Atheism has nearly always been with us in one form or another, but the atheists weve been hearing the most from latelychiefly Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harrisare a new breed. Unlike the old-school humanists, the new atheistsor anti-theists, as some of them prefer to be calleddont want to just deny the existence of God, they want to wipe religion off the map.
Christopher Hitchens follows this pattern with his new book, belligerently titled God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. In his first chapter, called Putting It Mildly, Hitchens writes, I will continue to [respect my friends religious traditions] without insisting on the polite reciprocal conditionwhich is that they in turn leave me alone.
But this is something that religion is ultimately incapable of doing. People of faith, Hitchens continues, are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all . . . hard-won human attainments. . . . Religion poisons everything.
The way Hitchens lumps all religions and all believers into one category here is typical of his tone throughout the book, and typical of anti-theists in general. They dont argue; they yell. Theyve decided that, simply because they dislike religion, there is no reason to respect it. In their minds, its stupid, dangerous, and thats all that needs to be said.
Thats why I believe the anti-theist movement, as hot as it is right now with books like Hitchenss topping the bestseller lists, is doomed to fail. The moment you take it seriously and start to study it, it falls apart. Theres no substance, just anger and a lot of hot air. Because anti-theists simply ignore evidence and arguments they dont like, theyre ill-equipped to deal with them rationally.
The old-guard secular humanists are questioning this new trend, and rightly so. Most traditional atheists simply had their own belief system, and if we wanted our belief system that was okay. The new breed reflects the death of truth. Theyre like the communists who feared religion more than anything else because it was a competing truth claim. The Star of David and the cross have been scandalous to every totalitarian leader.
Many traditional atheists and humanists seem to recognize the parallel and feel uncomfortable about it. As Gary Wolf writes in Wired, The New Atheists have castigated fundamentalism and branded even the mildest religious liberals as enablers of a vengeful mob. Everybody who doesnt join them is an ally of the Taliban.
Even those of us who sympathize intellectually, he writes, dont want the New Atheists to succeed.
When you think about it this way, you have to wonder if the anti-theists, in their heart of hearts, are a little uncomfortable with their own beliefs. After all, if you really believe that truth will win outand to Hitchens and company, their idea of truth is so obvious that it cannot fail to winyou can let other people make their own claims and live by their own beliefs without feeling the need to destroy everything they stand for.
Because Hitchens and the others cannot do this, their polemics are destined to lead not to the end of religion, but to the collapse of their own movement. Not before, of course, they have gotten very rich. Its not irrelevant to the debate that Dawkins, Hitchens, and Sam Harris sold one million copies of their angry diatribes last year. At two dollars a book for royalties, thats not bad.
From BreakPoint®, August 2, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. BreakPoint® and Prison Fellowship Ministries® are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship