Rationality and hope possess the potential to bring Atheists and Theists together to better our world. The New Atheists -- Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, and company -- miss something simple yet profound in their polemical attacks on Theists: the mystery of existence itself. We must start with this basic fact -- the fact of existence. That there is an is. That there is a world, a universe at all. That there is something rather than nothing. Existence is a great, awesome, wondrous mystery.
In the face of this mystery, Atheists remain as stunned and speechless, as flabbergasted and inarticulate as Theists. From within the confines, within the perspective of our universe, solving this mystery is probably not even possible. All we can do is reach for answers, always seemingly just beyond our grasp.
And the Atheistic answers to this mystery are no more rational than the religious ones. Is it any more rational to assert that existence arose out of nothing or that existence has always existed than to assert that a divine intelligence -- outside of time and space -- created it? Science, in the end, cannot disprove the Theistic conjecture nor prove one of the Atheistic ones. We ought not therefore conclude that it is by definition irrational to confront this mystery and cast one's lot with Theism. Theism and Atheism are equally reasonable beliefs.
And so, we have in the world, many quite rational people who, facing the enigma of the why-ness of the world, find a Theistic approach more compelling, perhaps even more rational, than the alternatives.
In contrast to the caricatures penned by the New Atheists of a mob or herd of mindless sheep, the ranks of the religious include many rather thoughtful people. Many scientists and other academics and professionals lead lives of religious practice and faith and yet engage fully with the physical, medical, and social sciences and the worlds of politics and literature. Such people are rational and thoughtful and skeptical. They are critical thinkers.
They do not live lives of blind faith, but experience the religious life as a persistent challenge. Instead of a life of entitlement, they live lives of obligation -- to family, to community, to God.
Often, probably usually, such people are able to integrate their religious and professional lives, and many see their contributions to the world as something of a calling, a use of their talents, in some small way, as serving God in the redemption of the world.
It is an insult to such people, Nobel Prize winners among them, to suggest that they are engaged in self-deception, that all people of faith are naïve or stupid or misguided or dupes.
And so, the New Atheists miss a second profound point: the richness, the thickness, the texture of the everyday life of so many believers.
They fail to see, for example, the bonds of community, the ways members of many a religious community remain ready at any hour of the day to assist their fellows and often strangers: to prepare food, watch children, provide financial assistance, visit the sick, and bury the dead.
The New Atheists fail to see the meaning-fullness possible in religious life, in communities of faith, a life of breadth and depth evident to any undergraduate major in anthropology or sociology.
No doubt atrocities have long been committed in the name of religion, as they have in the name of a host of secular ideologies. It is religion, however, as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has pointed out, that has given the world the very notion of hope. As Rabbi Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, has so eloquently explained, the ancient prophetic tradition of Judaism gave birth to hope, to the idea of progress, to the longing for a messianic age. This prophetic tradition, Rabbi Sacks explains, is a protest against the world as it is, a call to transform our world into a different and a better place. It is precisely a thoughtful, critical and self-critical, religious orientation that can move us in such a direction while avoiding the fanaticism of various religious and secular ideologies alike.
Perhaps religion is irrational. But so is hope. And given the very mystery of existence, I and many other seemingly rational individuals embrace -- and struggle with -- both religion and hope.
Finally, it is in hope that Rational Theists and Rational Atheists can find common ground. We all want a better world, a more rational one. Given the mystery of existence, and the equal rationality or irrationality in choosing Theism or Atheism in confronting the mystery, I call upon Rational Atheists and Rational Theists of the world to unite! To combat the irrationality in our schools, our politics, and our public discourse.