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Understanding needed in religious debate

During an interview with the Greek daily newspaper, Eleftherotypia, earlier this month, prominent physicist Victor Stenger said “new atheists” see religious fundamentalism as a grave threat to society that must be constantly “challenged at every turn.”

New atheism centers on taking a stronger stance than many atheists against fundamentalist religion. Stenger, who is known as an advocate of atheism and a prominent critic of intelligent design, also said that science has been much more successful at explaining human progress and is closer to the truth than religion.

Considering violent acts made in the name of religion, Stenger’s argument may be accurate as he claims “not only can we be good without God, we can be better without God.”

Yet the statement is only accurate if we overlook violence in the name of scientific and secular ideologies, such as fascist nationalism, Nazi socialism and Stalin’s communism.

Needless to say, there are countless others who disagree with Stenger’s view. According to Newsweek, renowned scholar of politics and religion Reza Aslan said the new atheists, who have been popularized by the works of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and others, have constantly misunderstood religion, interpreting religious texts in a strictly literal sense.

The only way to successfully have a reasonable discussion is to accurately understand both sides of the argument.

Some angry and brazen generalizations – such as Dawkins’ claim that creationists are similar to Holocaust deniers – are so staunch in their stances that they could be compared to religious fundamentalism.

The new atheists also claim that science, their ideology of choice, is the ultimate truth – a belief that is argued as vehemently as some terrorists groups argue their own theories.

This misunderstanding is the real issue facing the theist and atheist discourse today.

Understanding those who believe in a divine entity and those who do not is extremely critical during today’s climate of diverse ideologies and beliefs. There is a potential to draw similarities between the two. However, any constructive dialogue is often overshadowed by misunderstandings and misconceptions.

To debate religion, one must fully understand another’s beliefs, such as the idea that there is a literal and a metaphoric method of reading texts. Conversely, to debate atheism, there needs to be a greater understanding from theists about atheist convictions like the theory of evolution and natural selection.

What better place to develop this level of discourse than USF. With various student organizations maintaining their different aspects on the nature of the world, there is something to learn from everyone. Our campus is comprised of Freethinkers, Christians, Muslims, Jews and others for one purpose only: so that we may know and learn from one another.

Nader Hasan is a junior majoring in international affairs and religious studies.