There's nothing admirable about intellectual dishonesty, and thus nothing admirable about religion, which all of us -- atheists and believers alike -- know is maintained solely through the refusal to ask certain questions and draw certain reasonable conclusions. It's a consensual conspiracy of silence in free countries, a non-consensual conspiracy of silence in unfree countries (parts of the Middle East today, Europe in centuries past, etc.). Both achieve the effect of limiting thought, not the best foundation for reaching the truth.
It is as wrong -- and indeed deeply shameful, not to mention rude -- for adults to engage in the perpetuation of god myths (or lies, if you will) as it would be for adults to insist that their invisible unicorn friends are constantly at their side, and rare is the religious believer smart enough to recognize that trotting out a list of emotional and moral rewards that will purportedly flow from holding such beliefs is hardly a reason to be less skeptical about the truth of those beliefs. Too often, religious believers think they're making a strong case for the existence of God by saying, "But if there weren't a God, I'd go off my meds, start drinking alcohol again, beat up the neighbor kids, be unable to think of a reason to go on living, simultaneously be paralyzed by fear of death..." And all this is supposed to make the believer a more credible witness? Embarrassing. Irresponsible. Juvenile. And manifestly evil. A sane society does not build its morality upon foundations -- or psyches -- that shaky.
Luckily, we have things like the controversial atheist billboard at the Lincoln Tunnel to remind us how easily religion's superstructure of lies is rattled and how quickly its defenders get nervous. Ricky Gervais' recent summary of his atheist views in Wall Street Journal (pointed out to me by Ali Kokmen) doesn't hurt either. About the staging of a Klingon version of A Christmas Carol (pointed out to me by Chuck Blake) I will reserve judgment, though.
And let no one doubt that all the good things religious people are trained to attribute to their religions (their fictional God continually hogging the credit for things) can just as easily be done by atheists. By sheer coincidence, just hours before I hosted a debate on the moral effects of religion, I once found myself helping a retarded blind person across the street, whereas I would imagine many religious people would think I should logically have been engaged in cannibalism. (I helped get medical attention for a reluctant homeless person recently, though, and was inclined by that experience to conclude that aiding the homeless is one of the most meaningless and unsatisfying things a person can do. That may be a debate unrelated to religion, though.)
With a sort of repressed self-loathing, religious believers often like to point out that the non-religious
replicate certain patterns of religious behavior (in a similar vein, Don Boudreaux notes this article by his colleague Robert Nelson about religious overtones in the environmental movement). I would suggest that instead of saying, for example, "Many of those who leave Protestantism become crazy Druids" and leaving it at that, as if Protestantism has somehow been vindicated, we say, "Let us not make the mistake of believing in Protestantism or Druidism." That wasn't so hard, was it?
And as for my political allies who fancy religion useful as a goad to good behavior and policy, I'd just say that religion's impact on morals and policy seems so slight in most cases and unpredictable in the extreme cases that I see no reason to keep wasting time with it. My non-believer friend Michael Malice and my believer friend Debbie Colloton both pointed out to me the news that Pat Robertson wants to decriminalize pot. Stick that in your political formulae and smoke it. (And then watch Malice's appearance on FreedomWatch, please. And enjoy this Christmas card pointed out to me by a Fox staffer and fellow James Randi fan.)
But don't let me stop you enjoying Christmas dinner -- and indeed every dinner (I take great joy from what seem to me to be the increasingly classy recipes on ThisIsWhyYoureFat, and I do not need the endorsement of an invisible supernatural entity to do so).