This afternoon, all it took was a few minutes of listening to Randi Rhodes on Portland's progressive talk station (KPOJ) to get irritated by what she was saying.
Usually it takes a bit longer, but eventually I always find Rhodes to be almost as difficult for me to listen to as Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Savage -- her ideological opposites.
Today I tuned into her show as she was talking with an atheist caller. He said that he couldn't believe in any religion, or God, because there was no solid evidence of a supernatural divinity, and religions have had two thousand years (or more) to come up with such proof.
Rhodes said, "How do you know?" For a moment both I and the caller were confused. There was a silence on the airwaves, and I also tried to figure out what she meant. After all, the guy had just said that he didn't believe in God. What was there to know?
She then elucidated the question: "How do you know there isn't a God?" Which stimulated my churchless psyche to inwardly scream, Unholy jesus fucking christ, Randi, that's an idiotic thing to say.
Almost always, you can't prove something doesn't exist. Nobody can prove that the Tooth Fairy isn't real. Or Santa Claus. Or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. All we can do is ask for evidence that they do exist as something more than myths.
This isn't much different from Randi asking, "How do you know the moon isn't made of green cheese?"
Well, because there's plenty of evidence that the moon is made of other stuff. Likewise, science and everyday experience tell us that things in the world can be explained by the laws of nature; no "green cheese" sort of extraordinary supernatural explanation is necessary.
So I was disappointed, but not all that surprised (because Randi Rhodes isn't an exemplar of logical thinking) when she went on to tell her caller:
You should be tolerant of people who have faith in things there is no evidence for. Your atheism is just like a religion to you.
I yelled at the radio, "No, I don't!" and "No, it isn't!" to those two sentences. And switched to another station.
Not believing isn't a belief system. I demolished that misconception in "Atheism isn't a religion, Thom Hartmann," where I took another KPOJ talk radio host to task -- with the aid of an excellent piece called If atheism is religion, 'albino' is a suntan.
If you are a Christian, do you believe Ganesh does not exist? Why, then you must be a devout follower of the "No Ganesh" faith!
...If me not believing in your God is a faith, then you not believing in other Gods is an equal faith. How many Christians do you know who would say they do not believe in other Gods as a matter of faith?
If my atheism with respect to your deity is a religion, then your atheism with respect to other deities is also a religion.
Further, I don't have to be tolerant of people who expect me to believe stuff without solid demonstrable evidence. As I often say on this blog, I've got no trouble with weird notions, so long as they aren't forced on me.
Take your subjectivity to the limits; feel (and be) free. But when it comes time to act on, or reach consensus about the nature of, objective reality, you need to give me something more than a "have faith."
If religious believers kept their unfounded beliefs to themselves, I'd have no problem with religion. However, they don't. And that's why I'm intolerant of claims for which there is no evidence.
For example, I'm intolerant of fundamentalists who say there's no need to worry about global warming because God has a plan for the Earth, according to Genesis. That crazy notion comes from a Congressman whose wacko religious beliefs are influencing his votes on energy policy and climate change legislation.
So Randi Rhodes, don't tell me to be tolerant of religious beliefs. The 9/11 attackers had blind faith in Allah and their conception of the Koran. Do you want people to be tolerant of angry, militant Islam?
I doubt it. But as soon as we tolerate one unproven religious belief, the door is open to toleration of all of them.