As I was saying yesterday, I was reading Julian Baggini's Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, and I liked this little book a lot. I especially like his discussion of the religion/morality issue. I recommend the book to anyone who'd like a brief primer to read themselves or give to a friend.
My viewpoint diverged significantly from Julian's only at the end where he started explaining why he doesn't like "militant" atheism and is not "hostile" to religion. This material struck me as rather weak. He says that he has some sympathy for "militant" atheism but he likes to leave open the possibility that he is wrong. Well, sure - there is a possibility that I am wrong about all sorts of things, but that doesn't mean I can't feel strongly about them. There's a theoretical possibility that it would be better to enact laws drastically restricting abortion rights, criminalising homosexuality, abolishing the mechanisms of the welfare state, and who knows what else. There is always the theoretical possibility that I'm wrong - that I'm missing something - but I'd be opposing those laws vigorously. We could never feel strongly about, or passionately oppose, anything if it required first ruling out all theoretical possibility that we are wrong.
He then looks at some reasons for being hostile to religion across the board and concludes that they are not strong enough to justify a hostile attitude. Now, I'm not entirely out of sympathy with this. I do think that it's better to be hostile to particular manifestations of religion rather than to be hostile to it across the board in an undiscriminating way. I think we should all be a bit discerning in our hostility.
In my case, I'm mainly hostile to religion insofar as it seeks political power and attempts to impose its values and ideas on non-believers through the mechanisms of the secular law. That's not the entirety of my viewpoint - there are plenty of situations in which religion is damaging to children or to the interests of women, and much else, without the involvement of the state. But my hostility to religion in these situations is focused on specifics. I don't go around feeling hostile to every Quaker, Anglican, or Buddhist who crosses my path. I freely acknowledge that there are situations where people are motivated by religion to do good in the world.
However, there are plenty of reasons for a certain amount of hostility to various important manifestations of religion, even if we don't take religion to be monolithic. And none of those reasons requires an attitude of dogmatism.
Once again, I can entertain the theoretical possibility that some belief system will turn out to be the correct one in some sense while still being hostile to it. I don't, for example, need to pursue every issue to the point of mathematical certainty in order to justify my hostility to Nazism. This is not to "play the Nazi card" (rolleyes) and suggest that all religion is as bad as Nazism, but it shows the absurdity of the claim that I can be hostile to a belief system that I regard as harmful only if I can demonstrate its falsity to a mathematical standard. At some point, we are entitled to conclude that certain ideas, organisations, and leaders of organisations are harmful and should be opposed. Our lack of theoretical certainty about anything other than, perhaps, some very simple logical truths, is not a reason for quietism.
So, I suggest that Julian has not put good reasons against being "militant" or "hostile", though there are reasons to be somewhat discerning in our "militancy" and "hostility". In my case, what I mainly want is a society that embraces secularism in the political sense - i.e. a society in which the government makes decisions on grounds relating to people's interests in the things of this world, rather than attempting to impose its preferred religious ideas. It's not my aim to wipe out or persecute religion, though I do think that the various religions are untrue and that it is worth challenging their truth claims. I'll reserve my greatest level of hostility for situations where I think religion is most harmful.
All of which makes me think that Julian's softly softly approach in the last pages of his excellent 120-page primer is more a matter of temperament than anything else. That's fine, but some of us aren't quite so laid back, and I think we have good reasons to take a more aggressive approach. For many of us, a certain amount of "militancy" and hostility can be perfectly reasonable choice.