I suspect my readers all know what “atheism” and “theism” are. But what is “irenicism”? In short, it is the condition of peacemaking, the attribute of seeing the best in one’s ideological opponents and seeing concord where possible. We need irenicism now more than ever as our world continues to lurch into polarized oppositions with the oft bitter hostilities between atheism and Christian theism being one example.
Today atheist philosopher and author Keith Parsons commented on my book Is the Atheist My Neighbor? in response to Jeff Lowder’s article “Randal Rauser’s Latest Book (with a Contribution from Yours Truly)“. His comment eloquently embodied the spirit of irenicism that I think is crucial to overcome the deep hostilities and polarized oppositions that characterize our age. Consequently, I’ve decided to reproduce it in full here:
“Thanks much for this book; the message is greatly appreciated. Allow me to make the complementary point: Two of my closest personal friends are Christian pastors (UCC and United Methodist). I do not regard their convictions as in any sense irrational, irresponsible, or epistemically suspect in any way. They are as self-critical and reflective as any atheist I have known, and far more so than most. Their attitude is wholly undogmatic and they listen willingly to any person of reason and good will. Indeed, I regard each of them as a paragon of intellectual and moral integrity.
“Bertrand Russell once said that the existence of God is an issue on which reasonable people can be expected to disagree. I take this point as obvious, yet many people on “both” sides disagree. We feel passionately about our religious (or non-religious) convictions, and this passion makes tolerance more difficult. Every now and then, however, I think we should all step back and look as dispassionately as possible at our actual epistemic circumstances with respect to the question of God’s existence. When we do, we see that theism and naturalism are both global commitments–comprehensive interpretations of reality. Worldviews, in other words. Further, as John Hick argues in An Interpretation of Religion, The world can be reasonably interpreted in either naturalistic or religious terms. That is, we can view the real and the physical as coextensive or posit a transcendent aspect. Neither sort of interpretation can be convicted of irresponsibility or irrationality.
“Of course, each of us has to come down where it seems most reasonable to do so. Further, we can offer arguments for our views, but these arguments should be presented with due modesty, not as battering rams, but as rational persuasion, designed not to intimidate but to appeal to the mind and spirit.”