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Very valuable article on the relationship between atheists and Monotheists August 16, 2006

Posted by Administrator in atheism, Smart People.
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Michael Novak over at First Things (where else?  My GOODNESS that is an outstanding journal) has published a rambling response to some of the points that Heather MacDonald raises about the place of atheists in the American conversation.  MacDonald’s article -on first glance- is fine writing.  Novak’s is wonderful, and raises even more -and important- questions on the dialog that ought to be taking place between atheists and Monotheists in America.

Most often, this dialog does not take place.  One cannot pierce the self-righteous arrogance of noted atheists such as Pandagon or PZ Myers for a moment of coherent dialog.  They suffer from a variation of BDS:  Instead of saying “Bush is evil” (which they do say, ad nauseaum) they also say “Belief (ergo, believers) is/are evil”, and their discussion/commentary/thought doesn’t extend beyond this very simple mantra.  I (and many fellow Christians) then reflexively respond with something akin to “Thoughtless, evil atheist.  You’re not fit to fertilize my garden.”

MacDonald (as an unbeliever) and Novak (as a believer) do go beyond this kindergarten playground dynamic, and in doing so (I sincerely hope) are opening a badly needed and much welcomed discussion on the relations between the spiritual and the secular in the American conversation.

The key to Novak’s response is found in his conclusion:

The fundamental question of our age is this: Can humans really maintain a civilization if a predominant majority live etsi Deus non daretur, as if there is no God? If there is no God, humans are likely to live one way, at least in a few boundary territories, such as life, family, and daily, humble self-sacrifice. If there is a God (the true God, no false gods before him), at least some—and not altogether minor—decisions are likely to be taken in a quite different direction, along a different axis.

The answer to the question “Who am I, under these stars, with the wind upon my face?” is quite different in the two cases. To choose not to believe is to choose for oneself an identity quite different from the identity of one who chooses to believe.

Both choices, springing from the most profound of inner sources, are worthy of infinite respect. From the Christian and Jewish point of view, the Creator himself set before every single individual this inalienable choice and thus gave to every human being a dignity higher than that of any other creature on this earth.

This difference in radical choices is, therefore, the epicenter of human dignity. Each person is created free. This fact demands more than tolerance—more than the mutual agreement, for reasons of peace, merely to put up with (tolerate) each other. It requires, not tolerance, but something higher—mutual respect.

Novak’s article. 

MacDonald’s article.

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