Writing in the LA Times, Lee Siegel says that “Militant atheists are wrong“–not entirely wrong, but still wrong.
For instance, Bush and his gang preach Christian values while lying us into a slaughterhouse overseas, ransacking our public coffers and ignoring social inequities and iniquities at home — and so our heroic anti-religionists attack . . . Christian values. But shouldn’t they be attacking Bush and Co.’s hypocrisy in betraying Christian values instead?
Well no, that’s the Christian’s job. If Bush and his cronies are being hypocrites and are betraying Christian values, then the true, sincere Christians ought to be the ones who are exercising the prophetic voice denouncing them. Is that what we see happening? If we tune in Focus On the Family, will we hear Dobson and his guests denouncing the sins of the president and warning Christians about the moral decay he is spreading through our society? Nope. How about the 700 Club? Solidly behind Bush–remember, God even told Robertson that He was going to intervene to make sure the election put Bush in power. Falwell and Kennedy? Both solid Bush supporters while they were alive.
The problem isn’t that Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens are failing to accuse Bush & Friends of betraying Christian values, it’s that Christians don’t seem to see the Bush administrations behavior as being in any way inconsistent with Biblical Christian values. And of course, we should also point out that none of the “New Atheists” are attacking the basic moral values (which are not exclusively Christian values) being betrayed and violated by the Bush administration. Dawkins and company aren’t campaigning against telling the truth, or against marital fidelity, or against peace and justice, or any such thing. They’re pointing out the factual errors in the Judeo-Christian tradition, not arguing that people ought to try and break each and every one of the Ten Commandments.
Siegel’s argument gets even more irrational.
If anything, you could imagine these assaults on religion becoming infamous in the Muslim world, confirming for fundamentalists that the West is every bit as godless — and hostile to Islam — as they thought.
Say again? The reason Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett are denouncing the pervasive and unhealthy influence of theistic religion in the West is because the West is godless? If the West has no faith in God, then what, precisely, do you suppose these “militant atheists” are complaining about (and documenting!)?
As silly as that argument is, Siegel’s next argument is even sillier: they’re wrong because they’re having too easy a job of it:
[T]he new anti-religionists are safely needling the dominant liberal culture’s favorite bete noire. They are publishing their books in an atmosphere of complacency and self-congratulation; they preach to the secular converted, who are buying the books in droves.
Oh really? If the secular, liberal culture is so dominant, why is Bush president and why are we in Iraq? Siegel apparently doesn’t know (or doesn’t care) that Hitchens, for instance, launched his book with a tour through the Bible Belt and Deep South, publicly debating Christian apologists who were there to challenge his book’s claims in front of a mixed audience of Christians and secular fans. Facts apparently don’t figure too highly in Siegel’s indictment against the “militant” atheists he’s attacking. As if to confirm it, he next trots out the “I’m not religious” pose, as though he were merely an unbiased commenter:
I’m not a particularly religious person. These arguments don’t offend me or my beliefs. But they make me concerned nevertheless, because I think they strike a blow against something more important (at least to me) than belief in God. In their contempt for any belief that cannot be scientifically or empirically proved, the anti-God books are attacking our inborn capacity to create value and meaning for ourselves.
Oh please. Sales of Harry Potter are doing just fine, thanks. The fiction and fantasy industry hasn’t been harmed in the slightest by the infectiously scientific attitudes displayed by the “New Atheists,” so I think we can safely say that our ability to create value and meaning for ourselves is unimpaired. What we are at risk of is promoting the idea that our wonderful new ideas about value and meaning ought to be measured against the infallible standard of objective reality before we start claiming that they are objective reality. Honestly, would that be such a bad thing?
I’ll let Siegel have the last word, since this paragraph does a better job than I could do at exposing the core problem with his argument:
Credo quia absurdum est. I believe because it is absurd. That sentiment — either a corruption or a paraphrase of the saying of an early church father — is the essence of religious belief. By taking a leap of faith in God, you create value out of nothingness. The more difficult it is to believe, the stronger the faith that flies in the face of absurdity. Your willingness to stake your life on the possibility of an impossibility makes a fact out of a fantasy.