Religion & Beliefs

Atheism Sells

I feel about atheists the way I feel about people who wear leggings. I disagree with their choices, but it doesn’t keep me up at night. Apparently, though, atheists these days don’t feel the same way about me, and their … Read More

By / May 30, 2007
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I feel about atheists the way I feel about people who wear leggings. I disagree with their choices, but it doesn’t keep me up at night. Apparently, though, atheists these days don’t feel the same way about me, and their angry tirades against anyone who’s religious are topping the best seller lists and getting people all hot and bothered. Here’s a couple of excerpts from an article on this new phenomenon in the Chicago Tribune:

The time for polite debate is over. Militant, atheist writers are making an all-out assault on religious faith and reaching the top of the best-seller list, a sign of widespread resentment over the influence of religion in the world among nonbelievers.

Christopher Hitchens' book, "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," has sold briskly ever since it was published last month, and his debates with clergy are drawing crowds at every stop.

Sam Harris was a little-known graduate student until he wrote the phenomenally successful "The End of Faith" and its follow-up, "Letter to a Christian Nation." Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and Daniel Dennett's "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" struck similar themes — and sold.

"There is something like a change in the Zeitgeist," Hitchens said, noting that sales of his latest book far outnumber those for his earlier work that had challenged faith. "There are a lot of people, in this country in particular, who are fed up with endless lectures by bogus clerics and endless bullying."

Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a prominent evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., said the books' success reflect a new vehemence in the atheist critique.

"I don't believe in conspiracy theories," Mouw said, "but it's almost like they all had a meeting and said, 'Let's counterattack.'"

The war metaphor is apt. The writers see themselves in a battle for reason in a world crippled by superstition. In their view, Muslim extremists, Jewish settlers and Christian right activists are from the same mold, using fairy tales posing as divine scripture to justify their lust for power. Bad behavior in the name of religion is behind some of the most dangerous global conflicts and the terrorist attacks in the U.S., London and Madrid, the atheists say.

As Hitchens puts it: "Religion kills."

This is certainly not the first time I’ve heard this argument. In my annoying ‘Islam isn’t that bad’ class this semester the professor was fond of telling me that he thought religion was to blame for most of the suffering in the world. And he said it in this cocky way, like he expected me to completely break down and suddenly have some kind of atheist epiphany and leave Judaism far behind. Here’s my argument with this line of reasoning: Humans are pretty good at killing and torturing each other even in the absence of religious conflict. The genocide in Rwanda wasn’t religious, it was tribal. The millions of people who died of starvation under Stalin didn’t die because Stalin disagreed with their theology. Even the Holocaust was lead by someone whose religious convictions seemed to be purely anti-religion. Hitler may have been interested in the occult, but he wasn’t acting on religious motives. This isn’t to say that religious violence is insignificant. I’m just suggesting that God doesn’t appear to be nearly as blood-thirsty as mankind. So why are angry atheists cashing the cow at bookstores these days? Here’s another excerpt from the end of the Trib article:

Mouw said conservative Christians are partly to blame for the backlash. The rhetoric of some evangelical leaders has been so strident, they have invited the rebuke, the seminary president said.

"We have done a terrible job of presenting our perspective as a plausible world view that has implications for public life and for education, presenting that in a way that is sensitive to the concerns of people who may disagree," he said. "Whatever may be wrong with Christopher Hitchens attacks on religious leaders, we have certainly already matched it in our attacks."

Finally, Muow hits the nail on the head. If religious people want to be taken seriously, and want to stop fighting with ‘frum atheists’ they have to pay a little more attention to what they’re saying and in what context they’re saying it. Constantly preaching fear and hatemongering is not going to churn out happy engaged and innovative community members. This is the ultimate un-winnable fight. Let’s neither of us waste our time or energy, okay? Religious people need to stop shoving Bibles down the throat of the secular world, and the secular world needs to chill out about the ten commandments. Frightening how the voice of reason ended up coming from a Christian Conservative…