Monday, April 6, 2009

Is Atheism the Answer?

Recently, I have been reading Chris Hedges book I Don't Believe in Atheists. Hedges has already distinguished himself by writing several brilliant books. He is especially adept at taking on fundamentalism (see esp. American Fascists). Hedges has produced an insightful look at the craziness and scariness of Christian fundamentalism. Now he sets his sights on atheist fundamentalism. This short series will take a chapter by chapter look and offer some commentary on I Don't Believe in Atheism.

Chapter 1: "The God Debate"

There is indeed an atheism that is every bit as fundamentalist and crazy as the Christian or Muslim variety. That can hardly be escaped. It is myopic and sees only its views as right. It is intolerant. And just like the nutty Right Wing Christians, its answer to dissent from the atheist party line is disenfranchisement, isolation, and (strangely enough, as is clearly proposed by Harris in The End of Faith) even physical violence-- and lethal violence at that. Like all true fundamentalists, atheists demonize the "other side" (the religious side) and attempt to make them "less than."

As Hedges points out, the issue isn't really one of whether or not one believes in God. (I've read most of his stuff, and I never have been able to answer that question concerning him.) The issue is whether or not one believes in sin. He makes a good case for the existence of evil in the world (something I would sure not deny) and points out that the world is not getting better. Terrorism, the "War On" not withstanding, is unlikely to cease. Planetary resources are being rapidly spoiled and depleted by human greed. At some time in the not too distance future, one can imagine global violence related to dwindling resources.

The problem with Christian fundamentalism is that it is fully utopian. The notion is that God is going to give the true believers heaven, or a renewed earth, or pie in the sky, by-and-by. Since Christian fundamentalism is basically apocalyptic, the thought is that God will wipe out the enemies of the true believers and their God, and bring back THE GARDEN.

Being fundamentalist as well, the "new atheism," represented by folks such as Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens is also utopian. Science will bring about THE GARDEN (so to speak). The new atheists, however, seem rather "apocalyptic" as well. Science must engineer out, remove, isolate, or, if need be, destroy those obscurantists who get in the way. Just like the Christian version, where the earth is cleansed by fire, the atheist world will be cleansed by the fire of reason and science.

Hedges points out that just as many religious folks are not fundamentalists, neither are all atheists. There are those atheists with much more of a "live and let live" attitude, just as there are Christians willing to accept diversity.

Atheism may be a valid approach to life. Fundamentalist atheism, however, is every bit as obnoxious, insane, and dangerous as the religious variety. Currently, their numbers are much smaller. But as sales of books such as The God Delusion (Dawkins) demonstrates, the influence is growing-- and helping many folks down the path of intolerance and hate.

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