Courtesy of Duane Smith, this came to my attention:
Here is my challenge. Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any reader of this column think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first -- I have been asking it for some time -- awaits a convincing reply. By what right, then, do the faithful assume this irritating mantle of righteousness? They have as much to apologize for as to explain.
I can’t speak for Gerson, but here’s my response:
Anyone foolish enough to affirm that an atheist or secularist cannot be a better person than a believer of one's flavor of choice deserves to be raked over the coals.
Anyone foolish enough to affirm that Christians for example have not done terrible things in their deity's name deserves to be taken back in time to stand trial under the auspices of Torquemada.
What any of this implies about being a believer or not is another, quite separate question.
Duane Smith, who self-identifies as a secularist, provides the answer: nothing at all.
I’m starting to take a shine to this Hitchens fellow. His challenges serve to skewer bad arguments made all too often by believers. He helps believers separate the wheat from the chaff in their own self-understanding.
After all, as soon as a believer assumes a holier-than-thou attitude toward non-believers, rather than gaining the higher moral ground, the believer loses it altogether.
There are, of course, intelligent ways of framing the moral argument for the existence of God. Still, the case of C. S. Lewis is a cautionary tale. Few individuals in the 20th century formulated arguments for the existence of God with greater brilliance than him. At a certain point in his life nonetheless, in the face of suffering of a particularly unjustified kind, he came to regard his arguments as so many filthy rags.
Let it be said that most of us would be happy to wear Lewis’s filthy rags any day. But when all is said and done, there is a counterfactual dimension to true faith. Rightly understood, that is its greatest strength, but also an apparent weakness.