Against Atheism, Arguments for religion, Atheism Plus, Atheists against Atheism, Bill Nye, Christopher Hitchens, Cultural Marxism, Defend the modern world, Ken Ham, Marx, nietzsche, PZ Myers, richard dawkins, Sam Harris, Theodore Dalrymple
Dramatis Personae : A – a fictional interrogator: DTMW – Myself.
A: “Is there a God?”
A: “The God of conventional religion?”
A: “So you’re an atheist in that regard?”
DTMW: “Not really. Atheism has become a positive concept. While once it was simply an absence of belief, it is now a very politicised label and suggests a specific worldview built around materialism, liberalism and a forced veneration of science. The New Atheists I find especially dangerous. They do not understand the function religion plays in the maintenance of a civil society, and what would necessarily occur were it removed.”
A: “Which is…”
DTMW: “It protects society from the full consequences of scientific truth. We’ve gotten too used to the idea that the ‘truth will set us free’ – that truth, being a positive value, can only have a positive effect. We forget that it can be beneficial or harmful only depending on its interpretation. Human beings are not naturally good, I’m afraid. Hobbes had this almost correct, except that religion and not government is the most effective Leviathan. Without it, the less evolved among the world population would feel they had no reason to stay within moral boundaries. Without the fear of hellfire, morality becomes a matter of consent. That’s all well and good for intelligent people with their evolved sense of empathy and social nuance. But most people are not intelligent.
And even among the intelligent, atheism allows for an icy, almost mathematical form of ethics that can be used to rationalise just about anything. Abortion, murder in all by name, can very easily be made logical by atheist thinking, but less so by the slightly fuzzy sentimentalism of the religious mind. That fuzzy sentimentalism, even if ridiculed by the petri dish and microscope, protects us from a lot of evil ‘common-sense’. The ‘New Atheists’ are greasing the wheels towards a very cold and dangerous void, the eventual filling of which they shan’t themselves be around to influence.
A: “Richard Dawkins says we can be good without God.”
DTMW: “As well he might. He is the product of a charmed life and first-class education. He belongs the upper-middle class and has never truly experienced hardship of the kind the poor must contend with. Solace of an earthly, material kind was at his side come what may. When the poor are faced with a reality that is horrid in every rational interpretation, they must look beyond reality for comfort. Peace between the classes depends in no small way on this function of religion. The concept of a human ‘equality’ before God; of a levelling after death; of a divine reward measured to match the hardship endured in life – all of these concepts prevent the fires of revolution bursting into life. There is a good reason that Communists went for the churches with as much venom as the banks and corporations.”
A: “What about Islam?”
DTMW: “Not all religions are equal. Some are more moral than others. It’s important to remember that a living religion is more than its foundational text. It is the product of elaborations and philosophies inspired by that text over hundreds of years. This is why Judaism and Christianity evolve and Islam doesn’t. The Qur’an, unlike the Bible, is a book that cannot be re-interpreted without fear of death.
A: “So you’d rather the Arabs and Persians and others converted to Christianity?”
DTMW: “I think that would be transformative. A Christianised Islamic world would solve so many of the worlds anxieties that it is difficult to describe how highly I favour the idea. I also expect the second generation growing up in a forcibly Christianised Pakistan (say) would be thankful to those who dominated and converted their elders. Islam makes life hell. Even Islamists are desperate to escape the fruits of their own labours. They are too proud to admit otherwise of course.”
A: “Are atheists evil?”
DTMW: “No. But many are certainly elitist. Elitism hides behind atheism rather well. You might say ‘No, I don’t hate poor White Americans; I just enjoy ridiculing their belief in Noah’s Ark. It’s got nothing to do with the fact that I went to University and they didn’t.’ I’m not convinced by that sort of thing I’m afraid.
As both Nietzsche and the Nazis understood, Christianity has always opposed elitism and made it politically impossible. This is the case today in America. The anti-intellectual instinct of Southern Baptism for example is something I sympathise with. The elite of America would love nothing more than to re-order society based on IQ or erudition. Christianity demands that other qualities are taken into account; unscientific qualities – like modesty, friendliness and warmth.
On a social level, mass atheism (as opposed to scattered, disorganised disbelief) would open Pandora’s Box. Many sleeping ideologies would awaken and moral values would be re-examined. It isn’t enough to say that ‘reason’ would take the place of religion. Whose reason? Can you not make a reasonable case for unreasonable things?
A: “Do you prefer Catholic or Protestant culture?”
DTMW: “My father is a retired C-of-E minister and so Protestantism is more familiar to me. I don’t like the hierarchicalism of the Catholic church, but I like the aesthetics of Catholic communion. Protestantism is more earthly. The West would fare well with either.
A: “Should children be raised with religion?”
DTMW: “I couldn’t be insincere in that regard, so instead I would make them understand that this is historically a Christian culture and that Islam, Hinduism and the like, are foreign to it. We reserve the right to uphold traditions and to maintain a unifying sense of identity. A religious core strengthens a nation by giving it a point of focus. It is terribly short-sighted to recommend the removal of religion from public life entirely.
Though an atheist and an ex-muslim myself, I agree with what you say. Not all religions are equally moral and ethical.
I think your viewpoint perfectly corresponds with Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s position on why disaster befell Russia & Europe.
“Nobel laureate, Orthodox Christian author, and Russian dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his “Godlessness: the First Step to the Gulag” address, given when he received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion on May of 1983, explained how the Russian revolution and the communist takeover were facilitated by an atheistic mentality an a long process of secularization which alienated the people from God and traditional Christian morality and beliefs. He rightly concluded: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”
Defend the Modern World said:
The Nazi state was also a direct product of atheistic thinking. Most of the ideologues of Fascism (in both Italy and Germany) were atheists. You can’t justify genocide on religious grounds. You can on scientific grounds. Science is amoral.
Though your broad position is shared by Theodore Dalrymple and others, I think you might misrepresent the “new atheists” somewhat, if I may say so: there is evidence that they do recognise the functional role religion plays (especially if you include Alain de Botton, who has written a book on the matter). They’re just uncomfortable with pretending to believe, or urging others to believe, things that are simply unbelievable. Also their view is that those strongly held, yet unfounded, views tend to cause rifts, rather than draw people together. I must say I agree with them.
Have you read Sam Harris’ “The Moral Landscape”? You might be interested in it.
I am also not so sure that the Nazi state was a direct product of atheist thinking (I have just finished reading Mein Kampf and previously read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich). Hitler tended to say whatever his given audience wanted to hear, but he sometimes mentioned God – and “divine providence” very often. His views on religion seem unclear.
But anyway, it is often retorted that if the ideologues were atheists this does not mean the wars were conducted in the name of, or because of, atheism. You can justify genocide on religious grounds if your religion is Islam.
I think it can be realised by some people why they are better off being good. For the others we have laws and punishment. We have those things so that there can be such a thing as society. I am not sure why we need religion for that, and when it comes to fighting Islam, one of the central reasons I am opposed to it is that it offends my reason: it seems so obviously based upon complete nonsense that I do not want my society revolving around it.
Just finally, I am not sure what’s wrong with “elitism” either, but I think you might just mean many atheists can be snobbish. I am sure you’re right about that – they often are, and they are often on the Left. I find these people intolerable, but I do not think atheism is necessarily, logically, politicised to Left or Right, as it is just a rational point of view. Am I the only one who can also combine it perfectly happily with conservatism?
Defend the Modern World said:
When I say ‘New Atheists’, I’m mainly referring to the Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris/Dennett clique. I haven’t read much De Botton. The naïve idealism of Dawkins in particular grates with me. Judging by his twitter feed and many of his public pronouncements, he seems to believe that ‘reason’ is the fountain of human goodness, and that virtue is unquestionably innate in all people. I simply don’t believe that. The famous view of Hobbes – “I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.” – is far more convincing to me based on observation of the world as it is. Without religion, many non-thinking people would not perceive a definite reason to be moral, even though one CAN (as Harris has stated) come up with a system of virtue justifiable in scientific terms. This kind of post-religious ethical system depends upon a clarity of thought that is far from universal. Morality correlates with intelligence to some degree.
As to Hitler and Nazism, I strongly recommend you read Hitler’s Table Talk (a record of his private conversations). The views he put forward in Mein Kampf were politically motivated. He sought to bolster his appeal in what was still by and large a Christian country. In private, his atheism is of a clear, advanced, almost Nietzschean kind. As much as I value Nietzsche, the way of thinking he promotes can be disastrous when combined with politics.
Instead of elitism, I prefer meritocracy. Like elitism, this also leads to hierarchy and inequality (because humans are not equal), but crucially it doesn’t pretend that there is nothing more to judge in humans than intelligence and/or business acumen. Christianity celebrates things like warmth, honesty, humility etc… The brutal elitism of Ayn Rand’s ‘objectivism’ doesn’t appeal to me.
Defend the Modern World said:
I should add that I’m aware Hitler himself had no great respect for Nietzsche. I would still say Nietzsche played a part in laying the intellectual foundations for Nazism.
Having said that, I also want to say that free-thinkers and rational thinkers have a definite and useful place in society, or else a purely religious society with no dissent can too easily veer to extreme ideologies.
Think of the open anti-Semitism of pre-revolutionary Russia, forcing many of the Jews living there into the arms of Communism. And, Communism itself was possible because of the societal and state breakdown in Russia after WW1, a war which was initiated and led by a supposedly religious and nationalist leadership in Russia.
Even Dawkins, though a strident atheist, laments the decline of Christianity, as he feels that it could be a bulwark against something worse. We all know what that “something worse” is.
His exact quote “There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings. I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death. I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.”
I’m personally a huge Dawkins fan. I think that he needs to be respected, as his atheism and anti-religion polemics these days are, rightly, more & more directed against “The Religion of Peace”.
He is a staunch modernist & an ally in our fight for modern values and needs to be respected for it.
Defend the Modern World said:
He nevertheless maintains that the world would be better off without religion in general. That is what I disagree with. He’s a fine expositor of evolution though.
I think his attitude is that the world be better-off without of religion is an Ideal, but not practical in the here and the now, and, in such a non-ideal world, his comments make it clear that he would prefer Christianity to Islam.
This Ideal could however be possible in the future with more advances in Science and spread of genuine prosperity(not fake prosperity of the Gulf States) and the subsequent growing sophistication of people’s thinking.
In some ways this has already been achieved. Many parts of the West & Far East are already what many philosophers in the past would identify as Ideal if not perfect societies and it’s not a coincidence that these societies are largely secular.