Skip to comments.Atheism's Army Of The Smug
Posted on 12/23/2006 7:01:57 AM PST by Clive
This time of year makes atheists especially cranky; O Little Town of Bethlehem, played in a shopping mall, does nothing to lift the spirits of an unbeliever. But even by seasonal standards, the letters attracted by my column last week on The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, demonstrate astonishing vehemence. They leave the impression that atheists are sensitive about their non belief and easily hurt by criticism.
A friend of mine, who used to run a radio program about religion, noted recently that "militant atheists were our most intolerant and angry listeners." The atheists I've lately heard from bring such passion to their hatred of religion that they can be fairly classed as religious fanatics.
Dawkins and people like him pour ridicule on believers. But, as evolutionists, they can't credibly explain why hundreds of different civilizations across the globe have felt the need to believe in a divine force. Billions of people have accepted what Dawkins considers are stupid, easily refutable and harmful ideas. How did those beliefs evolve? Were they an evolutionary advantage?
Dawkins thinks they may be the result of a misfiring or by-product similar to the reason moths immolate themselves in candles. Over eons, moths evolved a system of navigation based on light from the moon; this still usually works, but sometimes light from a candle (or another source) fatally tricks them. In the same way, Dawkins suggests, humans evolved a system of thought that has led them astray.
Children who obey adults have a "selective advantage" in evolution. They are more likely than disobedient children to survive because they won't have to learn on their own that, for instance, crocodile- infested rivers are dangerous. "Natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal elders tell them." But this valuable quality can go wrong, allowing parents to pass on their crazy religious ideas to the young. Dawkins has more trouble explaining how, in each civilization, the first wave of parents acquires religious convictions.
Atheists (my atheists, anyway) think that if you do not accept atheism outright then you're likely to accept the Bible literally -- which hasn't been true, in the case of most Christians and Jews, for generations. One reader demands to know whether I believe human life began 6,000 years ago when God created the first man and woman. No, I don't, and I hardly know anyone who does.
Atheists are arguing against a literalism that has never been accepted by anyone who is likely even to hear of Richard Dawkins. One reader demands I ask myself why I'm so sure of my beliefs. But I'm not. In fact, my beliefs hardly deserve the word "beliefs" and I'm certainly not religious in any traditional sense. My strongest belief is that a gigantic mystery still dominates this entire realm of thought.
Dawkins, and apparently most militant atheists, don't seem even slightly interested in the fact that something almost inconceivably mysterious happened at the birth of the universe. As a result, they can bring little of interest to any conversation about the origins of life.
Last March, astronomers (working with data from a NASA satellite circling the Earth since 2001) concluded that time began 13.7 billion years ago, a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. At that instant the universe (as a New York Times writer put it) expanded "from submicroscopic to astronomical size in the blink of an eye." Why would it want to do that?
I have no idea, but we now know that at least one planet that developed in the universe, Earth, would develop elements of genetic material that would make life possible though not, of course, inevitable.
Thomas Nagel, the philosopher, recently pointed out that if we are to believe evolutionary explanations, and therefore that the necessary seed material existed at the time of the Big Bang, we have to realize that there is no scientific explanation for the existence of that material in the first place. A complete understanding of evolution would involve answering a question as complex as evolution itself: "How did such a thing come into existence?" We have done nothing but push the problem one step back.
Or, as Stephen Hawking put it, "Why does the universe go to the bother of existing?" On that point we are all ignorant -- and only a little closer to knowledge than our ancestors who believed that sacrificing a goat would bring good crops. The profound intellectual failure of atheists lies in their fundamentalist-like aversion to the words, "We don't know."
I like Christmas.
The profound intellectual failure of atheists lies in their fundamentalist-like aversion to the words, "We don't know."
I always thought the crutch of the religious is that they can't say "I don't know" and must attribute these unknowns to a god to give an answer. How did the universe begin? I don't know. It's that easy, but I'm not going to accept too-easy answers like "God did it."
Had this argument in a bar last night. The problem is that when many people become athiests, it becomes their new religion. They forget that there is a religious impulse that also drives them to seek conversions to their cause. For many (I cant say all) people I have met, their religion becomes "Christians are stupid".
Also tie in the ego-kick that many people get when they find somebody that they can claim to be stupider than themselves. Hence all the "Chimphitler" remarks and such. Its a quick way out for real losers.
That aside, I am reading Dawkin's "The God Delusion" right now and its fairly well written. Unfortunately, he himself is what we can call a "religious athiest".
This Christmas season, Best Buy has banned its employees from saying "Merry Christmas." I went to Circuit City last weekend and they were playing Christmas carols.
Nah - that's not it.
I mostly struggle with the person Jesus of Nazareth.
Best I can tell, he was either a liar, a lunatic, or - what he claimed to be...
Who made this decision at Best Buy? Do we know the identity of the person who banned "Merry Christmas" in this company? Someobdy who does such a drastic thing should have to publicly explain why. If he's not ashamed of his decision, then why shouldn't he be willing to step forward and take credit for it, and explain his reasoning?
Just say no to Best Buy
All that does is insert one more step before the inevitable "I don't know" anyway. After all, if you ask "How is it that there IS a God who has always existed, and why" the answer is going to be I Don't Know."
That said, the only thing about Christmas that makes me cranky is that wretched "Feed the World-Do they know it's Christmas Time" song (I can't even tell if it's all one song or two different ones.) There is nothing like a bunch of millionaires nagging ME to just give whatever I can to feed the world. They live in houses so big that their children get lost in them and a St Bernard has to lead them back, and they're nagging ME to feed the world? The day one of those SOBs lives in a normal sized house because he gave away his fortune to charity is the day I want him preaching to me. Till then, Bah Humbug.
I am a Christian, but it's as a traditionalist that I insist on saying "Merry Christmas" to everyone. People used to say it to one another all the time, and the world is less friendly, less hopeful, less unified when we all sullenly refuse to say it.
That said, I can understand why some stores have such a policy where I live. I live in the Washington DC area, which is trending toward being minority Christian. Some of the people from other cultural backgrounds get pretty fiesty here. You say "Merry Christmas" to the wrong person here and you can find yourself on the receiving end of hysterical shouting from someone from India or Arabia or even New York who chooses to feel offended. I don't mind saying a few brisk things to people who don't accept my heritage, but the store managers mind quite a bit.
Sorry, I'm not buying what you're saying. There are plenty of stores this year whose employees are saying Merry Christmas, and I haven't heard that they're suffering for it. Best Buy is an exception and has been told not to mention the name of this official federal holiday, and a day that is part of America's history and culture. I want to know who made that decision to banish the word Christmas from Best Buy, and hear his or her explanation. I suspect he or she is an anti-religious bigot, not someone who shares your (overly timid, PC) concern not to "offend" profession chip-on-shoulder jerks. (If they're so offended by Christmas - which is an official federal holiday, like Martin Luther King Day - do they skip the holiday and go to work? I doubt it) By the way, the more people who adopt your apologetic attitude toward our country's and our culture's heritage, the sooner it's all going to go down the drain.
Apologies. I re-read your post, and realize that you don't censor "Christmas" in your own conversation. Good for you. Bad for Best Buy. It's not a good business decision to imply that the word "Christmas" is a four-letter word, and denigrating our traditions is also not good for the country that allows Best Buy to prosper. So bah humbug to them
"Atheists are arguing against a literalism that has never been accepted by anyone who is likely even to hear of Richard Dawkins."
LOL! Well put!
The funny (and not-so-funny) thing about it is: Dawkins and his ilk are more right than they know. The religious impulse is universal to the human condition and if you chase it out with a pitchfork it returns through the back door. The problem being is the forms it takes when it does that, re: Marxism, Nazism, "Gaia" worship, street gangs, and, of course, atheism.
Remember "Taliban Johnny"? His parents were/are exemplars of do-your-own-thing New Age freewheelers. That wasn't good enough for him and look at the star he wound up hitching his wagon to.
The reason you hate it is because the song isn't honest. It wasn't made to help anything but the sagging careers of those singing it.
That is the logical fallacy of the false dilemma, although three-way instead of the usual two-way. A fourth possibility is that Jesus is misrepresented by those writing about him.
I buy my smokes from a Bangladeshi fellow that runs a dollar store near my house. I loaded up for the holiday yesterday, and as I was leaving, I paused and said, "Happy Holidays" to him. He replied with, "And a Merry Christmas to you, my friend!" I sure felt stupid after that.
Not "believing in Christmas" is like not believing in Cinqo de Mayo. Christmas is one of those holidays, like Cinqo de Mayo, that so many people celebrate that it spills out into the public forum. Like Cinqo de Mayo, you can choose to celebrate it or not celebrate it, but to not "believe" in it in nonsense.
I lamented, "What's the use? Mankind's fate is sealed,
No one knows, and no one cares, what will be revealed.
We plunge into the darkness, dark thoughts and darker souls,
We will be trod asunder and be buried in dark holes."
and a Voice spake to me ... "Lighten up."
Steven should have consulted me on this pont also, before maundering on. Such a chatterbox.
Anyway, I would have told him, "The Universe matters, or else we'd never mind."
I say "Merry Christmas" to them because I'm extending them greetings because of my holiday, not because I'm trying to convert them. If they interpret that the wrong way, they're just looking to pick a fight anyway.
The only problem I have with that possibility is that most of the accounts of his life were written within the lifetime of the eye-witnesses.
It's the same problem today's "holocaust-deniers" have - too many eye-witnesses - too many people that can attest to the facts...
It's also very difficult to believe that his disciples - to a man - would accept a gruesome death (or banishment to an isle prison in the case of John) in support of known hoax.
This loosely ties in with what C.S. Lewis was writing about decades ago. His thesis was that all people are "hard-wired" to believe in more than the existential world, in something larger than one's self.
But when God is removed from the equation, this can take many, perhaps bizarre, forms.
In true atheism, one's self becomes one's God (this also works for Communism,) which explains why such believers take perceived insults so personally, even when no insult is present or implied.
If environmentalism is the adopted religion, then God is "Gaia," even if not accompanied by ceremony.
In Nazi Germany, the State was God.
With little expansion, this expands to Druidism, Wicca, animal-rights activism, a host of other things.
The common thread is "fervor." The "annointed" have the same zeal as any traditionally religious person, but it guides their actions into sometimes unrecognizable realms.
But without the moral compass of a God-based faith, things quickly spin out of control. Just look at the headlines on any given day.
Public whipping of the protesting atheist would work wonders. However- Sigh!-that would take more strength of character than our society presently exhibits.
Yeah, we could import some Mutaween from Saudi Arabia where they really know how to whip unbelievers!
S'matter with you!?
I had not thought of importing people to fill the necessary function of administering the whippings. However, that may be a good stop gap measure until Americans regain their health and strength and then take over the job. Good Post!
Just doing the public humiliations and punishments that Americans won't do.
I disagree that you would need to import Christian Protectors of Vice and Virtue.
I see plenty of potential recruits every day. The Prince of Peace would be proud.
You got it! Like the time he whipped the trash out of the temple.
I would definitely support more of that.
If his followers lied about Christ why did they not recant. They were persicuted, humiliated, hunted down and killed. I wouldn't die for a lie, how about you?
It must be a sad existence not to believe in anything meaningful, and to enjoy casting doubt on anything that might lead to meaning.
You are denigrating meaning, my friend. May you find truth before you die.
Not just that, but Merry Chrismas is at its heart a Christian Holliday, but it has ALSO become an American/Western secular Holliday so wishing someone a happy Christmas Holliday shouldn't offend Anyone!
"But, as evolutionists, they can't credibly explain why hundreds of different civilizations across the globe have felt the need to believe in a divine force."
The fact that different civilizations worshipped bulls, snakes, the sun, and invisible men in the sky provides no proof that any of them were correct. The only explanation needed is man's proclivity for superstition, which is probably already out there somewhere.
I agree with you, and that's part of the reason I go around saying "Merry Christmas" to everyone with a big smile. And I am not afraid to get into a fight with anyone, though I don't tend to fight with fists but with cold, clear, British-style words. But I can understand that in a community in which christians are a minority, it might be an understandable decision to tell employees not to have fights with customers. There are a lot of them around here who would sue at the drop of a hat.
You've got a spanking fetish.... It's OK--lots of people do.
I used to say "Merry Christmas" until Bill O'Reilly annoyed me enough to switch to "Happy Holidays".
Do you find it equally difficult to accept that nineteen people would crash the planes they had taken over into skyscrapers?
If not, how do you differentiate between one suicide and another?
If so, how do you avoid the conclusion that Wahabi Islam is the true religion?
A fifth is that, given the circumstances (the relatively recent destruction of the Maccabean kingdom and Roman conquest), for a Jew who believed that his religious scriptures actually meant what they said to expect the imminent arrival of a Messiah was not "lunatic" at all -- and if the Messiah is coming, why should it not be one's self, if the signs seem to point to that?
As I noted upthread, either some people will die for a lie, or a wide variety of religions (Wahabi Islam, Catholicism, Lutheranism, Judaism, etc) are all the truth (which would appear to be logically impossible on its face).
(former schoolmate of Glenn Gould)
is the best writer at the National Post.
Every article of his is a delight
and some of them are hilariously funny
Wellll, maybe not so difficult - look at the Muslims. If that religion isn't a hoax, I don't know what is.
Jesus' disciples on the other hand didn't have to take anything on faith - they knew - they were eye-witnesses - along with many others.
Yes, true believers will die for their cause. Not many though, will die for a known hoax.
Keep in mind that blowing yourself up doesn't take any more courage than holding a gun to your head and pulling the trigger - and the death is instantaneous.
Imagine, being the proponent of a hoax - as Jesus' followers must have been, and holding to the hoax for years - knowing it to be a hoax. No real reward - just suffering, torture, and gruesome death.
And you know, if there were only a few of them that hung on - living the lie - you could excuse them as fanatics. But for the whole group to hold on till the bitter end - eh, a hoax? I don't buy it...
Wrong...my circle of friends and students are well aware of Dawkins, and believe the Bible is inerrant, infallible, and God-breathed.
The author uses too many straw-man arguments, and misrepresents a lot of Christians.
All atheists see their God when they look in the mirror.
You need to read up on cult psychology. Even in modern times we have people committing mass suicide because they believed everything their leader said. And even when prophesies flat-out fail, their belief tends to get stronger.
"It must be a sad existence to believe in anything" people will tell you. I have enough meaning in my life. God is absolutely unnecessary. YMMV of course, as no two people are the same. The world would be better if you and the Muslim fanatics understood that.
You are denigrating meaning
You are narrowing the concept of meaning to only what you can understand. There's a lot more out there.
Ahh, but there is a difference.
Muslims are followers. They did not create the religion, they have faith that what they are told is the truth. They will die for their faith because they can believe it is the truth
The apostles were in a very different position. If they were lied, they let themselves be beaten, beheaded, crucified and inprisoned for something they knew was a lie. They are the only people in the history of the world who would not be able to believe if it were not true.