I know what you’re against, but what are you for?

Bouncing off of an AP story on the same subject, Christopher Orlet has written a nice article about the sectarian split amongst atheists. It turns that there’s not just one way not to believe in God. Naive types, myself included, always thought that atheism simply boiled down to “there is no God and anyone who believes otherwise is foolishly placing blind faith over rational thought.” Political atheism goes one step further and says, “not only is there no God, but I take deep offense at any mention of God whatsoever in the public sphere.” End of story. Boy, was I wrong. It turns out that there are soft atheists and hard atheists and, amongst the latter, lots of different approaches to atheism. Here’s Orlet’s rundown:

The spokesman for the soft atheists has been Greg Epstein, a “humanist chaplain” at Harvard University. The Rev. Mr. Epstein is encouraging the fundamentalists or “New Atheists” to pipe down, and warns that their outspokenness is keeping fence-sitters from coming over to the side of the humanists, a dubious allegation, at best. Though I can’t prove it, it seems to me that passionate advocacy attracts converts as often as it drives them away.

The soft atheists have it in for three bestselling authors in particular: Richard Dawkins (author of “The God Delusion”), Sam Harris (“Letter to a Christian Nation”) and Christopher Hitchens (“God Is Not Great”). Though they differ on many points of scripture, all three are passionately antireligious. Mr. Dawkins considers God “a psychotic delinquent.” The doomsayer Mr. Harris thinks religion will destroy the world if not stopped, and Mr. Hitchens holds that “religion poisons everything.” Mr. Epstein finds these authors rigid and intolerant, which ultimately makes them no different from the religious fundamentalists they condemn. Nor is he alone. As one English dean told the Guardian, Mr. Dawkins is “just as fundamentalist as the people setting off bombs on the tube.”

As long time readers know, I’m someone who doesn’t believe in God, but doesn’t believe in atheism either. That’s because, while I can’t make the leap of faith that says, affirmatively, there is a God, neither can I turn my back on the fact that, without faith in God, all you have is faith in the State, with the inevitable bloody results.

The reason for the latter outcome is obvious: While religion has a conscience (and by that I especially mean the Judeo-Christian religions, although I’m willing to grant a moral conscience to most other religions), the State is utterly lacking in conscience. It’s a purely utilitarian entity that will do whatever it takes to get the job done, with the job usually being to acquire ever greater power for the State and its flunkies. That’s why out-of-control state-ism inevitably, I think, reduces itself to a killing machine.

The Nazis, who were vehemently anti-religious were the most scientifically efficient killing machines in history. Their conscience-free State religion, in order to purge the body politic of state enemies, first demanded stacked victims to try to lower bullet usage, then experimented with cattle car murder, followed by the most scientific death factories ever created. Although perfectly ready to remember these mass deaths when it’s politically expedient to do so, the Leftists routinely forget the anti-religious aspect of Naziism, probably because they foolishly conflate, not only totalitarianism and religious fanaticism, but also anti-Semitism and modern Christianity. The explicitly anti-religious Communists, of course, bypassed German efficiency and, in pursuit of State-ist purity, simply used brute force and mass starvation, on several different continents, to cause the deaths of at least 100 million people.

Incidentally, State-ist slaughter on grand scales is not limited to modern totalitarian regimes. The Huns, who were not interested in spreading religion around, but simply wanted to expand the territory under their control, brought death on a grand scale to large parts of modern Europe. And it doesn’t take a deep classical religion to know that the Romans, who were quite religious in a pagan, amoral sort of way, embarked on their scorched-earth conquests solely to spread State-ist power, and without any regard for the dissemination of their religious doctrines.

Speaking of past State-ist slaughter, the anti-religion arguments, especially Sam Harris’ premise that there is nothing more destructive than religion, seem to be stuck in a time warp, at least insofar as the Judeo-Christian religious traditional is concerned. There is no doubt that, in the West, religion has been used as a justification for purging enemies within the State (these are a couple of other examples) or justifying vast and bloody territorial expansions.  However, again in the West, one would be hard put to find an example of religion, especially the Christian religion, being used to justify mass slaughter on a scale anywhere like that used by those arch-examples of modern anti-Religion, Naziism and Communism.  Harris’ bitter animosity to religion, his belief that it’s a powerfully dangerous force, seems stuck in the Middle Ages or the very early modern era, and to have absolutely nothing to do with modern Judeo-Christian tradition, which is concerned almost solely with individual and group morality.

So having to my own satisfaction pointed out the fallacies in Harris’ thinking, I have to move to another question, which is why are the atheists so fervent in their belief?  They seem to show all the fanaticism of, gasp!, blind faith.  Getting back to my original premise, it seems to me that the basic atheist simply shouldn’t believe in God.  To elevate this absence of belief to a world view that has you aggressively battling all religious manifestations as signs of evil is simply to substitute one kind of faith for another.

Also, in the face of the morality that is the modern Western Judeo-Christian religion, it makes no sense.  What in the world do these men envision happening if they successfully remove faith from the moral vocabulary of the average man or woman?  I think they see a new day, free of auto de fe‘s, internecine Christian religious wars, and violent anti-Semitic attacks.  It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that, in the Judeo-Christian west, that new day has already dawned.  If they reverse the clock on this one, they’ll throw us either into a new Communist-style atheist hell or, more possibly, create a terrible vacuum into which the ugliest manifestation of modern religion — jihadist Islam, which does bring auto de fe‘s, religious wars and violent anti-Semitic attacks — can surge.  Right now, if the difference between Europe and America is anything to go by, it is only America’s strong, traditional, Judeo-Christian faith that stands as a bulwark between us and jihadist nihilism.

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27 Responses

  1. If you don’t have faith in God, you have to have faith in the state? That’s a bit of a leap – it seems to me there is no shortage of other options. It’s hardly an “if-then” situation. I don’t happen to have much faith in God either, but I must say, it never would have occurred to me to replace him with the state!

    So that would make Dianne Fienstein, who belongs in a cell right next to Randy Cunningham (and for the same crime) an object of respect?

    The most poverty-stricken imagination ought to be able to do better than that.

  2. When we were in school learning plane geometry, we learned the difference between axioms and theories. Axioms were assertions that could neither be proven nor disproven — you simply accepted them as a starting point — or not. Having accepted a certain set of axioms, you could then use them to derive and prove a certain set of theorems.

    If you chose to accept that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, then you could derive the theorems of Euclidean geometry. If not, then you got non-Euclidean geometry.

    Both geometries, however, are abstractions. They are maps of the territory, but they are not the territory itself. Their usefulness — like any map — depends on how well they correspond with the real world and whether decisions based on them reliably pan out well in practice.

    In my view, belief in God is an axiom. I do not think it can ever be “proven” or “disproven”. One either accepts the premise or not. Accepting or rejecting it, however, necessarily leads — consciously or unconsciously — to differing theories about how the world works and to differing decisions about how to proceed and therefore to differing consequences.

    By the time I got out of college, I was firmly in the camp which rejected the existence of God. Then one day it suddenly occurred to me that a whole lot of people seemed to believe in “this stuff” and that not all of them were stupid and, in fact, some of them were people whom I respected very much.

    Some religious people seemed to be saying that one ought to believe in God whether or not it makes sense in this world because it will make sense in the next. I rejected that notion. It seemed to me that if the idea of God had any merit, it ought to “work” in this world. It ought to be a reliable “map” for making decisions about how to proceed in the real world of our ordinary experience.

    So I decided to conduct an experiment. I decided to live my life for one week based on the hypothesis that God is and see what the results might be. By the end of the week I had not won the lottery, nor had my problems miraculously disappeared, but for me it was an experience of giant granite blocks suddenly sliding into place. Suddenly the world and the things that happen in it began to make sense — even the miserable things. I decided to continue and the results so far have confirmed my choice.

    So, does God exist? I don’t know and I don’t think I ever will. But now, some forty years later, I do know that viewing the world as if God is and acting according to that view has — at least for me — panned out pretty well.

  3. just like everything book, system of belief are “nuanced”. just look the myriad differences in worship between sects of judaism or christianity.

    i’ve personally taken a lot of heat from self-identifying atheists because i prefer the terms secular humanist and agnostic when describing myself, even though i will firmly state that i do not believe in a supernatural deity of any kind.

    but i cannot claim to rule out the possibility of a more evolved intelligence in the universe, hence my preference for the aforementioned labels.

    i somehow sympathize with atheists who feel that the only logical way to meet the force of rabid fundamentalism is by evangelizing with the same fervor against it. it does become frustrating dealing with the mental illness that is religiosity but i am not sure if they have the answer.

    peace

  4. In such a discussion as this, maybe the best place to start is to define terms. The Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines religion as 1)Service and worship of God or the supernatural and 2) Committment or devotion to religious faith or the observance. If we substitute ‘idea’ for God, then both the atheists and Nazis could be said to be religious. Dagon could also be said to be religious.
    I agree with the comments that religious people often make more trouble than the causes for which they work. This is true both inside and outside the christian faith. I use a small ‘c’ here to differentiate between a specific sect or church and christianity as Jesus preached it.
    In fact there was a very qualified minister at my Church this past weekend. He stated, and I have never heard this before in a Church, that religion was going to destroy christianity. Now, does that mean our group doesn’t talk to others about Jesus. No it does not. I would be placed in the very conservative Believer catagory, but I tell those in my circle of influence that you can’t talk to non-christians using terms they don’t understand, or which come with a great deal of baggage, like ‘Saved’ or ‘Born Again’. Nor can you prove God. What would be the use? If you prove something, it takes no faith to believe, and the God I know and love, wants us to have faith. Most of the christians I know who have come to the faith in later years, have had some sort of epiphany, perhaps brought on by the (on average) 9.5 times they have been exposed to Christ.
    By the way, the New Testament is about Love. And christians should live their lives like that. So, all of this to say that I agree with Book, a world without a legal system based on Judeo-Christian beliefs would not be a good place to live, or bring up children.

  5. … but i cannot claim to rule out the possibility of a more evolved intelligence in the universe …

    For some reason, dagon, I get the feeling that when you talk about a more evolved intelligence, you tend to threatically clear your throat and point to yourself.

  6. good point zhombre,

    but to be fair, i did say the universe. that precludes this galaxy. LOL.

    peace

  7. It strikes me the militant atheists live in dread that they may not be believed. Thus ad hominem attacks on the believers.

  8. “rabid fundamenatalism”. Labels are so convenient.

    Can there be a “rabidly fundamentalist” atheist? How about a “rabidly fundamentalist” secular humanist?

    Those are fundamental questions to which I rabidly seek definitive answers.

  9. Excellent insight by Highlander – to build on what he/she said:

    I believe that there are a number of axioms at play here: one is the recognition that there are entities greater than ourselves, whether human or non-human. This insight demands humility of us. Narcissists have a big problem with this one.

    A second axiom is that we can only perceive and logically construe within about 3-1/2 dimensions of existance (space and time), whereas mathematicians and physicists project a “reality” that implies the existance of as many as 26 dimensions of existance. To accept this, we must admit that there are many dimensions of existance that are closed to us (for now, anyway). Realists and materialists have a big problem with this one.

    For a rather cute insight into this trans-dimensional world view – read Edwin Abbot’s “The Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions”, first published in the 19th Century by an Anglican clergyman and scientist – http://www.amazon.com/Flatland-Romance-Dimensions-Thrift-Editions/dp/048627263X

    Finally, to accept the existance of a God demands a faith that transcends our perceptive reality, challenges the logic of our 3-1/2 sphere of existance, and asks (rather than demands) our acknowledgment of and submission to His authority. Human egos have a big problem with this.

    So, blind faith excepted, to have faith in a transcendental Superior Being demands quite a bit of us. It’s one of the reasons that I came to my faith somewhat later in life. After I was able to come to terms with many of these questions, I began to experience my own transcendental moments and, as Highlander so eloquently put it, the “giant granite blocks suddenly slid into place”.

  10. The universe includes this galaxy. Of course, dagon’s universe might be different with different rules.

  11. Highlander led folks through the logic pretty well.

    Some people don’t particularly like nor do they fall for, the promise of heavenly rewards (or punishment) in the afterlife as a reason for doing certain things in this life.

    It used to be theologians and philosophers would argue endlessly over the existence of free will. You know, Calvinist predestination vs whatever, do it yourself fate.

    It wasn’t until Quantum Mechanics that some empirical evidence and mathematical models developed to explain the underlying principles by which free will works. As science progresses, God will be revealed. If only a small step at a time. Personally, I tend to think it is premature to say God is a loving god or a vengeful god or a compassionate god or the ultimate source of goodness.

    People have these dialogues with God, and it is quite peculiar. Because it is not demonstrable whether it really is a conversation with God, prayer connection or just communications, or whether it is just a sort of trance meditation.

  12. Very true, YM, because it is so very difficult for us to rationally transcend our 3-1/2 dimensional frames of reference. For those among us who, apparently out of sheer coincidence :-) , have experienced almost identical personal relationships with God, His nature is, if not always clear, understandable. I can’t tell you how many times, with my fellow-Christians, someone has made a comment on His sense of humor only to have everyone in the circle know exactly what was meant. To try to explain to those that have not “seen”, however, is a bit like trying to explain colors to the color-blind. I say this as, humbly-yours…

  13. y,decent points

    i’m curious what you think about dawkins. i find him a bit heavy-handed but i feel his pain

    peace

  14. Dagon, I think that he is angry. Wouldn’t you be?

  15. I think Dawkins is so committed to his materialism that he has locked a pair of blinders on himself, and really cannot see anything that argues against his world-view.

    I know some christians like this — for them, everything they see, everything they learn, in fact EVERYTHING supports their view. They see no contradictions, no evidence that is more easily interpreted another way, nothing that doesn’t add to their faith in their world view.

    Find something that Dawkins has said that reveals the slightest doubt of his fundamental (sic) correctness…I’ve seen nothing.

    Maturity begins when one understands that world views are chosen (axioms?) and not derived empirically by an open mind evaluating the evidence. Once chosen, our world view is what guides our choices in how to interpret the data.

    Humans have no other choice, so far as I can see.

  16. ” We must respect the other fellow’s religion , but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart .”

  17. I was listening to NPR last week, when Michael Weinstein, the author of “With God on Our Side,” took to the airways. I had no idea that Evangelical Christians were big in the military or that they were wearing badges calling themselves “Crusaders.” And as to the notion that they are friends to Isreal? Yeah. Just like the wolf was a friend to the Ginger Bread Man.

    I just read this today:

    “Weinstein, a 1977 graduate of the Academy and former assistant general counsel in the Reagan administration, and a lifelong Republican, has devoted the last several years of his life to battling what he has come to regard as a fundamentalist takeover of the Academy, turning it, in effect, into a taxpayer-supported Evangelical institution. He charges that the separation of church and state is rapidly vanishing at the school, which routinely promotes sectarian religious events, tolerates the proselytizing of uniquely vulnerable new recruits and, basically, conflates evangelical interests and the national interest.

    If you think this is just a fight over some abstract principle, with ramifications only for atheist, Jewish, Buddhist and other cadets who may be “offended” by fundamentalist God talk, I urge you to check out Weinstein’s book or website. He documents a chilling phenomenon: The whole U.S. military, up and down the chain of command, is coming to be dominated by members of a small, characteristically intolerant sliver of Christianity who truly regard themselves as Christian soldiers, on a God-appointed mission to harvest souls and battle evil.

    Weinstein, whose family tradition of national service is pretty impressive, does not do battle lightly with those who now run his alma mater. One of his sons is a recent graduate of the Air Force Academy and the other is still a cadet there. The fact that both of them endured anti-Semitic harassment initially spurred him to take action. But this goes deeper than disrespect for other faiths. The attitude he has encountered in his attempt to hold the institution, and the rest of the military, accountable smacks of a coup: “The Christian Taliban is running the Department of Defense,” he told me. “It inundates everything.”

    http://www.commonwonders.com/

  18. Must be why we see the Dept. of Defense bending over backwards to accommodate Muslim members and Wiccans, provide sensitivity training to soldiers working in Muslim lands, drive out the Mormons and Catholics, wrap the women cadets in burquas,and torpedo every effort to cooperate with Israel. Yep! I see that I need to call up my Liberal-Democrat Airforce Lt. Col. brother-in-law right away and warn him of the coup. You really can’t distinguish between your friends and your enemies, can you, T.S.?

  19. Geez TS. Do you swallow everything you read–or, even worse, hear on NPR?

    In fact there was a time, it was 50 years ago, when every Naval Aviation Cadet mustered on Sunday morning and marched to Church services. The Catholics and Protestants mustered at different times because the auditorium was shared; but every cadet, with one exception, attended one service or the other. The one exception was for Jewish cadets. They had some arrangement (I don’t remember the details) that gave them time to attend services in town and were exempt from the Sunday morning formations.

    There was no overt threat about this. It was just part of being a cadet and one of the things you did if you wanted to be a Naval Aviator–which we all desperately wanted.

    If there were any Atheists (including Communists), Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, or Muslims in the Cadet Corps they apparently kept quiet about it.

    The military has changed so dramatically over the years that the stuff Weinstein is trying to sell, with TS’s help, is like reading a fairy tale. But, some people believe in fairy tales, of course.

    To deviate from the topic and return to PBS/NPR for a moment. I see this morning that Bill Moyer is doing something for PBS in which he deplores how the White House manipulates the media to support the Iraq War. (Insert laugh track here). But Moyer conveniently omits that he was Lyndon Johnson’s press flack, and one of his chief arm twisters during Viet Nam. I just hate to think that some of my tax money goes to support this kind of hypocrisy.

  20. Evangelical Christians were big in the military or that they were wearing badges calling themselves “Crusaders.” And as to the notion that they are friends to Isreal? Yeah. Just like the wolf was a friend to the Ginger Bread Man.

    This reminds me of when folks kept talking about how the Sunni and Shia, Iran and Taliban, would never ever ever never ally together and work together and exchange help with each other, against the United States or any other threat.

    The reason why these people are wrong is because they have taken it for granted that their assumptions are correct. Their assumptions on human nature, their premises and axioms on irreducible fundamentals, and various other logic branches that they never ever argue about. They just assume it is true. That’s why if they are testing their own logic, but that isn’t what they are diong. THey are using their beliefs to create a theory, that fits fact to hypothesis. This combination of inductive and deductive logic is a monstrous misuse of human thinking.

    My proposal is that the Left and their allies here or over there, are so inundated over factionalism and disunified backstabbing of each other over power, that they are the personifications of entropy. Those who serve entropy in the belief that they are serving and promoting themselves. If everyone is doing that, then is anyone going to elevate themselves? I think not. This is not something I made up. You can see it in almost every Revolution and totalitarian state. When the revolution ate its own, when the revolutionary leaders killed their immediate opponents and then started purging folks that were already part of the revolution. Counter-revolutionary practice, as Iran calls it.

    But the point is, when people talk about how different religious “fight it out” and whatever about the wolf and the ginger bread man, they are espousing a belief on how human society works. But it is not how human society works, not without help. They’re talking about their own model of society, their own beliefs about how things are and should be. Fighting amongst Sunni and Shia is natural to them. Fighting amongst Christians and Jews are natural to them. Combined with the belief that religion makes you a dumb fanatic, then the consideration that such societies around such religions could EVER be reasonable or use reason to band together against a common threat, is utterly alien to the Left, their allies, and anyone else with such assumptions about human nature.

    It is by no means always true that factions that hate each other eternally, will always ally against a common threat, a common greater threat. But it is predominantly true, based upon the axioms of human self-survival and behavior.

    If you believe that humans can survive by talking to such folks as terrorists, then wouldn’t you also believe erroneously that the terrorists and religious fundamentals will never be sophisticated enough to create an alliance of their mortal enemies, agaisnt you? Because if they “were” sophisticated enough to craft such a threat, that would make talking ineffective, eh? And you can’t have that if all you are interested in is forming theories on your axioms, instead of testing those axioms.

    NOblesse Oblige, aristocracy, and white man’s burden, also part of the cultural framework of the Left.

  21. That’s okay when they are just testing their logic, but that isn’t what they are doing.

    PS

    Science makes a big point about adapting theories to evidence. Deductive logic makes a big point about choosing your place of origin, and then tracing out the if this then that branches, the 1s and 0s, the true and false branches.

    So if you believed that “religiosity” makes people dumber than you are, and that because you are smarter or wiser than the religionites, Christian fundamentalist or Islamic Fundamentalist, then the every evidence that the Christians or Islamics could behave in a manner inconsistent with your prediction, becomes a threat to not only some pet theory of yours, but your entire system of thinking, assumptions, and logic. The mind’s ability to protect itself through Freudian defense mechanisms and self-delusion, is immense.

    Scientific theories are a dime a dozen, easily tossed aside. But things relating to your identity, which is what deductive logic becomes when you have thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of branches that have grown from the original, is something that you can only erase or backtrack with a powerful will. A powerful enough will that bypasses the self-survival instinctual reflex that is hardwired in our minds. Book here, didn’t have to erase her branches all the way back to the irreducible fundament. Which was belief in human rights, in the good that is human rights or human dignity. She just had to backtrack along the path of her political support and thinking on politics and actions.

    But when people construct theories based around their deductive assumptions, this can result in something far more serious and monstrous.

    It can result in people who see other human beings based upon their assumptions about their own superficial traits. Narcissism. Or it can result in erroneous predictions concerning the Islamic Jihad, because in highlighting what is not there, he underestimates people who do have what he does not.

    Personally, I was always interested more in debating and arguing over basic assumptions, rather than the theories crafted from those beliefs. Argument, to me, was just a way to see what a person believed, down to the original zero point.

  22. Geez TS. Do you swallow everything you read–or, even worse, hear on NPR?- Old Flyter

    Usually, if I am interested, I dig deeper, which is what I did with Michael Weinstein.

    His book looks absolutely fascinating:

  23. Reading Weinstein’s book is “digging deeper”?

    However, since “Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV” is recommending it, I’m sure it must be just fabulous!

  24. Reading Weinstein’s book is “digging deeper”? – earl

    Yes. It goes like this:

    You hear an author talking about his or her book. If it interests you, you buy the book. If it doesn’t, you dont.

    I bought Kevin Phillips’ book, American Theocracy, too.

  25. [...] first is a post I did last week, I know what you’re again, but what are you for?, which addresses aggressive atheism and the vacuum it leaves in its wake — a vacuum often [...]

  26. [...] Bookworm Room, “I Know What You’re Against But What Are You For?” [...]

  27. [...] UPDATE:  Over at CDR Salamander, Phibian notes another subtle weapon that’s being used in the war against traditional marriage.  I’ll repeat here what I said in a comment to his post:  “As it is, I believe marriage is a good thing for a healthy society and a good thing for individuals.  Otherwise, there’s nothing but the State, and I think statism is a bad thing.  All things that prevent the development of the nuclear family, whether giving men an incentive to avoid marriage, or giving women a reason either to avoid having children or avoid having a man attached to those children, are therefore, in my mind, bad things. “  In case you missed it, here’s the reason I fear statism. [...]

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