Sunday, December 21, 2008

Atheist war, in The Toronto Star

"Atheist Beliefs Deserve Respect Too"

Popular authors no more "ferociously attack religion" than religious writers such as Dow Marmur ferociously attack atheism. Marmur's criticism therefore oozes hypocrisy.

Marmur seems particularly preoccupied with scholars, saying that atheism was "fashionable among academics" in 1982 when David Hay published his book on religious experience. As a philosophy doctoral student and teaching assistant, I can attest that atheism is even more popular today, and I am optimistic that its membership will increase into the future.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Michelle Ciurria, Toronto

Your op-ed religion columnist, Dow Marmur, has written approvingly of inter-faith dialogue, although he does see pitfalls, and he gives the appearance of being interested in, and tolerant of, belief systems other than his own. I wonder, then, why he feels the need to express quite uncharitable views of atheists and other non-believers.

Rabbi Marmur really knows how to pile it on: "attacking traditional religion has become something of a sport," "authors who ferociously attack religion," "the guise of common sense and scientific objectivity," "their severe strictures," "their second line of attack," "shrill denunciations," "when atheism was fashionable," and "atheist tracts." And that's just one column.

I can hardly wait to rummage again through the dictionary and thesaurus. Somehow I don't think I should expect Marmur to participate in forming an inter-faith Canadian Council of Jews and Atheists any time soon.

Michael Collins, Toronto

As an atheist, I'd like to extend secular holiday greetings to Rabbi Emeritus Dow Marmur and assure him that, in spite of what he might have read, atheists do not feel close to God, nor to any other non-existent being.

Larry Moran, Mississauga

Let's contrast Rabbi Dow Marmur's comments about religion with atheism. His religious traditions come out of a book or books handed down to him loaded with compulsion and dire consequences if not followed. There is also a financial incentive for saying what he does. For someone like me, there are no rewards for what I think other than my own pursuit of truth and common sense. After I finish reading his column, the Bible, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, et al, I am free to agree or disagree. I am able to pick up Dawkins and say, "That's what I think. At last there are people who think as I do. It's exhilarating!"

You can have your faith. I define religious faith as something to be believed but unable to be proved. Stewart Fisher, Campbelleville

We need freedom from religion as much as freedom of religion. From time to time, a theist or an atheist notes that someone in the other camp has done something horrible or, worse, changed their mind.

Dow Marmur, in spite of my sense that he is a civil and reasoned man with whom it would be a pleasure to break bread, frequently plays this game, scoring petty points on serious issues of significant personal expression.

The person who wrote the headline, however, portrays a far less noble demeanor. Would he or she have been censured, I wonder, if the headline had read "'Tis not the season for Judaism"?

Andrew McCammon, Toronto

"Atheist Letters Stir The Pot"

Religious people and religions also deserve respect. Virtually all the hospitals, schools and universities were originally opened by religious people – Christians in particular. I have yet to find a charity run by atheists. I would have more respect for atheists if that were the case.

Clarence McMullen, Toronto

Michael Collins sees the rabbi's words as uncharitable, even though Dow Marmur acknowledges flaws in much dogma. We await a similar acknowledgement from atheists. Mr. Collins seems unaware of the acerbity common to the current rash of anti-theist literature.

Stewart Fisher correctly describes religious faith as "something to be believed but unable to be proved," of course, depending on the type of proof required. Thus, we have faith. Atheism also lacks proof. Thus, atheists have faith.

And Andrew McCammon pleads for freedom from religion. Exactly what is the compulsion from which he seeks freedom in 21st century Canada? No one compelled him to read the rabbi's column.

Raymond Peringer, Toronto

Whoever wrote the headline for these letters misunderstands atheism. Atheism by itself is not a belief; it is just the absence of belief in gods. It's not even a single belief, much less a body of beliefs. Atheism by itself offers no guidance on moral, social or political matters. Atheism, like theism, can be part of an ideology, but neither can be an ideology by itself.

Jim Ebsary, Welland

"Little Regard for Atheists"

Raymond Peringer challenges the notion that atheists seek freedom from religion, and asks, "Exactly what is the compulsion from which he (atheists) seek freedom in 21st century Canada?" I can answer that question for him. We are compelled to recognize God every time we sing our National Anthem. We are compelled to be involved in prayers whenever we attend a meeting of our municipal and regional elected officials. And we are compelled to live under a Constitution that recognizes the supremacy of God. All of these strictures have been imposed upon the general population by bureaucrats or politicians without regard for the growing minority of non-believers in Canada.

Ron Ross, Brampton

"Atheists Deserve the Same Rights as Everyone Else" (mine)

The letters attacking an atheist, who was speaking out for his rights to be respected, disturbed and incensed me. This is not only as a non-religious person, but as a human being.

A writer asks, "Exactly what is the compulsion from which [an atheist] seeks freedom [from religion] in 21st-century Canada?" Well, speaking as an agnostic, I can tell you first-hand that whenever the general public hears about my beliefs, I am very often attacked for it.

Frankly, I and many others resent the implication that we are some sort of malcontents, just because we do not believe the same things as most of the country. We also resent having our beliefs dismissed, just because they are unconventional. The last time I checked, atheists have the same legal rights and freedoms as anyone else – so let's start accepting that.

Stephen Bryce, Stoney Creek, Ont.

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