No, I'm not the one with the athiest manifesto. That would be Sam Harris at Truthdig, a progressive website. Just reading the Editor's Note and the opening of Harris's manifesto left me sputtering from not knowing where to start a rebuttal first. Here are the Editor's Note and another excerpt, accompanied by my sputtering response:
Editor’s Note: At a time when fundamentalist religion has an unparalleled influence in the highest government levels in the United States, and religion-based terror dominates the world stage, Sam Harris argues that progressive tolerance of faith-based unreason is as great a menace as religion itself. Harris, a philosophy graduate of Stanford who has studied eastern and western religions, won the 2005 PEN Award for nonfiction for The End of Faith, which powerfully examines and explodes the absurdities of organized religion. Truthdig asked Harris to write a charter document for his thesis that belief in God, and appeasement of religious extremists of all faiths by moderates, has been and continues to be the greatest threat to world peace and a sustained assault on reason.
"...fundamentalist religion has an unparalleled influence in the highest government levels in the United States..." I take that to mean that President Bush is a self-professed born-again Christian, and he has other Christians in his administration. Is he a fundamentalist? I don't think so, but I can't be sure. And what's wrong with faith having an influence? That would be denying a large part of our population their voice in the country.
"...religion-based terror dominates the world stage..." Oh, of course. President Bush has allowed religion into his administration, and religion is the base for terror in the world, therefore President Bush's religion is connected to terror.
"...progressive tolerance of faith-based unreason is as great a menace as religion itself." Faith is "unreason." Thinking people, reasonable people don't have faith. Religion is a menace, and if progressives tolerate it, they're as great a menace as religion itself.
"...The End of Faith, which powerfully examines and explodes the absurdities of organized religion." Harris does some exploding in his article, but that's later. For now, we are assured that organized religion is absurd. I'm not sure, though, just how "organized" they mean. Is it the hierarchically structured denominations (Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, eg.), or is any belief system considered organized?
"...his thesis that belief in God, and appeasement of religious extremists of all faiths by moderates, has been and continues to be the greatest threat to world peace and a sustained assault on reason." Strike that "appeasement" clause, and you get the athiest's belief that "belief in God [is]... the greatest threat to world peace." And, you get the athiest's belief that "belief in God [is]... a sustained assault on reason." I had no idea my faith was both a great threat to and an assault on others. Appeasement of it is merely a secondary issue.
Now to Sam Harris. This follows his discussion of Hurricane Katrina and the event, shortly after that, where a thousand Shiite pilgrims were trampled to death on a bridge in Iraq:
Only the atheist recognizes the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved. Only the atheist realizes how morally objectionable it is for survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God while this same God drowned infants in their cribs. Because he refuses to cloak the reality of the world’s suffering in a cloying fantasy of eternal life, the atheist feels in his bones just how precious life is--and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all.
His arrogance is boundless. The "saved" are narcissistic and self-deceived. Only the athiest sees reality. Only the athiest feels in his bones the preciousness of life.
But the vast religious population cloaks suffering in a "cloying fantasy of eternal life" and suffers from "abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all." I'm not quite sure what abridgements he's talking about, because he doesn't discuss it (as far as I can tell, but then I believe in God, so that makes me intellectually inferior). But, as I recall, studies have shown that religious people are actually happier than non-religious people.
Of course, people of faith regularly assure one another that God is not responsible for human suffering. But how else can we understand the claim that God is both omniscient and omnipotent? There is no other way, and it is time for sane human beings to own up to this. This is the age-old problem of theodicy, of course, and we should consider it solved. If God exists, either he can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities or he does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil. Pious readers will now execute the following pirouette: God cannot be judged by merely human standards of morality. But, of course, human standards of morality are precisely what the faithful use to establish God’s goodness in the first place. And any God who could concern himself with something as trivial as gay marriage, or the name by which he is addressed in prayer, is not as inscrutable as all that. If he exists, the God of Abraham is not merely unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.
There is another possibility, of course, and it is both the most reasonable and least odious: The biblical God is a fiction.
Harris's use of "omnipotent" here and in other places indicates he sees it as God causing all things to happen (responsible for human suffering). If this is the case, his Latin is a bit lacking. Omnipotent means able to do all things. It doesn't mean God actually does all things. That would be omnimanipulent.
He is right to bring up the question of suffering, because that is a question that has plagued people of faith throughout the ages. If God is real, loving, etc, why...? But Harris runs off into simplistic territory, declaring as though his statement constitutes absolute proof, "[If He exists,] God, therefore, is either impotent or evil." Finally, though Harris gives the "reasonable" conclusion that "God is a fiction."
It's all a belief system, one way or the other. Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc, believe in the existence of God. Atheists believe in the non-existence of God. It's almost impossible for one group to convince the other group of the soundness of the opposite position.
Just look at the comments to Harris's manifesto. It's full of people saying, "I'm right and you're wrong." "No, I'm right and you're wrong!" Athiests quote the Bible to prove how wrong it is. Christians quote the Bible to prove how right it is. And nobody really listens to the other.
It's the tone of the conversation that I notice. Just as with Sam Harris, I find that the atheist commenters tend toward either the arrogant or the pugnacious, and they do a lot of name-calling and ad hominem attacks. The Christian commenters have some pugnacious ones as well, but they're outnumbered by those who try to make logical, reasoned (or Scriptural) arguments. Just which group is best grounded in reason I leave to you to decide.