were consistent with his testimony. In contrast, the reliability of other witnesses were questionable, with some even expressing fear of telling the real truth because there might be repercussions in their own community. Just liberal race-baiting, everyone.
Often, when one talks with atheists and asks them to defend their worldview, they will shoot back, “I don’t have to because atheism isn’t a religion or worldview.” Not only will such atheists be offended by the dreaded R-word, “religion,” but even a seemingly more neutral term such as “worldview” will draw their ire. The reason why they wish to avoid saying that atheism is a worldview is because if they admit that, then it becomes clear that they have some sort of system of beliefs. If they have a system of beliefs, then they need to make positive arguments for those beliefs, something that, as I’ve pointed out, they want to avoid because that requires more difficult argument and also implies that they are not as wholly objective as they want to come across as. You’ll hear it or see it on the Internet all the time: “Atheism isn’t a religion/worldview; it’s a lack of belief. Duh!” Is this really true and are atheists not required to give a positive case for atheism?
This answer can somewhat depend on how one uses the terminology. We use “religion” in a variety of ways, sometimes to connote simple devotion to something, but in this case it seems clear that we are talking about “religion” proper. In that case, a religion normally has some sort of explicit concept of worship, and if so, it is true that not all forms of atheism should be a called a “religion,” even if many atheists certainly act as fanatical and devoted as they think religious people act.
Inevitably, when speaking with many atheists or agnostics about Christianity or religion, you will hear about all the evil and crazy things religious people have done. Islamic jihad is something popular to bring up, as is the Crusades. Granted, even a few atheists know that equating the two is historically stupid, as apparently Obama did not, but still, it should be admitted that some self-professed Christians did bad things during the Crusades. Other things people bring up are abortion clinic bombings, the crazy Westboro Baptist Church, and greedy and immoral pastors. The thrust of these arguments is that religion or Christianity cannot possibly be good or true because it has produced so much evil.
There are several levels to address here. First, there is a matter of logic, and we’ll see that this argument doesn’t hold water and might even backfire on the atheist. Second, there is the matter of evidence, where it is argued that bad behavior by Christians is decisive evidence against Christianity. This will be shown to be too narrowly focused on one piece of evidence. Third, there is the emotional form of this “argument,” which is actually the most difficult one to address even though it is not really an “argument.”
Unabashed liberal comedian and talk show host Bill Maher has consistently made waves in the media for his harsh criticism of Islam, basically calling it a religion of violence that is a threat to the West’s way of life. Many of his fellow liberals have reacted angrily to this, calling it “Islamophobia” (I enjoy progressives’ insistence on making every disagreement or criticism into some sort of “phobia”… unless of course it’s something they disagree with). Of course, nobody can forget the squabble on his show between him, Sam Harris, and Ben Affleck. Harris and Maher share their disdain for religion in general, especially Islam these days, and Affleck called their criticism of it “gross” and even “racist,” which was, well, dumb, since Islam is not a race. What is hysterical about all of this is that people like Maher and Harris don’t pull punches on Christianity either, and I have never heard a peep from the left complaining about that. In fact, whenever Maher lays it into Islam, people like Charlie Rose get uncomfortable and reflexively try to turn the criticism on Christians too, but Maher doesn’t bite, arguing that the problems of religious extremism is not nearly as bad as in Islam.