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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