Today's atheism is different from the atheism of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Nietzsche, Russell and Voltaire did not gloat over the presumed death or nonexistence of God. There was no triumphalism in their assertions. While not enamored of organized religion, they did not view it as a singular force for evil.So true. One more example of progressives making everybody less well off.
Things have changed. Outspoken, angry 21st century atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens have sought to eradicate God and organized religion from the planet; faith-based religion in any form is unacceptable to them. When studying these modern-day thinkers, the late Herbert Marcuse's lament proves fitting and prescient: "We, no matter the side, become fanatical in our own anti-fanaticism."
Today's atheists hold that religion educates children and adults to hate in the name of their pious doctrines. Religion, they tell us, encourages followers to engage in God-directed slaughter and conquest of innocents. Its mission is to convert skeptics — or worse, subdue nonbelievers — until the whole world buckles.
The truth is, they're partly right. There have always been people who commit evil in the name of God and religion. They do indeed give religion and God a horrible name. Such behavior is perverse, inexcusable and, of course, sinful.
But today's atheists are as extreme in their convictions as the fire-and-brimstone believer. The resolute follower knows beyond any doubt that God exists, whereas the atheist knows beyond any doubt that God is a figment of the imagination. I'm reminded of the aphorism: To the believer there are no questions; to the atheist, there are no answers.
As a Jew and a rabbi, my speaking out in support of Christians who wish to display a Nativity scene on public land can potentially carry more weight than a priest or minister speaking out. The reason is simple: It's not my religious narrative. More important, faithful Christians do not threaten me. If anything, I'm inspired by them. By definition, different people from different faiths view God and religion differently.
In the meantime, Santa Monica, where I live and serve a congregation, is less festive, bright and accepting this Christmas season. And given my city's current municipal policy — one that forbids the use of public.
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