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Hard and Soft Atheism
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Today I visited Jill's UU church again, just the Sunday School. The topic was "Hard and Soft Atheism". It was pretty interesting, though a handful of people sort of monopolized the comments. I spoke twice, and neither time did anyone really address my points.

One was that the dichotomy of "hard" and "soft" atheist seems a bit superfluous. Plastic Soul and I had a pretty good discussion about this a while back, actually.

Anyway, it seems to me that a hard, or "strong", atheist believes that there is no god. Supposedly, a "weak" atheist has no reason to believe in god, and doesn't think the answer to the question is knowable at present. This definition sounds essentially like an agnostic, which is what I am. Again, nobody really addressed the distinction.

Secondly, the topic of tolerance came up. One woman said she felt like she was under attack by her atheist relatives around Christmastime, supposedly because she believes in it to a certain extent and observes the holiday.

I asked where the line was between tolerance and criticism. It seems to me that religious beliefs are part of the marketplace of ideas, just as subject to criticism as ideas about politics or economics or anything else. If you believe socialism is the best economic system, I can disagree strongly with you, right?

But if you're a Hindu, and I tell you why I think you're wrong, am I intolerant? This seems like a ridiculous double-standard, and I've commented on it here before.

I believe strongly in religious freedom and religious plurality, but I likewise strongly believe that no ideology is above criticism. And if your ideas cannot stand up to criticism, perhaps that it because they were weak to begin with, or that your reasons for believing in them are weak. Either way, criticism is not intolerance, or rather, it might be considered reasoned intolerance.

Intolerance in and of itself is not a bad thing. Some things simply should not be tolerated (e.g., denying other human beings rights on the basis of their race or gender). If you believe something to be untrue or unjust, there's absolutely nothing wrong with being intolerant of it.

And what are the appropriate ways of expressing this intolerance? Well, that's what defines its quality, and your character. Speaking out against what you perceive to be injustice or untruth not only seems acceptable, but in fact it seems vital.

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