A Poor Editorial

This is a silly and uninformed editorial.  There are, of course, differences of opinion about the political wisdom of the HHS mandate and resistance to it.  But this editorial is about the legal challenge to the mandate.  And it calls that challenge “built on air.”  Actually, it is built on the Constitution and a federal statute, and we’ll soon see whether those foundations remain solid enough to support it.

The editorial does mention the Constitution and the federal statute.  But what it says misrepresents both.  It also fails to mention that the original mandate — and not the putative change in plans alluded to by the President in February — is at present the law.  The editorial uses Employment Division v. Smith as an argument that the government ought not to accommodate dissenting religious conscience.  And it makes the following colossally stupid statement about RFRA: “In 1993, Congress required government actions that “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” to advance a compelling interest by the least restrictive means. The new contraceptive policy does that by promoting women’s health and autonomy.”  Can anybody figure out how the second sentence follows from the first?  Did anyone at the Times think to check with a lawyer before writing this?  How about a law student?

There are arguments to be made in defense of the mandate.  Surely the government will make them in court.  But this editorial neither makes nor even references any of them.  What an embarrassment.

The New York Times on Richard Dawkins’ [Dangerous?] Evangelical Atheism, Post Two

Last week, I commented on the New York Timesprofile of evolutionary biologist and vociferous atheist, Richard Dawkins.  Post One of this two-part series described (1) Dawkins’ views and (2) how the overheated antipathy and rhetoric of The God Delusion (2006) may reflect atheists’ marginalization in contemporary society—in itself a legitimate concern.  (See additionally my Scholarship Roundup post—Faith no More: the Moral Atheist—where I suggest that religion’s record of immorality, for many, makes atheism a moral choice, not a nihilistic one.)

In this post, I criticize Dawkins’ position as described in his NYT profile: first, for its logical inconsistency and stubborn ignorance of its subject matter; and second, for its divisive rhetoric that fails to recognize the commonalities between his chosen source of meaning and his targets’.

I. Dawkins: The Uninquisitive Critic

Dawkins’ ignorance of the faiths he dismisses is alarming.  As Terry Eagleton says in his marvelously scathing 2006 review of The God Delusion, Dawkins illustrates and purports to challenge no more than “vulgar caricatures of religio[n].”  Eagleton responds to this facile exercise by speculating, “What . . . are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus?  . . . Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope?  Has he even heard of them?”

Yet Dawkins readily, proudly, admits that the answer is no.  He scoffs at the suggestion that he study the history and intricacies of the faiths he rejects—study tantamount, in his view, to researching fairy tales.  In this way, Dawkins simply refuses to engage in his critics’ conversation.

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