Sunday, June 17, 2007


In my Atheist Ethicist blog today I spoke about the moral permissibility, even the moral obligation, of criticizing other cultures.

I still worry that people might be confused about my position on criticism. I write blog entries such as this which defend and encourage criticism. Yet, at the same time, I criticize Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens for some of the claims that they make against religion - defending religion from the charges these three writers level against them.

Is this not inconsistent?

Actually, it is not. Criticism is appropriate, but the criticism has to be valid. There is no inconsistency in holding to an obligation to give valid criticism where it is deserved, but to condemn those who give invalid criticism.

Those who are willing to kill others in order to obtain a political end deserve harsh critciism. Laying the foundations for democracy require promoting an aversion to using violence against those with whom one is having a political disagreement.

However, to say 'religion' is to be blamed for all of our ills, and that religious people commit evils that no atheist would commit, are not fair and just criticisms. My objection is not that these claims amount to criticism and that criticism is inherently wrong. My objection is that the accused are innocent of these particular charges.

It is like taking a person guilty of armed robbery and charging him with murder. Saying that the accused is innocent of murder does not, in any sense of the imagination, imply that he is not guilty of armed robbery.

Anyway, I wanted a chance to make this distinction clear - the distinction between the attitude that some specific condemnation is wrong because the accused is innocent, and the attitude that all condemnation is intrinsically wrong. I hold to the first option; I reject the second.

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