Hey everybody, Richard Dawkins is selling T-shirts! Get ‘em while they’re hot!

Scandalous! And available for men and women!

One of my favorite bloggers, Allahpundit (who just happens to be an athiest himself), calls this “…a new stage in the transformation of ‘new atheism’ from rational argument to aggrieved identity group,” and has this to say about the t-shirts themselves

Some of our commenters call this sort of thing evangelical atheism but a moron with a scarlet “A” on his chest really isn’t trying to convert you. He’s just trying to get in your face in his own passive way and remind you that nonbelievers exist in case you missed Hitchens’s last thousand appearances on cable news or somehow avoided his, Dawkins’s, and Sam Harris’s ubiquitous books. I hate to frag a guy on my own side but honestly, we can do without these pity parties.

I’ll drink to that. But honestly, the part of this that really caught my attention was the following statement on Dawkins’ homepage:

It is time to let our voices be heard regarding the intrusion of religion in our schools and politics. Atheists along with millions of others are tired of being bullied by those who would force their own religious agenda down the throats of our children and our respective governments. We need to KEEP OUT the supernatural from our moral principles and public policies.

I wonder just how Dawkins and his out-and-proud atheist brethren would propose to accomplish that goal. (An aside – it would be just as fair to say that millions of Christians are tired of being bullied by the much smaller group of quite militant atheists who seem determined to wipe away any acknowledgment of God or the supernatural in all realms of our public life.) Is the argument from Dawkins that those of us who are religious should not allow the principles that form the core of our existence on Earth and inform all of the decisions that we make should be kept completely out of politics and the public square? Or should we be allowed in, but only if we strictly segregate our moral and religious beliefs in our decision making on any public issue? How would such a restriction be enforced? How is that compatible in any way with human freedom? I imagine the discussion going something like this:

Dawkins: I DEMAND THAT YOU NOT ALLOW YOUR BELIEFS TO INFLUENCE YOUR DECISION MAKING ON PUBLIC ISSUES!
Me: Uh… Sorry. No dice.

What is Dawkins’ next move at this point? How does he propose to stop me from ramming my religious agenda down his throat (or, as I like to call it, acting according to the dictates of my conscience within the legal bounds of our political system)?

One other point – One of my former pastors, a big booster of Christian education, often made the point that a non-religious education is impossible, in that all education must have at its root some sort of central organizing principle – some fundamental truth about who man is and how he relates to the world that he lives in. Christianity has a distinct view on that issue – that man is created in the image of God, and because of that has a unique and intrinsic value as a created person, and also has important rights and responsibilities within God’s creation. That worldview has distinct consequences for how a Christian approaches education, and the same could be said for any religious system, including humanism, which is, in reality, the core religious principle of a “non-religious” education.

I’ve always thought that this speaks to a basic truth about mankind – that we were created to be religious. We all have a need to orient our lives toward something, a set of beliefs that we hold to be true and supreme. We’re all religious. Even if you don’t believe in God, you believe in something. So why do the new atheists feel so comfortable accusing believers of trying to “force their own religious agenda down the throats of our children and our respective governments” when that’s exactly what they’re trying to do themselves?

Just a thought.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.org/ Ray Ingles

    It’s interesting that to be a ‘militant believer’ you have to actually pick up a gun and shoot someone, but to be a ‘militant atheist’ all you have to do is write a book.

  • Bruce in Orlando

    “non-religious education is impossible, in that all education must have at its root some sort of central organizing principle – some fundamental truth about who man is and how he relates to the world that he lives in.”

    No suprise coming from a man who gets paid for propagating religion. Oddly enough I went to a public school and can read, write, comprehend science and history and all that good stuff without having been preached to or pray upon by my teachers.

    And I don’t wonder what type of religion this man would force upon our schools. It would have an uncanny resemblence to the one he practices.

    Atheists will stand up for you right to practice your religion, as long as it is not dictated by the gov’t. This man will fight for your requirement to practice his religion thru the force of gov’t.

  • Marc Vander Maas

    1) I get paid to propagate religion? Really? Actually, I’m paid to work in Acton’s communications department handling a lot of the audio/video work of the institute. The propagation of religion is something I’m willing to throw in for free. In reality, I’d believe that statement that you quoted regardless of whether or not I was being paid, because I think it makes a lot of sense.

    2) I wouldn’t force any religion on you or your schools. I’m actually a big supporter of [i]private[/i] education, which allows parents to have much more direct control over how their children are educated, and avoids all of the stupid controversies over school prayer, sex ed, how to teach on controversial issues, etc. Plus, it keeps my kid from having your religion – humanism – forced on him.

    3) Please explain how I indicated any desire that the government require you to practice my religion by force. You are free to be an atheist, and I believe that it would be absolutely improper for the government to compel you to be otherwise. That is an issue for you to decide as your conscience dictates. I certainly hope and pray that you would become a Christian, but ultimately that’s something that will be between you and God.

    I do take issue with your last statement – “Atheists will stand up for you right to practice your religion, as long as it is not dictated by the gov’t.” It seems to me that atheists are perfectly content to allow people to practice their religion as long as those people never try to apply their religious principles in the public square. However, the moment that Christians step outside of the church and, say, run for public office, atheists will be the first in line to scream about how those Christian officeholders are trying to “legislate morality” and “impose their beliefs” on others, as if secular officeholders have no value system to guide them, and their votes don’t do the exact same “imposing of values” on those that disagree with them.

    I don’t know, Bruce. As far as I’m concerned, you’re free to practice your religion. But it seems to me that the only person in this post who wants to force another person to change the way they live is Richard Dawkins, who demands that religious people either refrain from or be prohibited from allowing their beliefs to influence public life and policy.

    That doesn’t sound like a defense of my right to practice my religion to me. That sounds like, well, a form of tyranny.

  • Bret Zeller

    I have to say, when a religious person takes their religious beliefs, and decides to make laws according to them, those laws are a restriction of religious freedom. When a Christian tells me I can’t drink on Sunday, that’s imposing. Also, humanism is not a religion, it’s a moral sentiment not actually taught in public schools. All the schools say is that you have to tolerate your fellow citizens, a stance which all democratic governments espouse.

  • Marc Vander Maas

    [i]I have to say, when a religious person takes their religious beliefs, and decides to make laws according to them, those laws are a restriction of religious freedom.[/i]

    Scenario: I believe that human beings have inherent value because they are created in the image of God – my religious belief. As such, I believe that practices such as abortion and euthanasia are immoral, as they cheapen and violate the inherent dignity of human life. If I were to run for office and shepherd legislation restricting those practices through the legislative process and see that legislation signed into law, how would I have caused a “restriction of religious freedom”?

    [i]“When a Christian tells me I can’t drink on Sunday, that’s imposing.”[/i]

    Yeah, I think I’d agree with that. Although I don’t know of many Christians who would make an effort to force you, personally, not to consume alcohol on the sabbath. I know of some communities (including the township adjoining the city that I live in) that still maintain restrictions on Sunday sales of alcohol, sure, but it seems to me that a community has the right to set that sort of a standard for itself (although I’d note that the community has no right to stop a person from actually consuming alcohol in their home on the sabbath – prohabition ended a long time ago…). And indeed, as the character of those communities change, such restrictions are often removed by a vote of the population.

    [i]Also, humanism is not a religion, it’s a moral sentiment not actually taught in public schools. All the schools say is that you have to tolerate your fellow citizens, a stance which all democratic governments espouse.[/i]

    Not a religion? Only if you think that a system of belief requires an acknowledgment of the supernatural in order to qualify for that term. And it functions as the religious philosophy at the core of “non-religious” education. It presents a worldview that competes head to head with other religious philosophies; the major difference between humanism and Christianity (and pretty much any other religious system) is that humanism doesn’t get tagged with the word “religion.”

    Whether you like to admit it or not, children receiving a public school education in the US are being indoctrinated into an essentially [url=http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/religion]religious[/url] worldview: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe. As a Christian, I want my children to be educated with a Christian worldview; because that is my goal, I can’t send them to a public school, because the public schools don’t operate on that worldview; if I wanted my kids to receive a humanist education, I could send them to the public schools, no problem.

    In the end, I stand by my contention that all education is religious education. In that vein, I stumbled across this passage from [url=http://www.christianstudycenter.org/article.php?ArtID=49]an address[/url] by C. John Sommerville, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Florida, that might be worthwhile to chew on for a bit:[quote]Students in secular universities and colleges are not being told the whole truth about their majors. They aren’t told that the central question in medicine is a religious one. Health relates to human wholeness, which is a religious, not a natural, concept. Standards of sanity and disease have to do with optimal human states, which are ideas left over from religion. After all, the AIDS virus is just as much a part of nature as you are, and if naturalism is what you go by then science can make no urgent distinction between diseased and healthy. People in those fields are responding to a religious call whether they are aware of it or not.

    Students may not think of the central problems in law and public administration as religious ones — how we should relate to each other. Arts students could be told how much of the world’s great music, art, architecture, poetry, drama and fiction is even now being produced under the inspiration of the transcendent. The field of education is fundamentally a religious enterprise, built on foundations of belief, since there are no self-validating rational principles. Business students probably aren’t told that wealth means well-being, which involves religious perspectives. Money is only a means toward this end, and if we have no idea what well-being is, money will not help us get there. And science students aren’t told that the overriding question about science itself is a religious one, namely what use to make of our knowledge. That’s a question you check at the classroom door.[/quote]

  • Dan VandeBunte

    “Oddly enough I went to a public school and can read, write, comprehend science and history and all that good stuff without having been preached to or pray upon by my teachers.”

    You seem to hold a common misconception shared by many of your ilk; that people who support religious education think that public schools teach everything completely wrong. That just isn’t true.

    I am a high school math teacher who went to Christian schools all my life, taught in Christian schools for 3 years, and has now taught in public schools for 4 years. At no point in my in my teaching career did I step into a public school classroom and say to myself; “O.k. Dan, now you have to teach public school math.”

    Let me try to explain why I am not surprised that you learned how to read, write, etc, having gone to a public school.

    I am a Protestant. Protestants believe that God employs two kinds of grace in dealing with the world; Common Grace, which all people benefit from, and Particular Grace, which only the elect benefit from.

    It is my contention that all education, public and religious, is a manifestation of God’s common grace. Receptivity to religious education is a manifestation of God’s particular grace. Since the “curricular” aspects of both types of education are manifestations of the same grace, I have no reason (including religious) to believe that public schools are incapable of teaching students how to read, write, etc. If I did, I certainly would not be responding to your post, since I would be convinced that you could not read it.

    Of course, since you came from a background which did not expect you to take religion seriously, I wonder if you are capable of framing the debate in a way other than “there are public schools and there are religious schools, they must think we do things wrong”.

  • Dan VandeBunte

    “When a Christian tells me I can’t drink on Sunday, that’s imposing.”

    If you want to consume alcohol on Sunday, become Catholic. It’s win-win! Not only will you be served alcohol in church, but you will also still get to believe that all other religions are false.

    “Also, humanism is not a religion,”

    Yes it is. The only difference between humanism and other religions (in terms of its anatomy) is that the deity espoused by humanism is not supernatural.

    Even if you refuse to acknowledge the supernatural, at best you are reduced to naturalism. But a naturalist has no rational basis for assuming that humans would have any elevated status in a naturalistic world. Going from naturalism to a belief that humans are somehow special is a concious, irrational belief made by faith. Humanism is the deification of the self (“if humans are gods, then I, too, am a god”).

    “it’s a moral sentiment not actually taught in public schools.”

    Yes it is. Not teaching students about the supernatural is a de facto naturalist curriculum. To PROVE that humanism is in fact the curriculm taught in public schools, simply look at the curriculum. World History is not really “world” history, its HUMAN history. None of the chapters in your world history book attempt to anlayze historical events from the perspective of frogs, or termites, or sea otters. Science classes often employ labs to teach their curriculum. When was the last time you saw a lab designed for ants to complete? Get the point?

    Public education is an endeavor specifically designed by humans for humans. It is humanist by its very nature.

    “All the schools say is that you have to tolerate your fellow citizens, a stance which all democratic governments espouse.”

    Not true. Schools say you cannot wear religious jewelry, t-shirts, you cannot carry sacred texts (except for those schools which say you can if you are a Muslim, but that is another can of worms). It seems the only people that the public schools do not teach tolerance for are the people who do not share their humanist principles. But humanism isn’t a religion.

  • Steven Depolo

    The t-shirts look pretty cool at least.

  • Marc Vander Maas

    Well, now I know what to get you for Christmas…