Tag Archives: atheist

“Cheap” Atheism

I came across this article from David B. Hart regarding the “New Atheists.”  The article is a true example of deep thinking and thoughtful critique.  Hart writes with genuine rhetorical flourish.  I will reproduce a lengthy portion of his critique below.

The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today’s most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness. What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants, or a great lover because he can afford the price of admission to a brothel. So long as one can choose one’s conquests in advance, taking always the paths of least resistance, one can always imagine oneself a Napoleon or a Casanova (and even better: the one without a Waterloo, the other without the clap).

But how long can any soul delight in victories of that sort? And how long should we waste our time with the sheer banality of the New Atheists—with, that is, their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral “truths,” their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about “religion” in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for?

I am not—honestly, I am not—simply being dismissive here. The utter inconsequentiality of contemporary atheism is a social and spiritual catastrophe. Something splendid and irreplaceable has taken leave of our culture—some great moral and intellectual capacity that once inspired the more heroic expressions of belief and unbelief alike. Skepticism and atheism are, at least in their highest manifestations, noble, precious, and even necessary traditions, and even the most fervent of believers should acknowledge that both are often inspired by a profound moral alarm at evil and suffering, at the corruption of religious institutions, at psychological terrorism, at injustices either prompted or abetted by religious doctrines, at arid dogmatisms and inane fideisms, and at worldly power wielded in the name of otherworldly goods. In the best kinds
of unbelief, there is something of the moral grandeur of the prophets—a deep and admirable abhorrence of those vicious idolatries that enslave minds and justify our worst cruelties.

But a true skeptic is also someone who understands that an attitude of critical suspicion is quite different from the glib abandonment of one vision of absolute truth for another—say, fundamentalist Christianity for fundamentalist materialism or something vaguely and inaccurately called “humanism.” Hume, for instance, never traded one dogmatism for another, or one facile certitude for another. He understood how radical were the implications of the skepticism he recommended, and how they struck at the foundations not only of unthinking faith, but of proud rationality as well.

A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

To be fair there are Christians who display the same sort of thoughtless group-think and buy into a “cheap” faith.  It is important to have a faith or faithlessness in which one has considered as many presuppositions, consequences, and implications as possible.

Christopher Hitchens Interviewed by Marilyn Sewell

I must confess — I like Christopher Hitchens.  I think he is funny, witty, intelligent and is a fabulous writer.  Obviously I would disagree with Hitchens on a number of philosophical and historical issues.

The interchange between Hitchens and Wilson in Collision is very enjoyable.  They prove to be well-matched opponents in the oft one-sided Christian vs. Atheist debate format.

Recently Hitchens was interviewed by the Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell.  In their encounter Hitchens makes quite a few stunning observations.

Amid the nonsensical questions (Hitchens categorizes one of Sewell’s ambiguous spiritual utterances as a “statement that [has] no meaning — at all),  Sewell  stumbles on Hitchens view of the non-material portion of a person (i.e., a soul).  Hitchens, though not subscribing to an immortal soul or something of that nature, acknowledges that there is a portion of each human that is not “entirely materialistic.”  His evidence?  Innocence in children, existences of love, and other “unquantifiable” attributes.  This sounds vaguely reminiscent of the classic Christian triad of “truth, goodness, and beauty.”

I am not one to normally criticize “liberal Christianity” (whatever that means), but Sewell so clearly believes she is a part of the Christian tradition.  She self identifies with Christianity though she believes virtually nothing of the Orthodox Christian faith according to the Scriptures.  I was pleased to see Hitchens candidly point out the inconsistency in Sewell’s belief systems.  Here are portions of there exchange:

Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds.  I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally.  I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example).  Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Sewell: Let me go someplace else.  When I was in seminary I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich.  He shocked people by describing the traditional God — as you might as a matter of fact — as, “an invincible tyrant.”  For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.”  It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish-fulfillment and comes from the humans’ fear of death.  What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?

Hitchens: I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning — at all.”  Christianity, remember is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus.  Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy.  If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you.

Sewell: Times change and, you know, people’s beliefs change.  I don’t believe that you have to be fundamentalist and literalist to be a Christian.  You do:  You’re something of a fundamentalist, actually.

Hitchens: Well, I’m sorry, fundamentalist simply means those who think that the Bible is a serious book and should be taken seriously.

The rest of the exchange is quite fascinating.  If anything, Sewell reveals that she is more akin to Hitchens (an atheist) than a Biblical Christian.