This is the 2nd blog in a series, the first blog is entitled Atheism: Luminous or Delusion? David Bentley Hart in his book ATHEIST DELUSIONS: THE CHRISTIAN REVOLUTION AND ITS FASHIONABLE ENEMIES offers a rebuttal to some of the common attacks on religion offered by “the new Atheists.” Hart’s comments are quite dismissive of the arguments of the new atheists claiming they lack logic or historical knowledge to back them up. Here I am most interested in Hart’s own apology for why he can’t take the new atheists seriously.
“It is not even especially clear why these authors imagine that a world entirely purged of faith would choose to be guided by moral prejudices remotely similar to their own; and the obscurity becomes especially impenetrable to me in the case of those who seem to believe that a thoroughgoing materialism informed by Darwinian biology might actually aid us in forsaking our ‘tribalism’ and irrationality and in choosing instead to live in tolerant concord with one another.” (p 14)
“…nor is it possible any longer to deceive ourselves that humanity free from religious authority must inevitably advance toward higher expression of life rather than retreat into pettiness or cruelty or barbarism.” (p 106)
The above is certainly something I also have encountered when dialoguing with some atheists. They assume that once religion has been shown to be a fraud, that the world would then be guided by logic and logically people’s behavior would suddenly be incredibly moral. In every sense of the word it defies logic to think that by simply replacing one set of beliefs with another that people will stop being human. The basis of religious war and barbarisms is found in humans, not in the ideology they hold. Ideological atheists will continue to behave like humans, which means they will get angry, be unreasonable, be selfish and self centered, and will form their own version of tribal mentality.
Twentieth Century fascists and communists are a perfect example, so too the Japanese treatment of the Chinese in WW II – Unit 731 (watch video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAp8bSdE5MQ) . Eliminating religion, will eliminate using religion as an excuse for violence, but will not erase humanity’s tendency toward relying on violence to achieve goals and to oppress those who disagree. Just look in the extremes of American politics today and watch how quickly those claiming to be flag-waving, patriotic defenders of democracy want to deny votes to those with whom they disagree and become edgy to the point of using violence to overthrow majority rule votes. The problem is we are dealing with humans and ideologues exist in every persuasion and belief and are willing to do anything to make their ideas triumph over all others. Some atheists persist to believe without any evidence to the contrary that atheists will somehow magically choose to act differently than humans have since they first emerged from their genetic ancestors – emotion, prejudice, fear, hatred, mistrust, greed, racism and selfishness will all miraculously disappear and humans will become completely altruistic, compassionate, and loving. One wonders whether these atheists really do take seriously the implications of evolution and genes on human behavior.
“For every ethical theory developed apart from some account of transcendent truth—of, that is, the spiritual or metaphysical foundation of reality—is a fragile fiction, credible only to those sufficiently obstinate in their willing suspension of disbelief. If one does not wish to be convinced, however, a simple ‘I disagree’ or ‘I refuse’ is enough to exhaust the persuasive resources of any purely worldly ethics.” (p 15)
When I have asked atheists a question concerning on what would all of their imagined human altruism be based – why do they believe people freed from religion would suddenly become unselfish, altruistic, benevolent and non-violent?—they have no ready answer. It is in fact simply a belief to which they hold, even though they dismiss “faithists” for holding to beliefs which the atheists say have no basis in fact. Hart’s point above is exactly that – if one’s convictions about morals are simply based in one’s private beliefs, others need do nothing more than say, “I disagree” or “I refuse” to accept or go along with. There would be no further basis for dialogue. That is why the atheistic Soviets replaced religion with the state – some basis for demanding agreement must be found. Ethical behavior on a social level will not magically emerge because religion has been banished. And such an atheistic society will still have to deal with those who disagree with them.
3 thoughts on “Atheism: Ideal, Idyllic or Ideology? (1)”
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One aspect of being human that comes into play here is this seeming need for something to “fight” for…if that makes any sense?? I have days when I am a theist and days when I lean more toward agnosticism. It was not always this way. In my youth I was very decidedly theist, and of the Christian persuasion.
Considering the evidence I’ve become more skeptical as I age. But what kills me is the grief. The chasm of having lost that something I had to live and fight for. Isn’t that what beliefs become? They are among those very, very cherished things a man would go over seas and do battle over!
I see no difference when I dialogue with the strong atheists of today. It seems I get so much more out of a dialogue with a soft atheist or an agnostic than I do with many atheists these days. The atheist today is no different than the Christian or the Muslim. They have their “something” which they cherish and for which they will do battle for and over.
And their case fits right into the material aspect of reality, which is the only tip of the reality-iceburg any human has to work with. Perhaps from our current perspective we are able to perceive 2% or less of the whole of reality. The rest lies hidden below the surface of our perceptual awareness.
Everything we put up in our endeavor to explain reality grows DAILY more problematic, in relation to a reality which is fully material. The theroies and laws of old were more crude and fit very well with a brute definition of reality as being governed by physical laws [Isaac Newton, for example].
These crude laws work very well for most of the reality we humans can currently perceive…they quite accurately describe things on a macro scale. But the more we zoom in and zoom in and zoom in, the more we have to rely on, not falsifiable or provable facets to reality, but abstract representations in the form of mathematical models which declare loud and clear that reality as we experience it is minute in comparison with the whole mass of actual reality which in large part lies below the surface of our perception.
But when I try and use my imagination to speculate upon this unseen lump of reality we are not privy to falsify or prove…I mustn’t let sneak in any notion of a mind behind it all!!
Academic folks have seen their careers ruined for letting such personal speculations become publically known. Talk about a reduction in “Academic Freedom.”
But, anyway. I just had to respond to what you wrote. It hit a healthy vein within me to see it put like you put it. We are all human, regardless of our ideologies, regardless of our beliefs, whether spot on or vast misconceptions. The greed, the lust, the natural trend toward self interest…none of these things will suddenly vanish. Man will not be cured of his manness, his human condition if collective man leaves the old myths behind and turns only to salute logic and reason.
It is not merely about seeking the truth via logic and reason alone. It is about seeking the other truth. The “truth about me,” if you know what I mean. Is there a Bema Seat for an atheistic generation of humans? Once we shed “religion” finally and most completely, will we have outgrown it due to our superior control over our ability to execute sound moral decisions at all times? Or have we outgrown religion due to the fact that putting “me” or “my character” to the test isn’t at issue when it comes to continuing our species. It is science which may one day cure us of our ills, but it was religion which threatened to cure “the creepy deep of me.”
In closing my comment I will say that about half my atheist friends are amicable, open-minded individuals who don’t badger me when I say things like, “…but what if…” the other half of my atheist friends have taught me to keep my imaginings to myself.
Einstein “believed” that imagination was more important than knowledge. Hmmm, could he have been onto something there?
I’m bookmarking you. I enjoy what you have to say. It is challenging and stimulating…causing me to think on these matters more deeply than I am accustomed.
Sorry so long…you just hit a positive vein and I had to respond.
Very good post. Looking forward to seeing you write more articles about this topic.