Saturday, May 25, 2013

Honest To God

I've been mulling whether to write something the past couple days.  See, I don't write posts about how people who follow astrology are delusional.  I don't waste time writing against phrenology.  I have no interest in making clear that racist biology is no more scientific than bleeding people to balance their humours.  These things should be obvious to even the most casual observer.  Sure, there are people who read their horoscopes daily, just as we recently had the Heritage Foundation release a "study" rooted in racist biology.  That doesn't mean I have either interest or need to call out such nonsense every time it occurs.

This past week, a lot of attention has been paid to a snippet of an interview Wold Blitzer did with a survivor of Oklahoma's massive tornado in which he asked the young woman to "thank God", and the woman admitted that she was an atheist.  Most of the attention has been to poke fun at Blitzer, and I have to admit it is well-deserved.  Blitzer either made the assumption the woman, living in Oklahoma, would respond in religious terms to her situation, or was trying to fill out a presumed narrative of disaster survivors rooted in that old chestnut about foxholes not having any atheists in them.  Whatever the case may be, he ended up looking foolish and the woman in question, in contrast, sounded sensible and even a bit courageous.

Writing at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Erik Loomis promoted the woman in question as "The Kind of Atheist Spokesperson We Need".  Considering the shine is off Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris for the former's sexism and the latter's hypocrisy and racism, the so-called "Evangelical Atheists" or "New Atheists", or whatever they're calling themselves these days ("Brights" didn't go over so well), offering up a non-apologetic yet not confrontational individual as the model of how to present oneself as an atheist in a country sodden with religious rhetoric (although less and less of religious observance or practice) seems a plus.

I'm not interested in talking about how wrong the atheists are.  For all I know, they may well be right.  In fact, I have no interest in discussing "God" or "religion" with atheists at all.  If they're living their lives, are happy, healthy, productive members of society, and occasionally go on rants about the destructiveness of religious belief and the insipid nature of so much religious rhetoric and the vileness of other forms of religious rhetoric, well I'm inclined to leave them alone and even give encouragement to such rants.

What bothers me about posts like this is the way so many atheists simultaneously tout their superiority to we silly folks who profess adherence to religious belief and not only admit their ignorance of so much Christian history and theological discourse, but count it a plus.  Like creationists who display a proud ignorance of physics, biology, geology, genetics, and so much else, these folks insist they have no need to learn theology or the history of doctrine or the history of the church because, and to quote many a commenter, it is all nonsense.

It may well be.  Lord knows I've complained a time or two about my own straining after the relevance and integrity of much Christian theology.  It may well be the case that those who wrote and we who read Christian theology are practicing a kind of multi-millenial folie a deux.  Should one prefer not to familiarize oneself with the details of what one considers nonsense - in much the same way I wouldn't waste time "learning" about phlogiston - well, that makes a certain kind of sense.

If the atheists are upset with "religion", then why are the targets invariably only Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam?  I am straining to find a denunciation of Hinduism or Buddhism, say.  While I admire the courage and thoroughness of Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not A Christian, I have yet to read Why I Am Not A Sikh.  My point is simple: "atheism" is hardly a correct term to describe their position.  They are anti-Christian, or perhaps anti-Abrahamic or anti-Monotheistic.  There is a strong streak of assumed western primacy in the whole "atheist" and "skeptic" movements that I have yet to see addressed in any systematic way.

Of course, it may well be there are those who have spoken out against non-Western religions in a way similar to The God Delusion.  If so, I'd love to check them out for similarities to the western atheist movement.

I think the point is pretty clear: These oh-so-rational, oh-so-liberal, oh-so-modern folks who pride themselves on their disdain for superstition are kind of blind to their own biases and prejudices.  As a Christian, I would hardly claim that our claims exhaust the meaning of the word "religion" as a human phenomenon.  Since the goal of these New Atheists is the eradication of religion, do they honestly believe constructing arguments against Christianity will work against Shinto in Japan?  What about the small, local varieties of beliefs in different parts of the world?

So, I will leave the New Atheists to promote themselves as so much more rational than the rest of us poor benighted folks who live under the sway of our illusions.  Forgive me, however, if I take their self-professed seriousness and superiority with a grain or two of salt.

Virtual Tin Cup

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