I believe that a non-religious atheist has exactly the same potential to be a moral person as a religious person (atheist or otherwise), so it is important that I do not let Christopher Hitchens sway my opinion to the contrary. Hitchens manages the seemingly impossible - he makes Professor Dawkins seem like a puppy dog. While Dawkins merely implies the violation of human rights by denying religious families the right to be, well, families, Hitchens seems to be quite happy to endorse the murder of Muslims, which he apparently considers "a pleasure".
I'm open to the idea that the sensible course of action is to ignore Hitchens - that I only add fuel to his fire by talking about him. But on the other hand, I am reminded of Edward Burke's idea that "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." My diverse religious beliefs make it hard for me to fall silent.
Hitchens, in a typically polemic tirade for the Washington Post's On Faith section, lays the following challenge:
Name a moral statement or action, uttered or performed by a religious person, that could not have been uttered or performed by an unbeliever.
I'd like to answer this for the benefit of the open minded. Here are five moral statements I can truthfully make that an unbeliever cannot:
- My faith in Jesus encourages me to forgive Christopher Hitchens for his intolerance.
- My faith in Sufi (the Muslim spiritual tradition) encourages me to make peace with all religions, as each religion reveals part of the truth of God.
- My Zen Buddhism teaches me that violence and the advocation of violence will result in further suffering.
- My faith in Hindu metaphysics assures me that there are many different paths to enlightenment, including both the theistic path of devotional worship, and the non-theistic path of knowledge.
- My Discordian beliefs remind me that we all have freedom of belief since no one belief system can be more True than any other.
Now a non-religious person can certainly speak these statements, but presuming we may take honesty as a virtue, they are only truthful (and hence moral) when spoken by a religious person. Would I claim because of these statements I am more moral than any atheist? Absolutely not. Only that religious motivations lead to different moral statements and actions than non-religious motivations, both of which are valid ways to derive an ethical system.
I ask that atheists demonstrate their morality by denouncing Hitchens' hate-mongering, and that religious people demonstrate their morality by forgiving Hitchens for his bigotry. To paraphrase Jesus: "forgive him, for he knows not what he does."