Mookie made a comment on an earlier post that I found was very thoughtful and deserved a full response. Mookie begins with a quote from my post:
"No religion preaches at the highest levels that their faith is merely one of many acceptable beliefs; all religions are in it for themselves."
i've been thinking about this point, and im wondering - is atheism any different? does atheism accept other beliefs as plausible? can an atheist recognize the possibility of any (g-d based) religion as acceptable for its followers?
Since atheism is many things to many people, and certainly has no prescribed doctrines, I can only speak for my own views.
I take a positivist (or rationalist) view of knowledge, which is to say I believe nothing until it is proven plausible to me. I will not assume something is possible simply because there is no evidence against it. I want concrete evidence in all things I believe (and I do believe in many things), though I reserve a certain skepticism, even regarding the sun's morning rise.
I have yet to find a religion which can stand up to empirical scrutiny. However, I have absolutely no feelings either way regarding how others choose to view the world. I will also extend this courtesy to my child, as forcing something, even atheism, is counter-productive. So when it comes to defending my beliefs (as atheism is not a belief, simply a lack of one), I have only one that I would fight to defend: laissez-faire morality.
I believe it is up to us all as individuals to determine the small choices that define our lives. The legal system must be designed to protect the freedom of all people to choose what they believe, who they love, and how to go about enjoying their lives. So long as no one else is victimized, I believe strongly in the freedom of each person to do as they please, even if it harms themselves (everyone thinks drugs first, but motorcycles, rock climbing, and even casual sex fall under this umbrella).
While I do not object to people believing in something that cannot be proven, I do forcefully oppose anything that threatens freedom. Religions too often seek to influence others, infecting innocent victims (usually children and those most in need) with ignorance and self-loathing.
So now that I've successfully circumnavigated my entire ideology, we're back to the original question: is atheism self-serving and dismissive of religious faith? Many atheists are, and at a cursory glance I would appear to be one of them. However, my opposition to religion is not in what they believe, but instead in their actions. If religions could recognize their rightful place as bastions of moral discussion and teaching, I would have a far deeper appreciation for them. However, religions too often do things like meddle in government, legislating individual morality across broad populations. One might say I do not oppose religion so much as I oppose the actions of all religions. There is a way for believers to easily see what it is I am talking about.
For most believers, the bother over Scientology is not really the fact that Scientologists believe something different about the way the world was formed. It's not about belief in Xenu's braiswashing of thetans, or anything relating to what is written by L. Ron Hubbard. Instead, believers don't want people like Tom Cruise going on TV and saying psychiatry is wrong. Believers don't appreciate the way the Church of $cientology handles its money, or its government involvement, or any of a number of complaints. Many even say the church's treatment of its own members is abuse. In the end, mainstream believers may mock the views of divinity surrounding Scientology, but they truly have disdain for the empirically proven, earthly actions of the organization.
I have no doubt that many problems with our society are directly linked to our inability to move beyond the Iron Age when it comes to religion. Religion's views on sexual preference, for example, are acceptable to me when practiced individually, but it becomes an obstruction of freedom when believers band together to decide how everyone has to love. I believe pacifism is the only belief worth fighting for, and the only thing I cannot tolerate is intolerance. I often find it difficult to tolerate religion, but I have no desire to take someone's comfort from them.