For a good example of just how empty the argument that atheists need religion, check out the recent article from David Stokes, where he teases us into thinking he is going to make some sort of argument, and instead he treats us to two pages of, well, not much of anything, except unanswered questions and baseless assertions. If this is the best the religionists can do, we atheists have little to fear.
After prattling on about Thomas Beckett for no apparent reason, he hits us with this nice little assertion:
"Freedom of religion is a very good thing. Freedom FROM religion, though promoted by some as the wave of the future, is not."
This is a common refrain among those who favor more religious meddling in state affairs, but they never defend it with reason or evidence, and such is the case here. The argument is obviously logically flawed at its core: in order for me to have religious freedom, I must be free from all religions that don't suit me. Thus, if I am an atheist, I must be free from religion, period. The 1st amendment was created to give us freedom of conscience in religious matters. It was not to say we have freedom of religion, so long as we pick one. That would put our religious freedom on the same level as the bartender in The Blues Brothers who, when asked what sort of music they played there, responded with "We've got both kinds. We've got country, and western."
Stokes obviously disagrees. His evidence? France's revolution was more violent than ours, and ended with the Despotism of Napoleon. No, I'm not kidding. This is his idea of a case study. OK David, let me give you another case study. Which part of the world has been more violent, both with enemies abroad and perceived enemies within, the religious states of the middle East, and the US, or the relatively secular states of Europe? The answer is obvious. So if we have a dramatic and broad general difference between religious and nonreligious states right now, why on earth would Stokes run back to the 18th century for evidence to bolster his case?
First, his case is so absurd he had to go back that far to find anything that looked to support him. Second, just like the scientific cranks, it is a lot easier to make shit up going way back in history, where the average reader may not have the knowledge or initiative to get it, to understand how flawed your argument is. It is easier to lie about ancient France than modern France because the ancient French are dead and cannot defend themselves. One should always be wary of someone making an argument who goes way back in history for his evidence when evidence in the here and now should be abundant. You are being conned.
Stokes' next assertion is the old no-morals-without-religion canard:
"Anti-theists notwithstanding, we need religion as part of the glue that holds civilized society together."
Yes, except that most of the modern world lacks that glue, and yet has civilizations that are, in some ways, more together than we are. They are certainly more together than the religious nations of the middle east. How does Stokes explain this? He can't, which is why he doesn't bring them up. The basic problem with the argument above is that it conflates religion with ethics and morals, and they are not the same thing at all. As most of the modern world shows us daily, people can be moral and irreligious. Some of us even find that easier than the pious morality Stokes would have us embrace.
"Yes, there are some predominately secular nations in Europe functioning as democracies. But they tend to have that socialist quirk that makes the state itself a religion. Let’s see how it looks over there in twenty-five years."
Socialist quirks make the state a religion? I'm sure the people in Germany, France, and Sweden would be shocked, if not bemused, to hear that having more state services than the US makes their government their religion. Needless to say, this assertion by Stokes is self-serving nonsense, without a shred of supporting evidence. His 25-year parting shot makes that clear. He knows his case doesn't hold now, so he's going to substitute speculation of the state of those nations in 25 years for real evidence of their supposedly sorry state now. In other words, he's making shit up...again.
Within that discussion he also made an assertion that had me sitting bolt upright in my chair:
"when religion and the state are “one” tyranny can happen. No thinking non-Muslim religionist wants that kind of thing for America."
They don't? Where was Stokes when Mike Huckabee was saying to cheering crowd that the constitution needs to be changed to be more like the Bible? Has he missed all the battles over science education in this country where religionists are trying to get the state to teach their creation myths (however politically disguised) as science? Is he not aware of all the battles over abortion, stem cell research, and same sex marriage, in which one side draws their argumentation entirely from religion?
Now if Stokes wants to dismiss all those people as "nonthinking", I won't argue the point. But the argument that there is no drive to turn the US into a theocracy by a large segment of the populace is simply ignorant of what is going on. The argument that religion makes for a more peaceful open society is absurd on its face, and contradicted by essentially the entire modern world. That Stokes has to keep going back to ancient history to make his case proves he has none. That he quotes John Adams, as if his opinion means anything in the modern world, reveals that his is an authoritarian view, rather than a scientific, evidence-based one. If the last 200 years have proved anything, it is that the latter is far better at getting at the truth.