Apparently, I am part of a plague: an infestation much like the bogong moths in Canberra and the frogs in biblical Egypt. I am an unwelcome and unlovely creature who has the awkward habit of turning up in bulk. Greg Craven, the vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, asserts this in his article, A plague of atheists has descended, and Catholics are the target, published in The Age on the 4th of November 2009.
Waving the many metaphors Greg Craven has decided to use in his article, like likening atheists to cheap electric kettles, for example, I will focus on the major arguments he is making and write short rebuttals to these.
1. Atheists want everyone to know that they have not found God, and that no one else should.
As an atheist, my main motivation is not to stop other people from finding God, but rather, to discourage others from having a one-dimensional view of the world and encourage one that is enriched by the facts and evidence science presents to us, since many are in stark contrast to the many teachings of religion.
2. Atheists are specifically attacking the Catholic religion for strategic reasons.
As an atheist, my arguments are not against one particular religion. Rather, it is against all beliefs that are merely started, asserted and replicated through superstition or indoctrination.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are more Catholics than any other religious group, in Australia. If Catholic doctrines are being criticised then it is likely because, in relation to other religions, Catholic doctrines are the most prevalent and most recognised the world over. Craven should recognise that it is the numerousness and the global ubiquitousness of Catholic doctrines that makes them easier to discuss.
Take, for example, the doctrine of Transubstantiation: the belief that when you swallow the bread and the wine in church, the bread and wine literally turn into the flesh and blood of Jesus. To me, this is an example of a religious belief that is not backed by evidence. I use it NOT because it is Catholic, rather because there is greater probability that more people have heard and can relate to it. Citing it will therefore likely get my point across.
3. Atheists are atheists as a way to make themselves feel immensely clever.
This comment reminds me of a school kid, who, after not having a good come-back in an argument with a mate, says: "You think you're smart now, don't ya?!" There is something peculiarly childish about such arguments, which is quite surprising coming from a Vice-Chancellor of a university.
4. Atheists do what they do because they hate Christians, as opposed to politely dismissing them.
As an atheist, I do not look at Christians as adversaries. From the tone of his article, Craven seems to look at the world in the simple terms of US-AND-THEM mentality. My mother is a believing Catholic and my father is Anglican. Most of my friends and relatives are Christians. I certainly do not hate them. I certainly do not hate you, Mr Craven. I simply want us, believers and non-believers, to continue our discussions in a way that is not divisive and dehumanising.
Like many citizens of this country and of this world, I am concerned with many issues humanity is currently dealing with. When atheists, including myself, express opinions that religion is at the heart of many of these problems like terrorism, stem cell research, abortion and condom use, we are entitled to express and argue for those opinions just as much as anyone is entitled to express and argue for theirs.
Referring to atheists as hateful bogong moths, frogs and noisy kettles, does two things: it takes the discussion away from the real issues and two, it dehumanises a group of human beings. Dehumanisation, Mr Craven, is a process utilised by groups like the Nazis against the Jews in the Holocaust and by the Hutus against the Tutsis in the Rwandan Genocide. Atheist or religious, Australians expect more from a Vice Chancellor of a university than to resort to such tactics.
Marquez Comelab is the author of The Tyranny Of God: Liberating Ourselves From Our Own Beliefs.