Monday, July 16, 2007

"The New New Athiesm" Link

Today's op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal "The New New Atheism" by Peter Berkowitz addresses what I have been feeling for a while, that it seems that now more than ever atheists are binding together in philosophy such as to create a body of people guided by their own worldview, yet they pretend or seem to ignore the fact that they are viewing the world not clearly "as it is" but through the atheist worldview.

The piece discusses the fact that books on the topic of atheism are selling in high numbers in America now.

The last five paragraphs, the summary, are brilliant and are an example of excellent writing of his opinions.

Topics included in this piece are evolution, Darwinism, rolling all religions into one and of the "errors and excesses" of the new atheist writers.

If you don't think you want to read it then I must include the very last paragraph to tempt you, a brilliant tidbit of Berkowitz's writing:

"That a teaching is sublime and sustaining does not make it true. But that, along with its service in laying the moral foundations in the Western world for the belief in the dignity of all men and women--a belief that our new new atheists take for granted and for which they provide no compelling alternative foundation--is reason enough to give the variety of religions a fair hearing. And it is reason enough to respect believers as decent human beings struggling to make sense of a mysterious world."


This is something that has been on my mind lately, I have felt and recognized that there are some atheists out there (including some I know personally) who lump all believers of any religion into one pile and dismiss the lot as nuts. But worse, some give those believers no respect at all, that is, they treat them with no dignity, and it seems to me that if they are truly humanists, you'd think they do that at least: treat all humans with respect and dignity, even if their opinions on religion differ. We have seen many examples in the media of American Atheists who show no respect for Christians. And also, it appears that maybe those types of atheists are actually elitists in disguise, thinking themselves higher on the intellectual scale and even more enlightened than those who believe in a higher power of any kind, while at the same time, some declare a hatred for elitists.

People are so complex, aren’t they?

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3 comments:

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I agree with you Christine, that there are some atheists who do feel superior to anyone who practices a religion. These atheists do lump us all together as irrational and downright crazy.
They also seem to have evangelical fervor in that they try to convert others to their non-belief. I guess you could call them missionary atheists?

I also know some atheists who quietly go about living their lives according to moral principles.
I don't which kind are the most numerous. Or if that is changing.

Good article by Berkowitz.

Deb said...

People ARE complex, no question.

Sure, you have the atheists out there who unthinkingly dismiss everything religious, and everything good that has come out of various organized religions, simply because of the fact that it came from a religiously-based system of belief. It seems that some of those high-profile atheists who have been writing lately do set up straw man arguments as Berkowitz implies, focusing on some of the bad things that have happened -- war, etc -- that have religion at the core. But from what I have seen of the summaries of these books, most of them miss the point.

Most of us atheists out there are NOT atheists of the kind described by this author. No, we're atheists BECAUSE we take religion seriously, because we have thought this through -- through and through. We recognize and appreciate the various good (and freedom-inducing) systems that have come about from the endeavors of religious people who recognize freedom of the individual. And simply because millions of people throughout history have thought there are gods makes the entire enterprise worth taking seriously, to dissect what is true or good from what is false or bad.

Berkowitz, in this WSJ piece, has himself set up a straw man argument by tarring all atheists with the same Hitchens brush, ignoring the main reason that people become atheists: Not because we have problems with the *effects* of religion, or because we are angry about something...we are non-theists because we have come to the metaphysical conclusion that it simply isn't true, that there is no good reason to think that there is a supernatural dimension. It simply makes more sense to us to realize that gods and ghosts and goblins and fairies were (in some case, very nice) stories that were made up to explain why things are the way they are.

Moreover, what certainly doesn't come through in these books is the fact that people like us *appreciate* religious people much more than we appreciate the "oh, yeah, well, whatever, I don't think about that too much" kind of people because seriously religious people take life *seriously.* We PREFER reading the writings of thinkers to non-thinkers, so we tend to hang out with and talk with and be friends with religious people (so long as they are respectful and interesting) because they tend to share other traits of ours: A serious dedication to ethics, dictates by which to live life well (for us, this comes from having worked hard to derive a system by that is appropriate to human beings as rational animals -- we tend to like Aristotle); a political system that regards the freedom of individuals to congregate and worship according to their own conscience; freedom of speech; and a general climate of engagement in things of the mind.

Berkowitz doesn't exactly say it, but he paints atheists as kind of angry reactors to the effects of religion throughout history. But really, this isn't true. There are certainly (now very vocal) people like this, but most of us are just the people next door, who have done some deep thinking and examination of various systems of belief, and come to the conclusion that the evidence just doesn't warrant concluding that there are supernatural beings who affect natural reality.

So, don't make the same mistake Berkowitz does, or Hitchens does either, for that matter. Atheists are, contrary to the way these books portray us, just pretty much an ordinary, diverse group who have come to a certain conclusion about the metaphysical structure of reality. When we home school, we introduce our kids to all kinds of different mythology throughout the ages and cultures, and all kinds of contemporary systems of belief, so they become solid thinkers who are able to sort through the logic of things as they gradually become able. For us, it is less important what beliefs that our children ultimately embrace than that they *think for themselves*, using good methodology and facility with the facts to come to their own conclusions.

I always love your blog, Christine! Keep making us all think!

christinemm said...

Deb, Thanks for writing. I liked and appreciate the long response and detailed explanation.

I hope you do realize not all atheists have thought about it nearly as much as you. Please don't make that error in thinking they are all thinkers like you are. I say this not about the authors of the book whom I know nothing about but assume they must have thought about the subject a lot in preparation for writing their book!

I say this because my own parents haven't thought about it as much as you have and they are atheists. I've shared before but don't know if you read those posts, that I was kept ignorant of any knowledge or even the most general information about religion when I was growing up, (I was raised Godless) I was told to figure it out as an adult. Yet now that I am doing that I'm being made fun of by my father. And my father has never read a book on atheism, never read the Bible, never attended church outside of his childhood/Sunday School, or he goes now only when forced to such as to attend my wedding.

SIGH.

As with every other area I guess people feel so free to spout opinions even if they don't put much thought behind it. People span a continuum. Those who think little and those who think much.

While I bet those writers of the "new new atheism" think a lot I have family on the opposite extreme. I guess what I recognize in some of them is the bullying push to "convert" others to atheism and also in that process, the way they discredit and put down anyone who believes something different than they do. That is what bugs me, as Elishiva said, the way SOME lump all believers into one category and treat them with disrespect simply on the basiss that they are believers.