A friend of mine has a great way of dealing with Jehovah's Witnesses who knock on his door, proselytizing pamphlets in hand. He tells them enthusiastically, "Great to see you! Come on in! I want to tell you about how wonderful my religion is. It'll just take a couple of hours."
I don't think he's gotten any takers.
It's funny how religious true believers are really eager to talk about the marvelousness of their own faith, yet usually shy away from learning about other points of view or philosophies of life.
So I think Ross Douhat made some good points in his New York Times opinion piece, "Let's Talk About Faith."
Liberal democracy offers religious believers a bargain. Accept, as a price of citizenship, that you may never impose your convictions on your neighbor, or use state power to compel belief. In return, you will be free to practice your own faith as you see fit — and free, as well, to compete with other believers (and nonbelievers) in the marketplace of ideas.
That’s the theory. In practice, the admirable principle that nobody should be persecuted for their beliefs often blurs into the more illiberal idea that nobody should ever publicly criticize another religion. Or champion one’s own faith as an alternative. Or say anything whatsoever about religion, outside the privacy of church, synagogue or home.
Douhat was stimulated to opine on this subject by Brit Hume's blasting of Tiger Wood's Buddhism. (Hume is a Fox News analyst.)
I didn't like how Hume said that Woods should ditch Buddhism and turn to Christianity if he wants redemption and forgiveness after engaging in multiple extra-marital affairs. But there's nothing wrong with debating the pros and cons of various religions.
Debating, though, involves a back-and-forth conversation where two or more people respectfully listen to each other and take turns expressing their opinions.
What bothered me is that Hume made his remarks in a preachy fashion. Fox News gave him a soapbox, whereas he should have had the guts to discuss the supposed superiority of Christianity with an expert on Buddhism.
One such expert responded to Hume in a Washington Post story:
"I think it's ridiculous to make those statements," said Robert Thurman, a professor of Tibetan studies at Columbia University. "It is insulting to Buddhism to indicate that Buddhism doesn't take care of its own believers and followers. But I think he will discover that Buddhists are very forgiving about his stupid statements."
Christians, being members of the majority religion in the United States, are comfortable criticizing other faiths. However, when the tables are turned they love to play the I'm offended game.
Jonathan Chait says it like it is, referring to some other commentators who defended Hume's outspoken praise of Christianity.
Why should we maintain an informal social etiquette that discourages people from openly disparaging other people's religions and touting their own as superior? Gee, that seems kind of obvious to me.
I strongly doubt that Wehner and Ponnuru would be happy to see, say, Muslims going on television to blame Mark Sanford's Christianity for his adultery and urge him to convert to Islam. Of course, I can't prove this, because no major television network would ever allow it.
But I'd at least like to hear them say that they'd be happy to see their rule applied to all religions. Otherwise, they need to admit that what they favor is not some wild theological free-for-all in our public discourse, with all religions touting their superiority and disparaging others, but rather a privileged place for Christianity.
I try to be an equal-opportunity ridiculer of religion. Whenever I feel the spirit to point out some irrational, nonsensical, or indefensible dogma, theology, or faith-based belief system, I blog on.
All religions share a common characteristic that makes them wonderful targets for skeptical arrows: they lack demonstrable evidence that their precepts are true.
There's no proof that if Woods became a Christian, he'd be redeemed or forgiven by some supernatural entity -- Jesus, God, whoever. And there's no evidence that the Buddhist belief in karmic consequences carried over via rebirth to another life is true.
So my churchless attitude is that religious debates are great, because they always point out the absurdity of blind faith. Skepticism, rationality, and the scientific method invariably turn out to be the winner.