Petulant Atheism

“The rather petulant subtitle that Christopher Hitchens has given his (rather petulantly titled) God is Not Great is How Religion Poisons Everything.  

Naturally one would not expect him to have squandered any greater labour of thought on the dust jacket of his book than on the disturbingly bewildered text that careens so drunkenly across its pages – reeling up against a missed logical connection here, steadying itself against a historical error there, stumbling everywhere over all those damned conceptual confusions littering the carpet – but one does still have to wonder how he expects any reflective reader to interpret such a phrase.

Does he really mean precisely everything?  Would that apply, then – confining ourselves to just things Christian – to ancient and medieval hospitals, leper asylums, orphanages, almshouses, and hostels?  To the golden rule, “Love thine enemies,” “Judge not lest ye be judged,” prophetic admonitions against oppressing the poor, and commands to feed and clothe and comfort those in need…

…To the abolitionist movement, the civil rights movement, and contemporary efforts to liberate Sudanese slaves?  And so on and so on?

Surely it cannot be the case that, if only purged of the toxin of faith, these things would be even better than they are; were it not for faith, it seems fairly obvious to me, most of them would have no existence at all.

And since none of these things would seem to fall outside the general category of “everything,” it must be that Hitchins means (assuming he means anything at all) that they fall outside the more specific category of “religion.”

This would, at any rate, be in keeping with one of the rhetorical strategies especially favoured in New Atheist circles:  one labels anything one dislikes – even if it is found in a purely secular setting – “religion” (thus, for example, all the twentieth century totalitarianisms are “political religions” for which secularists need take no responsibility), while simultaneously claiming that everything good, in the arts, morality, or any other sphere – even if it emerges within an entirely religious setting – has only an accidental association with religious belief and is really, in fact, common human property (so, for example, the impulse toward charity will doubtless spring up wherever an “enlightened” society takes root).

By the same token, every injustice that seems to follow from a secularist principle is obviously an abuse of that principle, while any evil that comes wrapped in a cassock is unquestionably an undiluted expression of religion’s very essence.”

David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions, p.219-220

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again to atheists, or the more accurately termed ‘Christian-haters’ (since ‘hate’ and not ‘logic’ or ‘science’ seems to drive the movement – and this will be proved true by the emails I get assuring me I’m the hater just by suggesting this), in the words of Slavoj Zizek,

“If you want to be a true atheist, you have to go through Christianity.”

The failure of the Dawkins-led rat-pack New Atheist movement and its undoing will be in it’s obvious failure to do just that.

By all means critique Christianity.  For heaven’s sake, I do that!  But critique what you know, not a childish cartoon of what you think you know that has obvious reverberations from some sort of early childhood church-based ‘trauma’- such as boredom or arrogance or musty smells or rebellion or revenge for strict parents or a workaholic minister father,  or [….add the grievance….].  And believe me, I really do sympathise with these grievances.  But please, man up!

More to follow.  In the meantime, here’s DBH speaking on the matter.  Some of the comments in the thread prove my point above, but my personal plea is simply to engage in a meaningful way with respect (this is where my “rat-pack” comment comes back to haunt me) – well, boo-hoo, at least I know my own inconsistencies.

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4 thoughts on “Petulant Atheism

  1. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again to atheists, or the more accurately termed ‘Christian-haters’”

    Statements like this simplify and reduce atheists in just the way you rightly criticize charicatured simplifications of Christians. For most atheists atheism is a minor part of their identity, just as not believing in reincarnation or dragons mights be (though atheists may believe in those things…who knows). Most atheists have never read the authors you list…most don’t even speak English. I realize you started this piece talking about a subgroup of atheists, but somewhere it started to turn into a general atheist slam.

    • I take your point about the wide range within atheism, but my post was referring to the likes of those who read the authors I named.

      My argument is with them (this subgroup as you say – and a pretty big subgroup at that), not with every atheist.

      I challenge unthinking Christians as much as unthinking atheism. In that sense I don’t think I did ‘simplify and reduce atheists’, I just targeted a specific and named group that holds quite a lot of sway.

      Of course, the context is the book I quote from, so it is rooted in a specific debate and not a general atheist slam.

  2. If it insults my epistemic responsibilities, then yes, it poisons everything. This isn’t petulance, it’s self respect and basic dignity. Katie Holmes did not leave Tom Cruise out of “petulance”. I value truth…and mental health.

    • If your epistemic responsibilities are so easily insulted, presumably by a self-imposed measure, then of course whatever falls outside your own knowledge and preferences will be poisonous – your own framework becomes your own self-fulfilling prophecy.

      I’m afraid to refer to Cruise and Holmes proves the point my post was making – I don’t even know what you mean by refering to them!!!

      I too value truth and mental health (what an odd thing to say!), so your silly attempt to devalue my point with your comment proves you weren’t paying attention – so much for epistemic responsibilities!!

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