And now we conclude our rebuttal of this article, which is purportedly about what makes New Atheists stay up at night, sweating in fear of the Truth of Religion (I think).
The fourth section lasted several paragraphs before tripping over a line that shows a misunderstanding of general atheism by the author. I suppose this isn’t surprising, and his misunderstanding is slightly less militant than Phil Robertson’s (Duck Dynasty) who seems to think that Atheism is a path whose inevitable conclusion is killing and raping your family.
I think the misunderstanding starts with the author’s assertion that “Above all, these unevangelical atheists accepted that religion is definitively human.” I think he takes that to be a validation, that humans are religious because … Reasons? The evolutionary psychology of Religion is an incredibly interesting field, and while we certainly cannot say with definitive conclusion what caused religion to spawn across time and distance as it has, we have very compelling theories as to why religion may be built into the human brain.
The issue I have, then, is that the author claims “Why should religion be universal in this way? For atheist missionaries this is a decidedly awkward question,” as though he knows the mind of the atheist.
I have not had questions about this very idea for a long time–I do not even recall the source from which I took a compelling answer. The odd thing is that the author seems to be so sure that religion is part of the human experience, yet ignores the fact that the staggering number of religions and superstitions seem to indicate a disparate beginning. Certainly this author writes from the standpoint of a Christian, but there are many hundreds or thousands of religions, most forgotten now, that predate even the earliest records of Judaism. Considering Adam and Eve are supposed to have regularly talked with God, starting only shortly after creation, it is odd that there would be religions older than such ideas.
Now, we have to consider geography in looking for religious roots and histories. I cannot say I am a historian, just a layperson who reads about this stuff frequently, but why should North American religions have so little in common with middle Eastern religions which again have so little in common with sub-Saharan religions?
The Creation narrative shoots itself in the foot, especially considering how recently all of humankind is supposed to have been in close geographical proximity (more recently than 4400 years ago, according to young earth creationists). But let’s give the author the benefit of a doubt and assume he does not subscribe to young earth views–I would still ask him why he would think religion is universal because of his particular God, and not because of any other mechanism? Certainly, evolution gives us a good reason for having many different religions (and a reason for having religions at all), but why should an all-knowing Creator-God spawn as many religions as there are peoples?
And I am not going to assert this question is awkward to you; my mother, a devout Catholic, answered that question for me in an instant and without hesitation. Her answer was not based in doctrine, but her answer was at least logically sound.
“Yet they never ask what evolutionary function this species-wide phenomenon serves.” I’ve answered this indirectly (and directly) during this series, but that statement is objectively false. Rallying around an idea larger than we are allows us to form strong tribal bonds. Even the ideas of theism (rather than just the idea of theism) even crafts rules almost hilarious transparent to scrutiny that would create group relationships. A Christian sect that preaches love and tolerance will gain members who wish to love and tolerate, and they will defend each other, give each other food and money. Charity, a core doctrine of the Church, gains additional members and gains members powerfully.
Pagan cults? Even fertility cults? They create a strong endorphin and dopamine reaction within its members, a simulation of love (or just ‘love’ as the case may be) between its members, again creating strong tribal bonds.
The idea of having a ruler chosen by a higher power, such as Egyptian Pharaohs, Roman Emperors, and Middle Ages Kings, gives the people following that leader a reason to swear fealty. Many who have sworn fealty to a single person will defend each other, defend the tribe, defend the border.
No, Mr Author, this is not a question I am afraid of. The evolutionary benefits of religion are far reaching and apparent.
“If religions are natural for humans and give value to their lives, why spend your life trying to persuade others to give them up?” If your version of giving value to a life is standing in opposition of rights for homosexuals, picketing abortion clinics that serve women who have been raped, kill doctors in the name of … Not killing? If those are the things that give meaning to your life, I think the idea of love and tolerance have flown over your head. If you think your religion of love and tolerance allows for racism, or hatred, then it is not a religion of love and tolerance.
Oh, I realize that not all Christians spew bigoted hatred, and that is why I don’t preach for the abolition of religion. That being said, I do have to admit that I do not have a clear idea of how we can make the world a better place in the context of religion. The Bible belt, with its latent racism, weird cult offshoots of your religion (Warren Jeffs still creeps me out something fierce)… There’s so much wrong with the world.
There are things wrong with Atheists, too — I won’t say there is something wrong with Atheism, because not believing in God is an incredibly wide net. Most atheists don’t believe in atheism, as many religious adherents tend to frame it–that is a uniquely religious view of atheism–we just don’t believe in God one way or another. While the metaphor isn’t perfect, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have each posited in their own way that “I don’t play tennis, therefore should I identify as ‘a-tennisist’?” Like non tennis players simply don’t think about tennis, many atheists simply do not think about God in any of His/Her/Their incarnations.
Obviously I do not fall under that umbrella; I think about it in that I am here writing. Many religious adherents have stated they believe atheists “hate” God, or some variation of that thought, but I don’t hate God–I just think the general conception of God has so many faults I cannot believe in Him or Her as He or She stands. Too many humans have given God too many different and wildly incongruous personality traits over too many years for me to believe that God is timeless and eternal and wholly separate from Earth. There are too many inconsistencies in the Bible, for all Kent and Eric Hovind have tried to convince me otherwise (even a cursory reading of only the most popular parts of the Bible can find several inconsistencies).
“More than anything else, our unbelievers seek relief from the panic that grips them when they realise their values are rejected by much of humankind.” No, Author — why must you ascribe thoughts to me that I have never had? I am not panicked any more than you are by the fact that there are people who do not believe as you believe–I just despair that there is so much sadness and inequality, I despair that there are those that are starving not because of a lack of food, but because of a lack of human decency. I despair that there are sweatshops in far too many countries, and that so many people so readily support them in the quest for a dollar. If there is a flaw in my vision of morality, please tell me and I will attempt to rectify. I do not believe my morality is flawed merely because a 9th century BC shepherd didn’t think of it first, nor because a 1st century Ascetic did not preach them on a mountain (though, to a degree, he did what with the Golden Rule and all).
What I want is not to press my ideals upon others–what I want is a dialogue whose goal is purely to identify how to improve the human condition, to improve happiness worldwide. I understand there are those who would want to stand by their prejudices and racism, but here is my rule of thumb in a nutshell (if you can find fault in my method, I will attempt to improve it):
Homosexuality, whose happiness does it damage? Strict religious devotees. Why does it damage their happiness? Because someone told them to.
Strict religious devotees, whose happiness do they damage? Homosexuals. Why does it damage their happiness? Because a 4th century book told those devotees to treat other humans as less than human (or at least as less than themselves).
Which seems more grounded in the ideals of the Golden Rule?
This is obviously a small scale application, but I do hope it paints a picture of how we could use a series of similar questions to create a morality that maximizes universal happiness.
Then again, maybe I am just a crazy optimist…
That wraps up the article. I think I have, through the last four parts of this series, tackled his most egregious statements he made as to my own personal beliefs. I think his article shows a closed mindedness, and being as made simple statements that a conversation with even a single atheist could have proven false, I feel as though the author is as set in his beliefs as he believes your everyday atheist is.
I realize I may have asked similarly vacuous questions in the past, I am young, I am no professional writer, and I started this blog largely to work through my own personal crises. Given the audience that John Gray (the author) is writing for, I would expect a higher level of journalistic integrity from him than I would hold myself to–and yet while well written from the standpoint of “Yes, I can read that easily,” it is poorly sourced and contains no small hints of biases and latent … Theicism?
I like that word. I am keeping it.
Anyway, I think the average atheist is far more reasonable and open to skepticism and doubt than the author believes. Certainly, I am open to free discussion and alteration of my ideas, and I certainly am not free from the doubt of what happens to me when I die, so maybe it is just that I am the wrong kind of atheist. *Shrug*