Atheists help religious beliefs?


Christian beliefs were once a significant part of the public square. They formed part of the American national identity. However, when beliefs go unchallenged for a long period of time, they become “dead dogmas” or stagnant truths in the heart of a nation. A clash of opinions brings vitality to established beliefs and the potency of their true meanings are drawn out to be fully appreciated and understood. The beliefs having become stagnant and inconvenient, subtle opposing forces began to chip away at the beliefs changing them a little at a time, but seldom did they constitute a direct assault. And it seemed that the Christian world barely noticed, and cared as little for the opposition as one would care for a misquito buzzing outside one’s ear. Chritians were content to “swat” it away and continue on with their lives. Meanwhile, their “dead dogma” was being replaced.

Thankfully, a direct assault came, and it woke the Christian community out of its slumber. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett ridiculed Christian belief for what it had become: superstition, wishful thinking, and irrationality. They brought their arguments right to the public square where they could not be ignored. The difficulties of their arguments were pressed upon the national conciousness even to the point of conversion. The Christian community now having awakened, rose to the challenge. John C. Lennox, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, Alister McGrath, and many others valiantly and with great clarity defend those beliefs, once again causing the nation to drink the full potency of their meanings. Thanks to the opposition, a Christian awakening meant a national awareness, and provided a opportunity to reaffirm those beliefs in the public square with boldness. So, I tip my hat to Dawkins and the rest for the refining of religion and the American identity. May you continue in your stedfast fight, and may we rise to the challenge every time.

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4 thoughts on “Atheists help religious beliefs?

  1. Daniel, I think we need to be clear about what each of the gnu atheists have brought to the public.

    The first was Harris – a grad student of neuroscience who stood looking at the devastation of the World Trade Center – and decided then and there that we needed to stop allowing religious beliefs free reign from direct criticism. End of Faith is an important and scholarly work that does just this. Nowhere is there any intention of ‘ridiculing’ religion: there is a thesis that we need to criticize its truth claims and stop granting it an exemption from scrutiny.

    The next was Dennett – a professor of philosophy – who argued that we need to study religion like any other social phenomena. Breaking the Spell is an important work that synthesizes research from evolution, anthropology, and psychology to show that we can understand why people believe what they do. Nowhere in this book does he ‘ridicule’ religion but explains in well crafted thought why we need to stop treating religion as if it is somehow separate from modern and critical study.

    Dawkins became chair of a foundation that promotes the public understanding of science and was frustrated just how pernicious was the religious interference used to impede exactly this, as well as how dedicated so much religious noise was to attempting to undermine trust in his own area of expertise:the science of evolution. As a foundation of modern biology, evolution has been subjected to a dedicated religious denialism; he was shocked at just how widespread and deeply people fought the very basis (and trust) of the science that fuels modern medicine and the technologies we rely on for promoting various and vital sectors of health care. The God Delusion was written to address why evolution is true and why creationism in comparison is not only wrong but anti-intellectual. He does use ridicule for those believers who choose ignorance over knowledge, delusion over reality.

    Hitchens was late to the gnu atheist party. His book God is Not Great is a continuance of his investigation into the despicable elevation of Mother Teresa into a symbol of selfless dedication to others when nothing could be further from the truth. His encyclopedic knowledge and acidic wit are well known for skewering opponents to his ideas regardless of the topic. Why should religion get a free ride from his style of criticism? As a well known debater and public speaker, Hitchens showed why apologists like Craig, Lennox, and McGrath are simply wrong in their thinking, duplicitous in their historical revisionism, and lack intellectual honesty and consistency in their promotion of their favoured superstition. But let’s be clear: ridicule by these three in particular have earned the Hitch’s ridicule in response.

    You grant these religious apologetic authors an exemption from their reliance on ridicule yet hold gnu atheists to a much higher standard in your quest to paint them as strident. They’re not… either in person or in writing (with the exception of The Hitch). Dawkins especially is a very quiet and soft spoken defender of science whose penetrating analysis of why religious belief is equivalent to delusion is troublesome to many. But I am always amazed at just how restrained he is as someone quite frustrated at having to deal so often with those who deny reality.. but who nevertheless are in positions of public authority to promote their delusion on the public dime.

    What you see as a ‘christian awakening’ is a much need public debate about the role of religion in society and why it must be removed from positions of influence over public matters, privatized to the lives of believers rather than imposed on their neighbours, and made subservient to secular law in all matters. What census data shows throughout the west is that there is an ongoing and growing swing against irrational religious beliefs in the public domain by those of the the next generation. Gnu atheism is working and its influence is fast becoming the primary concern of religious leadership everywhere.

    This is good news indeed.

    1. I think it’s fair to say that I have painted atheists as strident in the past. Sometimes it doesn’t take much of a paint job to do so. However, I have not given apologetic authors any exemptions. On the contrary, I have praised the opposition they are up agianst for it’s challenging nature. We need opposition to bring vitality to our beliefs. Let me put it in your perspective: if atheism were the “received opinion” of the nation, you would still need religious opposition to keep young minds attentive to the full meaning of their national atheist identity so they will not be tempted to convert to another side because your particular “beliefs” had become irrelevant to them over time.

      I also agree with what you said about irrational religious beliefs. The faster we trade those in for genuine rational religious beliefs, the better.

      1. Rational religious beliefs? Methinks mehears an oxymoron.

        If you mean to suggest that we need more critical thinking about all kinds of issues and notions, I’m with you. But such thinking applied to the dogmas of religion are caustic to those beliefs. And without those core beliefs held immune to critique, I’m afraid all religions – built as they are nothing but air – will fly apart. That’s why honest questioning and honest critical assessments are anathema to dogmatic religions. The centrifugal force that unbiased inquiry exerts on faith-based beliefs and their uninformed claims about reality are their death knell, which is why upholding faith at all costs and against contrary evidence is the primary message hammered into believers… and the younger they are the more effective this intentionally dishonest, anti-intellectual, and anti-critical thinking this indoctrination is, which is why so many religions attempt to co-opt education as the means to accomplish this despicable goal.

  2. I would second Supermans comments. Thank you for that great atheists synopsis. Also, was wondering just what would constitute a rational religious belief? Isn’t it a bit of an oxymoron? Or something akin to the backside of an irrational science?

    What is an education for? I like a few quotes from David Orr – Earth in Mind – On Education, environment and the Human Prospect

    “First, there is the myth that ignorance is a solvable problem. Ignorance is not a solvable problem; it is rather an inexplicable part of the human condition. We cannot comprehend the world in its entirety. The advance of knowledge always carried with it the advance of some form of ignorance.”

    “Higher education has largely been shaped by the drive to extend human domination to its fullest.”

    “It makes far better sense to reshape ourselves to fit a finite planet than to attempt to reshape the planet to fit our infinite wants. “

    Agreeing here again with Superman, that it is a grave concern when religion tries to co-opt education. It is yet another example of more ignorance trying to usurp domination again.

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