Answer by Kris Rosvold:
Preface: I'm an atheist who has examined religion intensely, and found that for my purposes it is insufficent.
Yes, I agree that we should cultivate an intolerance for false, nonsensical, or claims that are unsupported by Fact.
However comma… That particular sword cuts both ways, as it should.
The fact is that zealots, of any sort, often, intentionally, mistake silence for agreement.
I've been pondering this question most of my life because I grew up as an atheist in a society which has seen a dramatic shift.
That shift I've witnessed has been the shift from the majority of Americans believing in a god towards a majority of Americans not believing.
Having traveled extensively as a kid and young adult, I've seen a good sampling of the beliefs held by various groups all over the world, and throughout the US.
I see advantages and disadvantages to both positions, and I don't know that I can assert, honestly, that one is better than the other for our society as a whole. What I do see clearly is that , by its very nature, a truly sucessfull society needs to (and does) care for ALL its members on many levels.
So, here's the dilemma…
There is a fairly large portion of our society who absolutely NEEDS what religion offers:
A set moral code which is dictated to them.
A sense of a community working for common goals.
A set method for resolving guilt about ones misdeeds.
A belief that this world is, essentially a fair place. (It isn't but that's a whole different discussion).
A belief that evil-doers, and freeriders, will get some sort o come-uppance, even if not in the here and now. (Most don't, but again…)
A belief that this world loves them and values them.
The big advantage to these are that they provide a framework upon which to base your actions that requires, and even demands, relatively little thought or Questioning about the "Why's" of life. This leaves more energy for the "How's" of life.
The big disadvantage is that these, set in stone, standards will often cause folks to:
Refuse to accept any change, no matter how beneficial to themselves or society.
Ignore new (and possibly better, kinder) possibilities, or people.
Decry any changes to their set beliefs.
Instigate intolerance for anyone perceived as being dofferent.
Causes intolerance for open exploration of the big "Why" questions in life.
Promotes, and demands, ritualistic behavior without regard to actual results.
On the flip side, there are also lots of folks for whom the exploration, and questioning, of their moral foundations is exciting, and challenging. These folks NEED that lack of outside certainty, just as much as theists NEED it.
This is because that intense questioning is based in, and leads to, asking "How can We (each/all of us) do this better?"
Engenders a nearly constant questioning of our beliefs which sometimes refines those beliefs.
Gives us clarity (through questioning and testing) about the Why of our beliefs.
Rejects the strictures of tradition in search of the "best and highest" good for all.
Causes us to know, deeply, because of our exploration and testing, why we believe as we do, and How that applies to life.
Causes us to Question our presumptions about new folks, and ideas.
Ignores ritualistic "solutions" if they don't give good results.
Challenges the presumption that the majority is always right.
Recognises that life = change.
Reduces the communal sense of a united purpose.
Can throw out the baby with the bath water.
(There are advantages and wisdom to be found in rituals, so long as they aren't mistaken for the be-all-end-all).
I have lots of questions, and believe that holding on to set answers, for the sake of set answers, is a poor way for me to live.
I don't have any set answers except this one:
I suspect the core problem isn't one of belief, or of dis-belief.
Rather, I believe the core problem is one of fighting zealotry… WHEREVER I FIND IT.