I read Leo Taxil when I was fourteen years old. “The Amusing Bible” is the classic and definitive ‘attack’ on the bible (I read it in Hungarian; I cannot find a link to an English translation, it may not exist).
Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Michael Shermer are old news for me. It’s not that I disagree with them, I like every single book of Dawkins, I enjoyed reading Harris, I read, heard and have seen all of them. I GET THE POINT, yet I have some fundamental problems with the movement they represent, the anti-Christian zealotry, the derision, the contempt, the ridicule that is used as a political weapon in a cultural battle.
The most respectable member of this club is Dawkins, but even he is overdoing it a bit for my taste.
What makes him respectable is his science. He has something to say and it is relevant to his subject.
Do not misunderstand me, I am not a believer, I am not a defender of faith, yet I would not call myself an atheist either.
This does not mean that I am some sort of agnostic; it means that I do not even want to entertain the idea. Belief in some supernatural being(s) is so silly that I would not want to dignify it with an active denial or contradiction which is what calling myself an atheist would do. Calling myself an atheist would mean that I am in the game. I am not. I am a rationalist, an open minded skeptic. I don’t dwell on things that cannot be known.
What makes me feel uncomfortable with the atheist crusaders is their zeal which comes across very much like religious bigotry.
Instead of taking on the religious mindset; instead of examining religions in their cultural context; the atheist crusaders attack particular religions and their particular tenets. That is the easy job. Leo Taxil is proof that you do not need to be a rocket scientist to ridicule the bible, a conman like him could easily do it.
I also find it mildly disturbing that most atheist crusaders are less then critical about secular religions such as environmentalism, different brands of Malthusianism or the mother of all secular religions: communism.
All of them, including Dawkins, are believers of the church of state. They are all on the political left. I do not want to ostracise them for it but being a socialist to any degree is not a purely rational position.
What I find objectionable is their hypocrisy. Religious attitudes are no strangers to them.
I wrote off Michael Shermer, the founder of The Skeptics Society, after his very public conversion into the Global warming Church of Saint Al. It is interesting how in the above linked article he also mentions the other Saint of the movement, David Suzuki, as the person who opened his eyes to the light.
Harris lost me with his no free will argument (that I may get to address at some point).
While “The end of Faith” is a good book, its last chapters are just sappy new-age mumbo jumbo. Looking for some sort of replacement to religious spirituality.
The above named gentlemen with all their contradictions are still, well, gentlemen.
The same cannot be said of the pointlessly vulgar, obnoxious and arrogant Bill Maher, who established his whole career on being vulgar, obnoxious and arrogant, mostly attacking people who are more decent and civilized to respond. Since compared to the above he is just a revolting clown, I was hesitant to include him here but this rant of his fits perfectly with our subject. At 1:05 he says: “many conservatives now say that belief in man-made climate change is a religion”
I am a libertarian and I say the same thing. Michael Crichton had a wonderful speech about environmentalism as a religion in 2003. Read it here, or watch this very short video explaining it here. He makes the case for the argument that environmentalism is indeed a religion. You may disagree with him, but you cannot dismiss it the way Bill Maher does as if it was just a tit-for-tat argument of a deranged creationist.
When you consider his political views Maher isn’t exactly Mr. Pure reason. He is a rabid statist with unflinching faith in the benevolence of the state as long as it is run by politicians of his preference.
I always considered communism a religion. I am also not alone; there is a serious body of research on the subject. This is a god summary from Secular Web and this is an interesting research from a science journal.
I would go, however, a step further than most saying that any level of statism is religious in nature, but let me address this in another post.
What bothers me the most about the atheist crusaders in the end are the cheap shots, the easy scores, and the obviously partisan politics behind it. If they can make conservatives look stupid by attacking some cherry picked religious tenets, they hope to discredit conservative ideas in general.
Beating up on the Christians is trivial and petty. They are the least likely to hit back. They are supposed to turn the other cheek and they have a long history of suffering and martyrdom.
Most of the time when I see Christians being attacked in public, I have the feeling that what I see is not a critique of faith, but a religious war with the ultimate price being the policy outcome.
As Crichton points out in the article linked above, religion is a social constant. Every culture has it:
“……certain human social structures always reappear. They can’t be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people—the best people, the most enlightened people—do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.”
A religion is far more than belief in the supernatural or a collection of superstitions and untestable believes. Religions are reflections of cultural attitudes that go far beyond their manifestations in dogma and ritual. Understanding religions is a prerequisite to understanding the cultures they represent.
Understanding the limits of reasoning – meaning the scope of the faith – is essential if we wish to coexist with believers of any kind.
It is a wonderful illusion to believe that people can be reasoned with and all you need is the right argument to turn someone away from thinking erroneously. It may work in some rare cases, but most often we just stumble upon agreements that existed even before we opened our mouth.
The real question is NOT what we believe but what we can agree on doing together.