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Throughout history and even in the present day, there have been states out there that have adopted a state religion that are carrying out some version of a religion’s meta ethics combined with whatever political expediencies they can get away with.

This is as true of atheist governments as religious, witness Stalinist Russia or Maoist China. My opinion (I don’t claim to know with certainty) is that the people carrying out atrocities under either kind of government do so because they want to, and for political ends. They create or adopt religious/irreligious ideologies to justify doing what they want to do, and — again, my opinion here — to throw up a smoke screen to distract sincere believers/non-believers from the discovery of their true motives. It’s not really the beliefs driving the behavior, it’s the other way around. Not the will to Truth, but the will to Power.

I’d love it if people live out their beliefs privately and if they stopped agitating for what the government should force certain people to do, but they wont.

I agree completely. In a representative republic, as we have here in the USA, I think it’s a good thing that we fight “culture wars” where people “do battle” for their beliefs through legislation and court decisions, and by voting for representatives who share their views, rather than through gunfire and IEDs. The results are rarely ideal, but it’s better than the alternative. If I had my choice, I’d go back to what I learned in high school civics class: That the constitution exists not to enforce the will of the majority, but rather to protect the minority from majority rule. The default position of government should always be to protect the rights and freedom of the individual against the tyranny of majority opinion.

I agree that all of the questions you outline above are the Big Questions of Philosophy. A legit philosophic education, I think, is one in which those questions are defined and explored deeply, comparing and contrasting the many different approaches philosophers have taken historically, and the different conclusions they have drawn, with the goal of equipping students to find their own answers and craft meaningful lives. Since the advent of the “New Atheism” (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc.,) at least some professors (the Great Courses lecture series my essay is a response to being one shining example) appear to be presenting scientific, materialist atheism as “the answer” to all of those questions. Christian seminary students are getting a broader philosophical perspective in their classes than a lot of secular college students these days. That’s just weird to me… It’s weird that such a thing is tolerated. Should a professor in a state college teach students that Christianity holds the only right answers to all philosophical questions, there would be lawsuits and firings. But when a teacher professes the same thing about atheism, nobody blinks. I call BS on that.

I don’t actually want the power to force my beliefs on anybody, but if I had that power, I’d inject everybody with a big dose of compassionate humility. We’re all just people here. Anyone who feels certain they have the “one right answer” to any “Big Question” needs to kick back and drink a few beers with people of at least five other opinions. Really listen to what they have to say. Meet their kids. Shadow them a couple of days in the actual life they live. Develop some empathy and compassion for them as fellow human beings. Build community. Even if you still think your answer is the “one right answer,” resolve not to let it destroy your community. With a broad experience of the humanity of people who think differently from ourselves, we can, indeed, “agree to disagree” on a lot of things we fight about now. That’s at least progress. Imagine a world where we all approached life that way.