Saturday, January 28, 2006

Atheistic Zealotry

My local paper ran an AP story this morning about a peculiar legal action in Italy: 
An Italian judge heard arguments Friday on whether a small-town parish priest should stand trial for asserting that Jesus Christ existed.

The priest's atheist accuser, Luigi Cascioli, says the Roman Catholic Church has been deceiving people for 2,000 years with a "fable" that Christ existed, and that the Rev. Enrico Righi violated two Italian laws by reasserting the claim. . .

Cascioli filed a criminal complaint in 2002 after Righi wrote in a parish bulletin that Jesus did indeed exist, and that he was born of a couple named Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth.

Cascioli claims that Righi's assertion constituted two crimes under Italian law: so-called "abuse of popular belief," in which someone fraudulently deceives people; and "impersonation," in which someone gains by attributing a false name to a person.
According to the AP story, the accuser says his goal is to go through the procedure so he can reach the European Court of Human Rights, where he can accuse the Catholic Church of "religious racism."

Not only does this sort of thing give atheism a bad name, but it drives home for me the distinction between atheism and skepticism.

The most public atheists go about promulgating their beliefs with what can only be called religious zeal: this is the only true way to believe, they seem to say; all other ways of believing are either delusional or fraudulent.

This is dogmatism, pure and simple; as such, it is the very antithesis of skepticism as I understand it. An ounce of intellectual modesty would go a long way here, at least far enough to keep an atheist from embarassing himself by going after a priest for (gasp!) writing about Jesus of Nazareth in a church bulletin.

(See my earlier postings on "Universism" for a parallel case of anti-religious dogmatism.)

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