Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Abandoning religion

Peter Wall continues the conversation. Money quote: "Many atheists go wrong, I think, by construing most of the world in terms of belief: If your belief in God is defective, as I have shown, then your religion must be abandoned."

But really, who says this? Even a glance at the mainstream atheist literature reveals a more robust criticism of religion than Wall suggests here. Consider Christopher Hitchens' contribution to the New Atheist canon, God is Not Great. Hitchens most emphatically does not say that religion should be abandoned just because it rests on a false belief, regardless of the other characteristics of religion. Rather, the religious are doing so many egregiously bad things: the oppression of women and gays, abuse of children and protecting those abusers, undermining science, waging unnecessary and unnecessarily violent wars. Yes, we're all very pleased that most religious people do a lot of good things (although we're skeptical of many of the claims; see especially The Missionary Position, Hitchens' devastating condemnation of Mother Teresa), but that's not really the point: all the good works in the world do not excuse or permit even the smallest evil... and the evils attributed to religion are hardly small. We attribute these evils and especially their persistence directly to the supernaturalism of religion: we probably won't remove evil from the world, but we remove one of the most compelling and prevalent justifications for evil: that a supernatural god (or His priestly spokesmodels) demands we do evil.

The criticism of the religious "moderates" and "liberals" is likewise more nuanced than Wall would suggest. A lot of religious people are entirely good (more-or-less; it cannot be the case that the support for denying ordinary civil rights to homosexuals is limited entirely to Christian "fundamentalists"). The New Atheists might look askance at the supernatural justification of those beliefs, but beyond a few mutterings and quotations from Diderot, it is not the supernaturalism per se that earns our criticism. We criticize, rather, the accommodationist and religious "moderate" demand that we not criticize the supernatural justification of the fundamentalists precisely because that criticism equally undermines the moderates' own supernatural justification. We criticize the moderates because in defending the pillar of their own good, they must defend the pillar of the fundamentalists' evils: necessarily so, for it is, in our judgment, the same pillar.

Our criticism and condemnation might, of course, be mistaken. The New Atheists have no more than the religious any direct line to Cosmic Truths. But we are making the subtle and nuanced arguments in considerable depth and breadth. If you're going to criticize us, criticize us for the content we actually offer. It's just dishonest to ignore 90% of the content and then accuse us of being facile and thin.

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