I'll start this post by saying that I love Thom and his show. I've found in Mr. Hartmann a talk show host who I find intellectually stimulating, articulate, and very well researched in his opinions.
I've only found one bone of contention I have with Mr. Hartmann and that is his stance about atheism as a religion. If we go with the loosest definition of religion from Merriam Webster's dictionary, religion could loosely be defined as a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.
Atheists do not have beliefs or faith in anything. Atheists reject organized belief systems, especially belief systems where there is no evidence to support claims of the supernatural or divine.
Thom claimed that atheism could be as fundamentalist as religious zealots. Not so. Some atheists can be extreme in their views, but their view is not based in belief, but in the rejection of faith and belief. If anything, atheists are anti-religious, anti-supernatural, anti-superstition, and opposed to any system of thinking not grounded in reality.
If there appears to be an outspoken number of atheists coming out of the closet and getting active, its because atheism is overwhelmingly rejected by the majority of people in the world. Something like 90% of the people in the world believe in a God, or some sort of divine being. Atheists, reject that gods exist. Atheists, probably more than any other minority, need to be guarded in their opinions.
It's not really a bogus claim to say that something that can't be verified doesn't exist. If anything, some atheists can take an extremely ideological slant in their beliefs and can take an active anti-religions stance in society. I'd wager most atheists tend to keep their opinions to themselves, and that they are pretty resigned to the fact that they live in a world dominated by religious thinking.
Be that as it may, not all atheists reject ideas or beliefs of theistic thinkers. Ideas are what unite or divide societies. Common beliefs of justice, liberty, opportunity, and compassion for our fellow human being are not unique to theists or atheists, but common human beliefs.
I would request Mr. Hartmann rethink his position about atheism as a religion. Most who become atheists don't become so because of beliefs, but because the beliefs they were taught just didn't add up logically. For example, how can God be omni-benevolent and send people to Hell for eternity? How can God be omnipotent and unable to stop evil in the world, or worse unwilling to stop evil in the world?
I think what has made atheists become more extreme in America is because Christians have bent toward radical right-wing Christianity. When groups are pushing hard to teach intelligent design or creationism side by side with the theory of evolution in science class, advocating the elimination of birth control, forcing the Ten Commandments on people, and pushing their ideology into the political sphere, that has caused the opposite extreme to arise. Right-wing Christians are advocating an anti-science bias, and want to push a Biblical world view on everyone that matches their interpretation.
It's not a surprise to me to see guys like Dawkins or Hitchens begin to rip the Bible apart, and religion as a whole apart.
Lastly, just because an atheist can look up at the stars, or at a beautiful sunset and be moved by the experience, does not mean he is present to divinity. Being moved by beauty and the overwhelming awesomeness of the universe is one of the things that makes being human rock. We can observe this fascinating universe we live in, wonder about it, and be held in awe of it's spectacle. It holds many mysteries, and its arrogant for any human being to claim infinite knowledge about it. It's also arrogant for anyone to claim to have special knowledge about godlike beings that would/could have such knowledge.
Bottom line, atheism is not a religion, at best it's a rejection of religion and superstitious thinking. Not all atheists reject religious beliefs, as some of them are grounded in ideas that are not tangible. (ideas like love, compassion, and charity). We all live on this spinning wet grain of sand in space together. According to the current known laws of physics, it looks like we're going to be stuck on this planet together alone for a long time.
What we need now is dialogue that unites us in our common humanity, not tears us apart. Religious thinking denies things like evolution and global warming. That's dangerous thinking. I don't think one has to be an atheist to see that.
That's my beef. I mean no disrespect toward Mr. Hartmann, and mean no offense. I just get offended when people try and claim atheism (or science) is a religion.
Thanks for producing a great radio program. Keep up the good work.