Monday, May 14, 2007

"The atheists are coming!! The atheists are coming!!" - With religions and cultures colliding at full speed in Mesopotamia and elsewhere at present, many non-believers have seen this as the moment to present their dossier against the existence of a God. Rosie O'Donnell's comparisons of fundamentalist Christianity with Islamofascism are of a piece with the arguments made in the latest books by Sam Harris, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, which themselves are cut from the same cloth as Dr. Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion.

The latest salvo against religion comes from Vanity Fair's Christopher Hitchens. His new book (excepted in the New York Times) seems to go along a similar track as Messrs. Harris and Dawkins, to wit: faith an an unknowable "other" is contradictory to reason.

And here is the point, about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.
To Hitchen's way of thinking, in as much as mankind yields itself to anything other than a scrupulous pursuit of the knowable, it makes itself subject to the debasements of the irrational. But what is more unreasonable than the (il)logical end of non-belief - that life itself is an absurd accident and that all that exists as something was created out of nothing?

For non-believers, so-called "scientific rationalism" is a shovel by which they hope to reach the end of a bottomless pit; rather than laboring tirelessly in search of a missing link, atheists (or "brights" as they sometimes like to be called) search without ceasing for a magic nothingness that would yield something by which everything could come into being. Even as atheists condemn believers for imagining that a beneficent creative force did not itself need to be created, they themselves must struggle with the equally preposterous assumption that all matter sprang from a void - and not of its own accord, but entirely at random.

Generally speaking, the most persuasive arguments of atheists are usually not against the existence of God in general, but are more reflective of their concern as to the harm that religion can inspire men to do. They appear most concerned about religion as opposed to belief.
We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion. And we know for a fact that the corollary holds true-that religion has caused innumerable people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow.
Why yes Mr. Hitchens, we benighted believers are doubtless aware that secularists have the potential to lead good and productive lives without benefit of religion. Sadly, history reveals that such is rarely the case. Surely religion cannot be the root of all evil, as man has demonstrated sufficient capacity to do harm without the urging of any god.

Dealing straightaway with the "harm" argument against religion, religious belief like anything else can only be judged harmful in relation to life in the absence of faith. As such, the record is clear. We would do well to ask the atheist what worshipful fervor that fired the imaginations of Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong or Hitler? Indeed, we must needs know from the non-believer what god delusion inspired the Tutsis and Hutus of Rwanda to make mincemeat of their fellows? (In that vein, what missionary zeal motivated Idi Amin to do likewise - to an extent more literal than we would prefer - to his subjects?) What journey in faith animates Zimbabwe's Mugabe, North Korea's Kim or Cuba's Castro to turn their countries into concentration camps, all manifestly absent of any discernible religious influence?

The atheist seems to suffer from the curse of all humanists: namely the lack of any gift of discernment between religions (or cultures for that matter.) That Hitchens, et al. would lump preternaturally unperturbable faiths such as the Baha'i or the Amish in the same category as radical Islam suggests a seemingly deliberate effort to make their point by obfuscation rather than argumentation.

So much for reason.

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