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Atheists with Attitude: Adventures in Public Doubt

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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As previously posted, I’m genuinely fascinated with the current crop of evangelizing atheists and just read an excellent article in the New Yorker by Anthony Gottlieb on the subject – Atheists with Attitude.

Since all the arguments against belief have been widely publicized for a long time, today’s militant atheists must sometimes wonder why religion persists. Hitchens says that it is born of fear and probably ineradicable. Harris holds that there are genuine spiritual experiences; having kicked sand in the faces of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, he dives headlong into the surf of Eastern spirituality, encouraging readers to try Buddhist techniques of meditation instead of dangerous creeds. Dawkins devotes a chapter, and Dennett most of his book, to evolutionary accounts of how religion may have arisen and how its ideas spread.

The same ideas and some of the usual suspects are present at the TED Conference with streaming video of talks on the theme Is there a God?.

It’s no longer socially acceptable I think, to be interested in people one disagrees so fundamentally with. Ours is a society in which we welcome the opportunity to forget that we live with people that see the world differently than we do. When we do acknowledge the presence of ‘others’ we feel compelled to demonstrate how unlike us they are – in their ideas, their very humanity. Christians may reflexively attribute the Atheist’s doubt to his lostness, to rebellion, or in extreme minds, to evil itself. The Christian archetype for the atheist is either a moron – deluded by self or society – or more sinisterly, a misanthropic hypocrite – manipulative, sadistic and repressed, willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of certainty in their principles. The dichotomy is a useless one. It reflects only what one side would like to think about the other.

Having once been an atheist, I feel as much in common with this group of authors as I would with many Christian circles. Perhaps more so. Though I don’t agree with them, this doesn’t make their points are valid and we, as Christians, serve no purpose in waiving them away or giving them a paternalistic pat on the head. We would do well to recognize just how fantastically bizarre our professed Christian faith really is. We’ve grown so used to it through close association and a disturbing habit among churched culture of discouraging honest questions and a need to resolve tidily any questions that do arise. As our assumptions pile up, we find ourselves less-able to have coherent conversations with those who don’t accept our precepts.

Acerbic Brit Christopher Hitchens is by far the most interesting and articulate and if this subject holds any interest with you whatsoever, I highly recommend his debate with Douglas Wilson in Christianity Today “Is Christianity Good for the World?” Hat tip to Houston’s Clear Thinkers.

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Category: of saints & sinners

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2 Responses

  1. NM says:

    I certainly agree that the dichotomy is completely useless. It is also irrational. If we atheists really believed what we say about the religious, we would obviously be sensible to run screaming and wailing amidst much gnashing of teeth from the mailperson, from our doctors, teachers, chemists, librarians, waitresses, taxi drivers and so on and on an on. That we are perfectly able to rely on the goodwill and common sense of most people we meet means that we are perfectly able (mathematically speaking) to rely on the good will and common sense of most religious people.

    Atheists are clearly unable to see why the religious persist in their faith. But that’s why it’s called faith, isn’t it? If it was logical it wouldn’t need faith, to the extent that everyone could see it and believe it too. This is just not a point that is open to deliberative understanding–we could argue in circles all night and not get past this simple blockade. The religious believe in things that other people can’t see and don’t understand, full stop. Since we can’t see and don’t understand, we should just give up on trying to “fix” it–the religious are perfectly well aware that we aren’t going to get it.

    If we can agree on this point, then everyone is free to get on with it. Atheists just don’t want to have to do things on the basis of , or pay obeisance to, principles that they did not construct, cannot support and have no intention of paying for. If the religious are able to get that point, then we could move on to the next one in perfect civility.

  2. Mairnéalach says:

    NM, it strikes me that the religious actually *have* gotten to that point. Just like atheists, they don’t want to have to do things on the basis of, or pay obeisance to, principles that they did not construct, cannot support and have no intention of paying for. Perhaps both parties have more in common than they would admit!

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