Militant atheists in Europe think they’re being avant-garde with their anti-religion activism. (open to non-subscribers for a limited time) They’re not simply personally averse to God and religion; they’re actively trying to suppress it.
Passive indifference to faith has left Europe’s churches mostly empty. But debate over religion is more intense and strident than it has been in many decades. Religion is re-emerging as a big issue in part because of anxiety over Europe’s growing and restive Muslim populations and a fear that faith is reasserting itself in politics and public policy. That is all adding up to a growing momentum for a combative brand of atheism, one that confronts rather than merely ignores religion.
Mr. Onfray argues that atheism faces a “final battle” against “theological hocus-pocus” and must rally its troops. “We can no longer tolerate neutrality and benevolence,” he writes in “Traité d’athéologie,” or Atheist Manifesto, a best seller in France, Italy and Spain. “The turbulent time we live in suggests that change is at hand and the time has come for a new order.”
They think they’re fighting against a new battle against an old oppressor, but this is as old as the French Revolution and the Jacobin Terror. A letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal, which published the original article, slices away the euphemisms to reveal its truth.
It’s ironic that Michel Onfray, “France’s high priest of militant atheism,” used an auditorium named after Alexis de Tocqueville to lecture on “Hedonist Philosophy” (“The New Crusaders: As Religious Strife Grows, Europe’s Atheists Seize Pulpit,” page one, April 12). Mr. Onfray’s worldview couldn’t be further from de Tocqueville’s. In “Democracy in America,” Tocqueville wrote, “Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. Religion … is more needed in democratic republics than in any other. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie be not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed?”
Confrontational atheists like Mr. Onfray aren’t interested in tolerance or accommodation; they’re zealous about suppressing religious expression. Consider just the examples cited in the article. Mina Ahadi’s group of atheist ex-Muslims “is lobbying European Union officials for restrictions on the veil.” Other atheists demand “that Jesus be removed from nativity plays and that Christmas parties be called ‘winter festival’ gatherings.” Some, like Elton John, would even ban organized religion.
Quoting 18th-century French writer Nicholas Chamfort, Mr. Onfray claims to believe that the foundation of all morality is “to enjoy and make others enjoy without doing ill to yourself or to others.” Too bad he doesn’t practice what he preaches. His radical agenda harms others by attempting to squelch their religious liberty.
Charles D. Eden
What we’re seeing is not just a benign neglect with tolerance for different points of view, but an active hostility and desire to suppress the rights of others to religious freedom and self-expression. So much for the famed liberal tolerance, but then the so-called elites have never been much for tolerating the benighted masses’ beliefs when they contrast with their own ‘brightness’.
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