Preposterous Universe

Sunday, April 04, 2004
Thank God for Atheism

The most recent issue of The New Republic has an article about the Pledge of Allegiance affair by Leon Wieseltier. It's an insightful piece -- Wieseltier, who seems to be religious himself, puts the issue in better perspective than I ever could have. His main point is simply that the defenders of keeping "Under God" in the Pledge are actually undermining religion, since their main tactic is to claim that the phrase doesn't really refer to anything specific, just a warm and fuzzy feeling we all have as Americans. Wieseltier correctly points out that it is the atheists who, by not buying into such a meaningless notion of God and religion, are the ones who take God seriously.
For this reason, American unbelief can perform a great quickening service to American belief. It can shake American religion loose from its cheerful indifference to the inquiry about truth. It can remind it that religion is not only a way of life but also a worldview. It can provoke it into remembering its reasons. For the argument that a reference to God is not a reference to God is a sign that American religion is forgetting its reasons. The need of so many American believers to have government endorse their belief is thoroughly abject. How strong, and how wise, is a faith that needs to see God's name wherever it looks?
I think he's exactly right -- religion only makes sense if it pleads guilty to making claims about how the world works. I also believe that those claims fall far short, but I have more respect for believers who stand by the manifest consequences of their belief.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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