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Al Gore on Arrogant Atheists

If the message boards are not yet crawling with the news they soon will be:
U.S. Vice President and Presidential candidate Al Gore admitted that he was a
born-again Christian. During a 60 Minutes interview, broadcast on Dec. 5, he
also attacked nonbelievers–or what Gore referred to as the “anti-religious
view”– calling them “arrogant” and “intimidating . . .
making people who do believe in God feel like they’re being put down and I don’t
like that. I’ve never liked that.”

Nonbelievers are arrogant? For shame! Al Gore is sure to fall under the wrath
of every online freethought editor for his comments. By the end of the week, it
will be the conventional wisdom of outraged atheists, humanists, and agnostics
everywhere that Gore is one more in a long line of religious bigots, for whom
casting aspersions on reason is seen as a good gimmick for political gain among
the religious right. 

Before we arrive at that point, however, let’s stop and examine the context
of Gore’s remarks. He made them during a moment  in which his personal life
was under the microscope. As the cameras roll, Gore is seen strolling on the
campus of Vanderbilt University while the voice over tells us that just after
his tour of duty in Vietnam, Gore enrolled in the Divinity School. “Did you
want to be a minister?” the interviewer asks. “I was open to the
call,” he replies. Gore admitted that he was searching for the meaning of
life. “What duty do we owe to our Creator?” he had asked himself at
the time. Gore went on to express frustration that born-again Christians are
often lampooned by nonbelievers but he admitted that he is uncomfortable when
politicians talk about religion all of the time, especially when they use it as
a wedge to drive between the separation of church and state. Even so, Gore said
that religion was the “foundation of his life” and he stated that he
will continue to be “personally guided by religion in his professional

Rather than join the bandwagon of outrage over Gore’s remarks, I’d rather
spend a moment to reflect and to defend him. Many of us nonbelievers are
arrogant, incredibly arrogant, and in our single-minded attempt to engage in
spiritual cleansing, we often forget that we have no more a monopoly on the
truth than anyone else. Yet this reality does not seem to prevent some
nonbelievers from howling their indignation loudly, bolstering their own sense
of superiority by ridiculing those who believe in God. It is this rigid
that unites fundamentalist atheists with their religious cousins in that
fundamentalist atheists are not content to revel in their own perfect worldview,
but rather they must also prove others wrong in order for them to be right. It
is this intellectual elitism that religious believers see when they glance
behind them at those atheists who nip at their heels. In the end, this had led
to a serious image problem for the rest of us for whom our atheism is not
challenged by the coexistence of religious belief.

It is important to notice that Gore never once says that arrogant atheists
are wrong for proclaiming their beliefs or even for proclaiming them
passionately. Gore says that they are wrong for putting down others who do
believe, and in that remark lies the rub. The result of denigrating the beliefs
of others, no matter how silly they seem to us, is bigotry and intolerance. Gore
attended a divinity school because he was searching for meaning in his life.
That search led him to public service and regardless of what one thinks of his
political views, no one should look down upon him for honestly searching for
answers in his life. After all it is the search, not the discovery, that makes
life’s journey meaningful. Even though I do not believe that God exists, I
strive to keep an open mind toward the matter. There are some–atheists and
theists alike–who have already decided down to the last detail what is true and
false and thus busy themselves with ridiculing those who do not yet know or
agree. But for most of us the search continues. That is as it should be.