Your essence is not my essence
In answering the last question in the debate with Hitchens, Blair tried to sum up his defense of religion. He said you have to find “the essence.” Yes there are bad parts, but you have to explain those away, and keep the essence, that is, what you take to be the essence.
I see how people look at certain parts of scripture and draw those conclusions from it, but it’s not what it means to me, it’s not the essence of it. The essence of it is through the life of Jesus Christ, a life of love, selflessness and sacrifice and that’s what it means to me.
Yes but. 1) That’s what it means to you but that’s not what it means to other people, and because it is not based on anything universalizable, there is no way to adjudicate between you. There is no way to say definitively that you are right and the woman-stoners are wrong. So saying “that’s what it means to me” is worthless, and worse than worthless, because it endorses religion instead of saying this inability to adjudicate between versions makes it dangerous. And 2) a life of love, selflessness and sacrifice is not inherently religious or unavailable to atheists.
The second point wouldn’t matter all that much, provided theists could stop assuming and saying that only theists are capable of demanding forms of goodness, if it weren’t for the first one. But the first one is a killer.