Thursday, October 26, 2006

Atheist Evangelist, Coming to a Soap Box Near You

“I will not be happy until none of you believe in God.”

48% of Americans believe in ghosts, yet you don't see anti-ghost evangelists.

Perhaps the belief in God is more pernicious, but I cannot imagine that going on a crusade to undermine belief in God is productive. Given that a full 95% of Americans believe in God’s existence, 64% of whom believe “without a doubt,” (I don’t even believe in my existence without a doubt) is a dialogue on the existence of God feasible or useful? If the vast majority of Americans believe in God, if a full 79% “believe that, as the Bible says, Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, without a human father,” if 60% are confident that the biblical accounts of Noah, Moses, and Genesis are literally true (but do not believe that Jews bear the guilt for the death of JC, so don’t worry), and only 40% can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, then what good does an attack on God, religion, and sacred texts do in this country? What’s the purpose? Don’t get me wrong, the basis of intellectual engagement in the world is a dialogue of ideas, particularly with those with whom you disagree. Further, if religion truly is the root of all evil, then the burden rests upon those who see the truth to spread their screed. Yet, in light of the overwhelming evidence that Americans unfailingly believe in God, I can’t help but think that a re-imagining of religion, an adjustment of the context of faith, is a more pragmatic response to the evils religions wreak than a blanket condemnation.

Whenever I have this discussion (and you know I have it often), I recall the recent demise of a certain atheistic state that used its creed as justification for murders on a scale on par with the destruction wrought in the name of God. I am not arguing that the religious texts do not encourage bloodshed in the name of God nor am I contending that they have not been the justification for an astounding amount of bloodshed since the inception of religious thinking at the dawn of time. Nor am I asserting that atheism is an inferior belief or an incorrect belief. I agree with Sam Harris that there is an “apologetic machinery that keeps telling us that we can't attack people's religious sensibility,” that is wrong and dangerous. I am arguing that Harris’s methods will in no way address the actual issues that religions bring to bear. Van Harvey, a retired professor of religious studies at Stanford University, agrees with me: " Van Harvey, a retired professor of religious studies at Stanford University, agrees with me: “not only has Harris picked a fight with those who could be on his side, but his solution -- let's all ditch God -- is laughable given the role that religion plays in so many lives.” The Washington Post article also quotes, Reza Aslan, author of “No God but God,” who clearly read my discussion with the Rooster and my post on atheism, “Religion doesn't make people bigots… People are bigots and they use religion to justify their ideology.”

Anyone have ideas for a workable solution?

8 comments:

harley said...

Everyone should go read the Harper's article to which I linked (that only 40% of Christians can name more than four of the Ten Commandments). It has an insightful critique of Christian labels versus Christian content.

Anonymous said...

No, religion does make people bigots. Apologists for religion think that religion is just one of many channels through which people channel their hate, as if Newton's Third Law applies to hate, which can neither be created nor destroyed. The world would be a much better place if no one believed in God, not a perfect place, but a better one.

-The Rooster

Benjamin J. Cooper said...

Atheists can also be pretty militantly anti-ghost. Check out the Committee for Scientific Investigation of the Paranormal ( http://www.csicop.org/ ). Also James Randi's newsletter at http://randi.org/jr/archive.html .

Herman Krieger said...

For another view of churches in America, see the photo essay, "Churches ad hoc: a divine comedy", at www.efn.org/~hkrieger/church.htm

harley said...

TR,

Religion as a construct does not make people bigots, but you're right that the content of religion may. Religions, because of their particularism, often teach intolerance and hatred, but I refuse to agree that a simple belief in a higher power, on the one hand, or involvement in a communal order, on the other, naturally causes people to be bigots. It's the content, not the construct. Further, we continue to disagree on your insistence that involvement in a religion is inseparable from a belief in God. It would be consistent with your argument if you said that the world would be a much better place if no one belonged to a religion; God is a separate issue.

Anonymous said...

It's both.

Religion fragments the world into arbitrarily defined groups of people (Jew, Muslim, etc.) - no matter what the content of that religion may be.

-TR

harley said...

TR,

You're right and my argument that religion is one of many social constructs that fragment the world into ingroup/outgroup is meaningless in the context of our conversation; simply apologetics. You're right.

Anonymous said...

No comprendo.

-TR