I, and I suspect most atheists, differentiate between the narrow, intolerant, and too often dangerous attitudes of bigoted religious fundamentalists compared to the more liberal, enlightened, and tolerant attitudes of moderate believers.
It is understandable that the moderate believer is uncomfortable with the negativity that immoderates attract, though histrionics is weakening their case.
The following was news to me, though it happened in England in January:
"I'm glad that religious hardliners have failed in their attempt to secure special leave to discriminate against lesbians and gays. Had peers handed them victory last night in the House of Lords, a new law - Sexual Orientation Regulations - making it illegal for businesses to refuse to provide services to people because they disapprove of their sexuality would have been effectively annulled, given legal licence to the fearful and bigoted to act upon a prejudice that disfigures society and ruins lives. The campaign, led by a small group of Christian evangelicals, was ignorant, alarmist and wrong. Sadly, so was some of the critical comment it inspired. . . But when liberal-left resistance to religious conservatives becomes a generalized expression of contempt for all religious sentiment, it sounds as blinkered as the bigots it berates. This is a phenomenon I've long failed to understand. What is about "the religious" that reduces Polly's quality of argument to a level lower that of a sixth-form debate? What sort of advert is it for secular rationalism when the eminent philosopher A.C. Grayling comes to the podium as he did yesterday spitting bile like a man possessed by demons? " ¬ Dave Hill, Hate the sin, not the sinner, guardian.co.uk/commentisfree, Jan 10, 2007
I dislike that phrase 'hate the sin' because, even though I might consider some homosexual acts unhygienic and unappetizing, I consider it unjustified to speak of hatred and sin in connection with what others choose to do without harming others.
"Spitting bile like a man possessed by demons?" That sure sounded interesting, so I checked it out:
"There is only one printable phrase apt enough for religious groups seeking exemption from the requirement not to discriminate against gay people, and that is that their actions constitute an obscenity against human rights."
Grayling went on to draw parallels between discrimination against gays, which the religious groups in question continue to regard as a prejudice that ought to be protected behind their guise of sanctity, and no longer permissible Christian discrimination against black [sic] people, women, or Jews.
"I write the above in anger. This effort to halt the fight against the evil of discrimination is a step too far by the religious, so ready to squeal like pigs when it is they who feel they are being discriminated against. They are trying to roll back the gains in civil liberties and the creation of an open society, which it has taken us centuries to achieve, from the time that Torquemada was burning people at the stake for incorrect versions of Christianity." ¬ AC Grayling, Halting progress, guardian.co.uk/commentisfree, Jan 9, 2007.Grayling did make it quite clear at the outset about which specific religious group his remarks were made. He did not tar all religious individuals with the same brush. However, in claiming that Grayling was "spitting bile" over an issue that Hill agreed displayed attitudes that were "ignorant, alarmist and wrong" merely provided another example of "the religious, [who are] so ready to squeal like pigs when it is they who feel they are being discriminated against."
Admittedly, in Homophobia, not injustice, is what really fires the faiths, Polly Toynbee does direct her remarks more generally at the fact that "Christians, Muslims and Jews are all fighting against the sexual orientation regulations with a wrecking clause that would render them meaningless."
If religious moderates were less insistent on labeling comments with which they agree in principal as being examples of "spitting bile", it would appear less that they are tossing their lot in with the bigotry that they claim also to despise. If religious moderates consistently distanced themselves from "religious hardliners", rather than huffily complaining that they too have been insulted by critiques of religious bigotries, then they might make a better case for themselves. As it is, they are lining up alongside the very individuals who are earning a bad name for religious mythologies by virtue of their fundamentalist prejudices.
I think that it is because of this alignment of the religious with any-old-fellow-believer that the so-called New Atheists are broadening their scope to include religion in general. Atheistic complaints target religiously-motivated protection of the unfounded, illogical, anti-education, and anti-science misinformation explosion that seeks to protect politicized prejudices and to promote violence. As long as the religious defend any and all religious activity from justified criticism, then that criticism will continue to be levelled at religion in general. The complaints against blind religious faith are justified by abundant and undeniable examples of the damage caused by religious excesses. The complaints dismiss the insistence upon belief in ancient mythologies that run counter to all the evidence, and that lies beneath and drives the excesses. To protect the beliefs is to be complicit in the dangerous illogic.
Sites Elsewhere: By their fruits ye shall (indeed) know them. .