Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fundamentalist Atheists and the Christian Right: Birds of a Feather?

Sometimes, there's a truth hovering just outside one's own consciousness. Chris Hedges, a harsh critic of the Christian Right, has taken the conversation in a new direction by examining the "New Atheism" in his book, I Don't Believe in Atheists. By "new atheists" Hedges refers to the currently popular voices of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, among others. An interview with Salon reveals that Hedges first grew interested in doing the book after frosty public encounters with Hitchens and Harris -- the interview reveals less about his critique of Dawkins.

I first found Dawkins irritating not for being an atheist -- a position which has a long and not unrespectable history -- but for his rather fascist approach to poor Ted Haggard in this YouTube video confrontation. Dawkins calls Haggard's church service "reminiscent of a Nuremberg rally." That comment had no foundation in rationality; it was a comment from a fundamentalist not different in aspect from a right wing Christian accusing Barack Obama of being a Muslim. (In fact, Dawkins' comment was worse; most Muslims have no interest at all in terrorizing or gassing non-Muslims.)

But what I had not done was to make the connection between Dawkins and the larger "New Atheism" movement, such as it is. And I am still not totally convinced that Dawkins -- despite what I have long recognized as his own fundamentalism -- pushes rightist social agendas. I hope Hedges' book -- not yet read by me -- will reveal more on that score if it exists.

What of Hitchens and Harris? In Salon, Hedges says this:

I write in the book that not believing in God is not dangerous. Not believing in sin is very dangerous. I think both the Christian right and the New Atheists in essence don't believe in their own sin, because they externalize evil. Evil is always something out there that can be eradicated. For the New Atheists, it's the irrational religious hordes. I mean, Sam Harris, at the end of his first book, asks us to consider a nuclear first strike on the Arab world. Both Hitchens and Harris defend the use of torture. Of course, they're great supporters of preemptive war, and I don't think this is accidental that their political agendas coalesce completely with the Christian right.

Is Hedges merely a provocateur, or is what he has to say more pertinent than we might imagine? I don't imagine myself a fundamentalist, but the idea that it is not dangerous not to believe in God seems rather silly to me. I think that is dangerous. I also think, though, that believing in God is dangerous. Why? Because we far too often baptize our own opinions, actions, and evil with the name of "God" as we create that god. I wish I didn't believe this was also true of Christians... but I do so believe, because I've seen my own fellow believers and even the guy looking back at me in the mirror do *just* that.

So, I'll be paying close attention to this discussion as it continues, and when and if I get hold of Hedges' book will check in again with a review.

Meanwhile, just so my non-believing friends won't be too mad at me... I do believe in the historic life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as his identity being that defined in Scripture: fully human, fully Divine. I also, however, realize there are many atheists who do not have any interest in the rather rabid approach and mentality of this "fundamentalist" version of atheism. Sitting down over a cup of coffee with such a person and reasonably discussing our respective life journeys and differing experiences is a pleasure.

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@bdul muHib said...

Interesting. I just went to a lecture by David Berlinski, the agnostic who's on the Discovery Institute's board. He's promoting his new book on freedom of religion, but it's actually about how science is wrong and oppressing religion, particularly in regards to evolution. He spent a great deal of time trashing the New Atheists, particularly for using insulting language and strawmen, as David created his own strawmen with insulting language. I'll posts my impressions of the lecture soon.

Jon Trott said...

Discovery Institute... are they the folks who are "intelligent design?" Ah, yes... I just found their website. Right. Um, I'll look to see what you come up with!