How should secular, progressive folks criticize religion?
I’m ambivalent about criticizing religion and religious people.
I was reminded of this issue (whether it’s wise to criticize believers) by some recent facebook posts. One post showed the following image.
Another facebook post showed this image, which is factual without being hostile.
Let me explain my ambivalence about criticizing religion.
On the one hand, in the long run, people should turn away from childish religious fantasies, because believers tend to support regressive and irrational politicians and policies. Toleration for stupidity is stupid and, in the long run, counter-productive.
On the other hand, criticizing religious beliefs can be like name-calling: it tends to antagonize common folks and may turn them against liberals and their values. The U.S. has a long tradition of religious tolerance. Criticizing the beliefs of religious folks makes progressives seem condescending, elitist, and intolerant. Religious folks are too easy targets, and Sam Harris sometimes sounds like the village atheist.
Moreover, one should make a distinction between fundamentalist, extremist religious folks and liberal, progressive religious folks. Not all Christians vote Republican, are hawkish about foreign policy, and oppose abortion and contraception.
Even within the Catholic Church there is a large contingent of social justice liberals. In 2004 during the Bush-Kerry election campaign, I registered voters at a Catholic College in Pennsylvania. I was pleasantly surprised when Catholic nuns came to my John Kerry table and thanked me for being there. Recently US nuns are criticizing the Vatican for its obsession with abortion and gay marriage, for its disinterest in social justice, and for its sexist mistreatment of women. See Nuns Speak About Vatican Criticism.
Rather than directly criticizing religious and ideological enemies, it’s useful to use gentle (or not so gentle) humor. I’m thinking of works such as Mel Brooks´ Spanish Inquisition and political cartoons.
The approach of the lefty religious advocacy group called Faithful America is to reclaim ground from the Religious Right, who want you to believe they have a monopoly on piety. Faithful America is religious, not secular, and liberal, not regressive. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is nonpartisan and aims to preserve religious freedom, not to destroy religion. Its director, Barry Lynn, is a minister.
The left should naturally be the allies of Christians and other people of faith. After all, according to the Bible, Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:23-24.