First, part of the problem with any view such as Harris' is the mistaken notion that "religion" is monolithic and univocal - that all Christians believe the same things at all times, and speak with one voice on all matters. Such a view is so wrong, it is difficult to imagine how someone who claims to be speaking about religion could hold such a view, especially someone who wishes to be taken seriously on the issue. As Democracy Lover notes, some Christians are adamant in their opposition to the teaching of evolution, and therefore pose a real risk to the teaching of science in the public schools. It is important to note two things concerning this. First, they are "some Christians" not Christians in general. There are multiple debates going on within and between various denominations over how to deal with those who take such a stand. The general rule, at least for the mainline churches in the UNited States, is not to interfere with the science curriculum in the public schools. Indeed, many of the mainline denominations have filed friend of the court briefs against teaching ID and creationism, partly because they recognize that "creationism" is a perversion of Christian teaching. Indeed, in the alte 1980's, theologian Langdon Gilkey was brought as an expert witness to testify against the New Orleans creationism law and made precisely that point. And he should know; his doctoral dissertation, later published as Createor of Heaven and Earth was on the doctrine of creation in Emil Brunner.
Second, while the battle over creationism, now a battle over ID, continues, it is one with which we shall have to live unless we wish to dictate how people are to think. On the fringes is where the issue of free speech versus the common good becomes most difficult. I do not wish creationism or ID taught in the schools. I also do not want those who believe such silly things to be silenced in the public square, or prevented from teaching their children such things. Scientists do themselves no favors when they take a stand such as the one taken by Harris, or Richard Dawkins, that some for of rationality, or reason, be imposed as a counterweight to religious teaching. To steal part of the title of Alisdair MacIntyre's book, which rationality? It is one thing to protest the nonsense spouted by those who hold views that include nonsense; it is another thing altogether to say that, because some people hold these views, therefore all who claim to be faithful Christians are as nonsensical, and therefore need to be silenced for the good of society. As an evolutionary biologist said at a recent conference on the issue:
There are six billion people in the world . . . . If we think that we are going to persuade them to live a rational life based on scientific knowledge, we are not only dreaming - it is like believing in the fairy godmother.
Another scientist at the meeting, Lawrence Krauss, said:
Science does not make it impossible to believe in God. . . We should recognize that fact and live with it and stop being so pompous about it.
These much more reasonable and rational approaches to the issue, spoken by those who hold little or no religious faith at all, appear much more fruitful than anything Dawkins or Harris has said or written.
Finally, as to the specific issue of fundie Baptists and MCC members working side by side, it helps prove my point because my point is that while discussion over theoretical issues in important, even necessary, it is only in actually doing something, in the living of our lives with all the muddle and confusion and real human interaction, that we can understand the dynamism and diversity of religious faith. It is not just that two very different branches of the Christian faith found common ground in working to restore those devastated by Katrina. In so doing, there were opportunities for both to meet one another, to talk to one another - about their faith, about their lives, their hopes, their dreams, their fears - in a context where shared sacrifice and a commitment to working for others became a starting point for real dialogue. I am not suggesting that by so doing either side would be converted to what the other believed. Rather, my only point was that, by coming together, they could see that the labels with which they live are usually inadequate to describe the reality of real people living their lives. I do not believe dialogue will resolve differences. I do believe it is a place to begin, and it has to begin, not in conferences that include people who see no good coming from religious faith they neither understand nor consider worthy of serious consideration. It has to begin where people are living their lives. Real encounter is the beginning of the discovery that there is no "other", and that God's transcendent love may be greater than we can imagine.