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11/07/2006

THE NEW ATHEISM AND US

On the way to California this past weekend I finished reading the latest issue of WIRED - my favorite magazine. (Thanks Randy for recommending it to me years ago.)

Fascinating. In a geek meets theologian sort of way.

The issue is titled "The New Atheism: No Heaven. No Hell. Just Science." And it's main story The Church of the Non-Believer is written by a self-desribed spiritually undecided journalist researching the claims of what he calls the "New Atheists." The new atheists he meets could also be called religious extremists. And this shoe swapping makes for an interesting read. The journalist may be entertained by the similarities between the extremists within religion and non-religion too, because he seems to be subtly drawing parallels between them. Or maybe that was accidental. What do you think?

Richard Dawkins, for instance, whom the article calls the "leading light" of this new atheist movement, wants atheists in places of power. (We call this Constantinianism in the Christian faith) He wants to spread atheism by taking entertainment, congress and even the White House. But he sees atheists as an unloved minority incapable of being accepted in politics, kicked out of public schools (by intelligent design) and not allowed to be spoken about in the town square. (Sound familiar?) "Highly intelligent people are mostly atheists," he says. "Not a single member of either house of Congress admits to being an atheist. It just doesn't add up. Either they're stupid, or they're lying. And have they got a motive for lying? Of course they've got a motive! Everybody knows that an atheist can't get elected."

Dawkins, while liking to play the minority card, also talks out of the other side of his mouth equally well, claiming that atheists are a larger group than most realize and growing. Look at how many col people are atheists, he seems to be saying. Look how popular we are. "The number of nonreligious people in the US is something nearer to 30 million than 20 million," he says. "That's more than all the Jews in the world put together. I think we're in the same position the gay movement was in a few decades ago. There was a need for people to come out. The more people who came out, the more people had the courage to come out. I think that's the case with atheists. They are more numerous than anybody realizes."

The most non-pretentious and everyday brilliant of the bunch seems to be Glen Slade. He, like any extremist, blasts the moderates who take the cause less serious. And he, better than anyone, makes the obvious parallel to the Christian faith, which shares the same sociological problem the new atheists face: the vast moderate of "followers" in any movement are moderates, those who agree with a handful of basic tenants but do not adhere to any doctrines of the movement which would require non-comformity to culture at large. "Moderates give a power base to extremists [he says, not realizing he himself is an extremist in the atheist movement]," Slade says. "A lot of Catholics use condoms, a lot of Catholics are divorced, and a lot don't have a particular opinion about whether you are homosexual. But when the Pope stands up and says, 'This is what Catholics believe,' he still gets credit for speaking for more than a billion people."

So the pope gets "credit for speaking for millions who in reality don't know or care about the pope's every pronouncement and attend church rarely if ever (Stats back this up, not just for Catholics but for Baptists and other denominations as well) and the new atheists speak publicly on behalf of millions of atheists world wide who, in reality, don't follow the new atheist teachings or agree with their modus operandi.

What is the new atheists' plan? In a word, conversion.

"How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents?" Dawkins asks. "It's one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?"

What's the solution? The new atheists, a tiny minority, are trying their darndest to ween you and I from the opiate of the masses. They're holding meet-ups and establishing what look to be churches, gatherings of atheists preaching the virtues of atheism, encouraging one another to stay the course, claiming familyhood with atheist celebrities like Keanu Reeves and then going out to preach the "good news" to their families and friends.

The movement even has it's eschatologists akin to our Tim Lahaye or Hal Lindsey, those who preach that not stopping the opposing forces to their ideology will undo the entire human race, probably with a great war. Sam Harris, not the Star Search winner from two decades past, released a book two years ago called The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. It sold well. Very well. In his latest book, Letter To A Christian Nation, he writes to Christians saying, "Nonbelievers like myself stand beside you, dumbstruck by the Muslim hordes who chant death to whole nations of the living. But we stand dumbstruck by you as well – by your denial of tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God."

Now, I'm not writing this post defensively. In fact, I was reluctant to write it at all because of the knee-jerk reactions from Christians I just knew would appear instantaneously in the comments. You know the ones. The slightly more adult versions of "I know you are but what am I?" With a "God Bless" thrown in at the end of course.

No, I'm writing this because I'm agry. I'm not. No, I think hearing the words of any religious movement, even the non-religious movement that doesn't realize it is a religious movement, gives us the opportunity to experience what it's like on the outside of a collection of devoted religious converts. We can hear their sermons and read their plans and experience, maybe for the first time, what it's like being them when we discuss our faith and when they discover our plans..even if that faith and those plans actually only belong to the minority at the fringes.

I have no real point other than that. I'm not anti-fringe. In fact, I think I'm on one, just a different one within Christianity that doesn't get much press. If anything I empathize with the new atheists, disagreeing totally with their core beliefs, but understanding their frustration with those in their flock who gravitate towards culture at large in an effort to be accepted and appear humble. The moderates that frustrate, whether Christian or atheist, speak the same language. The language of democracy. "I think I'm right but who knows? I might be wrong? What do you think? Am I right?"

It's the language of this WIRED article's last paragraph. If we reject [the New Atheists'] polemics, if we continue to have respectful conversations even about things we find ridiculous, this doesn't necessarily mean we've lost our convictions or our sanity. It simply reflects our deepest, democratic values. Or, you might say, our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there's always a chance we could turn out to be wrong.

Of course respectful conversation is a great thing. But, as extreme as this may sound, there are things which we should believe we are not wrong about. And to say we know these things is admirable no matter how non-democratic doing so is these days.

Of course a respectful conversation to some is one that contains no absolutes - unless they are scientific laws - and always ends with "but that's just my opinion, what do you think?" To have that kind of conversation about, say, my belief that there is a God, would be like having a conversation about the time of day that goes something like "...it might be daytime but I'm not sure, so let's keep discussing it or, hey, better yet, let's just do away with the concepts of night and day and live instead in perpetual twilight. I'm happy. Are you happy? Are you happy with me?"

Moderation that brews up this new kind of "respectful conversation" is our common enemy Mr. Dawkins. To most folks our disdain of it makes you and I the same. We're religious. We're narrow minded pricks who disrupt the peace with our side-making absolutes. Welcome to religion, Mr Dawkins.

22 Comments:

Blogger GrovesFan said...

AMEN!

Mainstream American Christians are one of the largest ineffective groups in the world. We have the potential to do much to change the world we live in, but stop far short of action. We're much more comfortable just talking a topic to death, ranting at election time, and if we're truly "radical," carrying a sign or two or having some catchy bumper sticker tout our stand.

The Middle East Muslim extremists are feared and hunted for what is seen as fanatical extremism in the name of an even more extreme god. If American Christians were half as fanatical about reaching people for Chist through service to all people, we would make them look like a bunch of pansies. I'm not talking violence, just plain ole' elbow grease, rubber-road-meeting, Christlike ACTION! I know what I'm doing, and I know some of what you're doing too Shaun. What are others doing?

Beth

11/07/2006  
Blogger Mark said...

I know you are, but what am I? God Bless.

Ok, I couldn't resist. Sorry.

Back when I was in college, I did a paper for a government class about seperation of church and state. The thing that I was most surprised to learn is that atheism is a recognized religion of the US government and evolution is one of its core beliefs. I always think about that when evolution/creation/intelligent design debates come up.

And your line about only being dogmatic on a scientific fact applies here, too. Since most people believe evolution is a scientific fact, they'll stop you when you start to argue against it.

I think the biggest problem I have is that, at least in Southern CA, people seem to want to be left alone. I'm the same way. I've been extremely irritated by the half a dozen phone calls I got each day over the weekend about the election. When I'm out shopping, I don't want to be attacked by someone pan handling outside the store. Or someone trying to sell me something, either.

In that kind of enviroment, how exactly am I supposed to be a witness? I don't want to be a hypocrit, doing to others what I don't want done to me.

Yet I know this something I need to get over. When atheists think they have as much right as I do to convert my kids (or some I might have as some point), something has to be done.

What I need to do is the question.

11/07/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

An interesting tangent in the WIRED article, mark, was that Darwin was a Christian. I actually saw his grave inside St.Paul's in London. Was being the operative word. Evolution was conceived by him while we was still a Christian and he maintained that it did not contradict a belief in any God as Creator. I agree. What some, not all, scientists and others do with the theory called Evolution often puts Christians on the defensive and has caused some of us to pharisaically, I think, erect yet another unnecessary rule people must follow to be accepted by our club: Thou shalt not buy into evolution.

That's crap, to put it theologically.

I don't know if evolution is true or not. It answers the question "how" and truth is I wasn't there to know how the world and time and everything seen and unseen was made. I believe God was. And that answers the only question I as a Christian believe the bible to have answered for me conclusively and forever: WHO made everything?

This has everything to do with the topic at hand I think because the new atheists, like so many Christians (but not the majority), also falsely believe the theory of Evolution is there's - concocted by an atheist who it turns out was actually a Christian. And, they wrongly twist the theory to answer WHO when it was originally written to answer the question HOW.

Again, both camps - the new atheists and a section of American Christians - have a great deal in common don't they?

11/07/2006  
Anonymous euphrony said...

I think Mark is correct in that the general mentality of most Americans is "You do what you want and I'll do what I want, but just leave me alone." Why else do we close the door on the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses when they come knocking? Is it because we just don't want to hear their sermon; we don't want to take the simple time to talk to them, hear their beliefs and share ours, find God's truth beyond our personal dogmas; we want them to move on and leave us unchanged?

There is no verse in the Bible where God or the prophets or anyone else tells us to check our brains at the door. Darwin didn't do that. Neither did the likes of Augustine or John Donne or . . . Why should we? We need to be questioning God, as Job did. Listen for His answer, as Job did, and we will find TRUTH. Fail to question, or fail to listen, and we become mired in confusion and lost in half-truths and delusions (likened to the lawless man and the people in 2 Thessalonians).

Coming through academia and frequently associating with some of those "highly intelligent" people Dawkins claims to be mostly atheistic, I find his statement misleading at best and far from accurate. The "highly intelligent" men and women I know may not believe in Yahweh, but they do believe in something beyond the physical confines of our experience. They are, from my experience, mostly agnostic, because they see too many things in the science, in the math, that are far beyond the realm of probability and yet are, and become so simple as to be utile and not useless.

11/07/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize how much I miss my soft-spoken, radical extremist friend with great hair and a hot wife. I happen to be very passionate about what I know and how I feel about atheism. I work with atheists. The thing is... they don't remain atheists for very long. As far as "respectful conversations" go.... guilty!! I fully agree with you on our (Christians) problem with making an absolute statement or even having absolute beliefs.
We (Christians) are too skeptical. If we expect to know anything, we must assume we can know something! And with that assumtion other elements are entailed, primarily the so-called laws of thought: the laws of identity, non-contraindication and the excluded middle. By following such laws we are able to think clearly and be assured that our reasoning is valid. Such assumptions lead to the first characteristic that our adopted worldview (no matter what it is) should possess - inner intellecual coherence. A professor of the University of Wisconsin said, " If a conceptual system contains as an essential element a set of propositions which is logically inconsistent, it is false."

The thing about the other worldviews (ex: Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism, Existentialism (ATHEISM), Eastern Pantheistic Monism, New Age, and Postmodernism) is that they are logically inconsistent. Dawkins speaks of the "highly intellectual people" that are atheists. I have found in my personal experience in medicine is that physicians and scientist that enter medicine without God, find him in the details.

Let's answer some basic questions from an atheistic viewpoint. What is prime reality? To an atheist, it is that the cosmos are composed solely of matter, but to human beings reality appears in two forms, subjective and objective. Basically, nature is all there is. What is the nature of external reality to an atheist? For human beings alone, existence precedes essence. People make themselves who they are. Wht is a human being to an atheist? Each person is totally free as reagards to their nature and destiny. What happens to a person at death? Nothing, there is no life after death. Why is it possible to know anything at all? An atheist would say, knowledge is subjectie awareness. How do we know what is wright and what's wrong? There is no basis for right and wrong if you are truly atheist.

The only difference between atheism and nihilism is that atheists practice atheism with passion and conviction, (just like a religion would... gasp!!)Yet it fails to provide a referent for a morality which goes beyond each individual. Aye, there's the rub!! By grounding human significance in subjectivity, it places it in a realm divorced from reality. The objective world keeps intruding : death the ever-present possibility and the ultimate certainty, puts a stop to whatever meaning might otherwise be possible. It forces and atheist forever to affirm and affirm and affirm and when affirmation ceases, so does authentic existence. Thus, the entire belief that there is no higher being of any kind is invalid! It is logically inconsistent!

Once these highly intelligent atheists realize that they are in a loop, they either commit suicide, or come to know God. So Shaun, what is our role in showing atheists God's love. Picketing their conventions? No, doesn't work Preach about it in our churches? No, they don't attend. Discuss it on a Christian blog? Maybe, a lot of atheists read this as you know. You know what I think.... how we start to show an atheist God's love..... we begin with.......

respectful conversation.

Amy Cassidy

11/07/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Ladies and gentlemen, Amy Cassidy, a former IKONer and the only person I know who has the composure and brains (and stomach) to reach inside a dead man's chest with her bare hands and pump his heart until it beats on it's own. And apparently she's an apologist too.

Who knew?

Thanks for posting, Amy. (I think my brain got a cramp.) I miss you and yours too.

(Her husband's a bass player. Proof once again of the power of music to get a man married out of his league. No offense Joey. I'm there with ya.)

SG

11/07/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, for the record, and I've tried to tell you this before... it wasn't MY hands. As I said "WE cut open his chest and sutured his aorta together" My exact role was assisting with all of this. MY hands were never in his body, however, I was bloodied.
-Amy

11/07/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

technicality. My version makes for a better story. Artistic license is what we call this in the biz. "Amy pumped a guy's heart back to life" sounds so much better than "Amy assisted as a guy's heart was pumped back to life." Go with it Amy. GO with it.

Hey, shouldn't you be pumping some guy's heart right now? Are people dying while you're posting on my blog?

SG

11/07/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right. I'll nod and smile the next time you tell that story! Nope, no one's dying as far as I know. I'm indulging in wheat thins scraped accross a delicious smoked salmon cheese ball and studying the renal system at home. I have a test tomorrow. Blogging with you is a fun break for me as all other non-soft rockstars are at work. What I like about you, okay, honestly, love about you, is that you make me think hard and laugh hard. Not a lot of people can do that. I know this is secretly a goal of yours ! On a serious note, I do miss IKON terribly.I'm getting my fix from your blog for now, but, tell me your plans. Do you plan on doing any other Bible studies?
-Amy

11/07/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

My plans?

World domination.

Beginning with the blogosphere and moving on to menswear and ultimately sporting goods and beyond.

Ah, the renals and their systems. Yes. Good stuff. Goes nicely with wheat thins and a cheese ball.

11/07/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheese balls! That's what she said!!
-Amy

11/07/2006  
Blogger Mark said...

Ok, I'll confess. I grew up with the ICR guys visiting my church on a regular basis. One of my youth leaders left to go work for Answers in Genesis. So I am very much a died in the wool six literal days, youth earth creationist.

Having said that, I also believe in evolution. (Ironically enough, that old Geoff Moore song played on my iTunes today.) But what I am referring to here is intra species evolution. There is complete and utter proof that a species adapts to fit its enviroment. I have a problem when we go to inter species evolution since they have never proved that.

(Do I have inter and intra right up there?)

So, having said all that, I will not look down on a Christian who believes in evolution as taught in school. There are much more important theological issues to discuss. Like the rapture. Kidding, kidding. Seriously, I do believe you can be a Christian and believe in evolution.

After all, as some wise man pointed out in these comments, you still have to get to the WHO, even in evolution.

11/07/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Good piont, Mark. And to clarify, I don't actually believe in evolution (intra or inter). I just don't rule it out as true. It might be true. Might not be. Is it a coincidence that the second creation account in the bible follows the same animal kingdom creation order as the evolutionists' theory? Hmmm. If it is or isn't, evolutionary theory doesn't answer the WHO question. Now if they ever find the "God particle" that'll mess folks up. That'll go a long way to answering the who question. But I don't think the thing exists.

btw, What is ICR?

11/07/2006  
Blogger AmyCassidy said...

Totally agree with the "it's not the what or how, it's the who" that is important. Science and God could sooooo easily merge if Christians didn't hold the Old Testament to be a literal reflection of the creation of the world. Yikes! Gasp. Go ahead and pass your judgment on me. Yes, I'm a Christian that doesn't know exactly how the world was created, even though the Bible says how in Genesis. Bring it.

Amy Cassidy

11/07/2006  
Anonymous Stephen said...

ICR = Institute for Creation Research (www.icr.org)

11/07/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Interesting.

11/07/2006  
Blogger Mark said...

"Is it a coincidence that the second creation account in the bible follows the same animal kingdom creation order as the evolutionists' theory?"

Probably the same coincidence that every single area of land my family has visited was under water at some point in the distant past. All the geological talks include that fact.

Or the same coincidence that every culture has a flood "myth."

But the entire post wasn't supposed to be about Creation/Evolution. Sorry for the hijack. And ten demerrits for not explaining that ICR was Institute for Creation Research.

11/07/2006  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

One of the problems seems to be that most people who hold a philosophical position or a religious position - are too willing to view the opposing group collectively based on the evidence of one or two people who represent the different group.

I am an atheist so obviously I don't believe in the existence of god - any gods. I don't claim to know that none of the gods exist, as to do so, I would need to claim omniscience and that is more than slightly unbelievable.

When I hear of some religious people who are obviously confused, hypocritical, misinformed (eg Kent Hovind, Pastor Haggard, nutty extremist muslims who blow themselves and others up) - there is the temptation to believe that ALL christians are like that, or that ALL muslims are like that.

And I am sure a similar thing happens to christians when they hear of some atheist who may do terrible things.

The temptation is to allow the instance of one or two people to cloud our judgement. One atheist does not represent all atheists. One christian does not represent all christians etc.

If there is a conflict of worldviews, it seems to be a conflict between reason and faith. And I agree to an extent with Dawkins when he suggests that faith is the antithesis of reason.

There is very little that is reasonable (reasonable in the sense of logic),about any god belief, though it may provide psychological or emotional comfort for those who seek it.

I don't have issues with religious beliefs because of that. I have doubts about the ability of people to make important political, economic, social decisions which are based primarily in belief.

By "belief" in this context, I don't necessarily means religious belief, but a kind of faith that accepts whatever is presented, without scrutiny or critical analysis.

This kind of willingness to believe all sorts of things without due inspection, or test for veracity is what bothers and concerns me most about people who exercise faith over reason.

11/09/2006  
Blogger FreeThinker said...

I could have writtten the same thing as beepbeepitsme did. I'm one of the "New Atheists" I guess. As a former "believer," I know where your Christian mindset is at, but you don't seem to know, from experience, the Atheist mindset. (Not that there is one mindset -- there are a great variety of Christians and Atheists, but the general mindset is simply a supernatural belief vs. a natural belief.)

It's great that we can dialogue on this subject and learn more about each other. We do indeed have some things in common!

11/09/2006  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

I do not understand how it is "unreasonable" to know that because I exist, there is a god. Not just a god, but THE God; the creater of all things. Pretty simple and reasonable to me. BTW, Kent Hovind is only "nutty" to those who can't beat him in legitimate, scientific debate backed up with facts and irrefutable proof; but that's just my belief. Backed up of course by critical analysis and scrutiny.

Beth

11/09/2006  
Blogger AmyCassidy said...

Beth, it's not that simple. Were your parents Christians, and did you grow up in a church? If that's the case, it's easy to say "God exists, because, he just does." For people that have not tried to "seek God" because their life is going well, they have no REASON to believe that God exists. Why would they NEED to BELIEVE that God exists, when they haven't felt that they ever needed him. Statistically, when people come to know God in adulthood, the majority do so related to a personal crisis. This is where we have to get a little deeper with our faith and be able to explain to ourselves first how do we know God exists. When have we had actual proof of his existance? How would we explain to an atheist that we know God, have seen him, and have felt his presence daily.

FREETHINKER: Give me a couple days and I'll post a few things about supernatural beliefs VS. natural beliefs. Just something for you to look at so you know where I, personally, stand on that particualr worldview. It's not an obligation, it's just interesting.

11/11/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read the article... have decided to explore what I've taken to calling the "new fundamentalism"

It's way past time to re-establish the greatest commandment... can you feel the love?

(and speaking of love, I love your blog... it's always a lift to me when I find my way back to it... thanks for sharing yourself)

sean "thatbaldguy" mcnally

11/11/2006  

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