Sunday, April 8, 2012

An Atheist’s Response to “Learning to Respect Religion”

Posted by B.P.

Nicolas Kristof is an opinion columnist for the New York Times, well known for the book he co-authored with his his wife, Half The Sky.  In his book, as well as many of his articles, Kristof focuses on the subjugation of women and the steps that are being made to improve the lives of women across the world in various cultures.  The book is a great read for humanists interested in women’s rights, and is now available in our lending library for interested members.

More recently, Kristof published a post on his blog entitled, “Learning to Respect Religion.”  Kristof is not known for his secularism, and frequently defends religions (in spite of the misogynistic messages pervasive throughout many religious texts).  In this particular article, Kristof discusses “new atheists” as those counter to Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris; those who hold a “grudging admiration for religion as an ethical and cohesive force.”  He goes on to share quotes from these new atheists and cites a psychology professor’s findings on societies run by secular people to have greater rates of failure and poorer ethics.  Toward the end, Kristof advises, “Let’s not answer religious fundamentalism with secular fundamentalism, religious intolerance with irreligious intolerance.”

Kristof, as a twenty-something female secular humanist and atheist, I disagree.  I do not find religion to be ethical, nor do I find it a cohesive force.  I admire the work you’ve done to expose the harm done to women by societies throughout the world, but I’m left scratching my head in wonder at your defense of religion after all this work.  Muslim cultures worldwide mutilate the genitals of women as a means of sexual oppression.  Ethical?  Religious wars have been fought for centuries, and rage on in the Middle East even today between various Abrahamic religions.  Cohesive? 

Sure, religion has produced impressive art and architecture, and has even provided food for the hungry (but was the motive to do good for others, or to proselytize?).  But the claim that religious people donate more time and money than non-religious people seems to warrant more investigation.  I don’t think donating time and money to only those within an in-group is particularly noble; as I’m sure that volunteer hours considered time spent cleaning the church, which is also always in need of monetary support to run the electricity so that folks don’t need to sit in the dark while a preacher promises them eternal damnation if they don’t live their life according to a 2,000 year old book.  I, as an atheist, have donated time and money (to a greater extent than many religious people my age) to many causes and supported many people without asking them to change their religious beliefs.  I have knowingly supported those in need in spite of their religious affiliation.  But I will not support religion, in any of its harmful forms. 

My response to you, Mr. Kristof, is that I will learn to respect religion, when religion learns to respect human beings.


  1. Good point–Religion has lost its credibility. Even so-called mainstream or moderate religions have fallen short in their lack of criticism of their fellow believers who show such contempt for fellow humans, especially women.

    1. Well said. I have often asked where the religious leaders are to speak out against the mistreatment of their fellow humans,especially women.

  2. … a psychology professor's findings on societies run by secular people to have greater rates of failure and poorer ethics.

    Sounds like an apologist getting way out of his field of competence.