Monday, April 02, 2007

Atheist Denominations: The Beast Battles the False Prophet

The AP's Jay Lindsay over the weekend reported on growing tensions between competing groups of atheists. On the one hand, old-line atheists want simply to make room for unbelief alongside belief. On the other hand, so-called New Atheists are deliberately attacking religion, which is to say attacking Christianity, which is to say attacking their own caricature of bad forms of Christianity.

Belonging to the former camp are folks like Harvard University's Humanist Chaplain (a position endowed by the well-endowed university for a generation) Greg Epstein (don't you wonder who goes to his "services"?). On the other side, predictably, are atheist firebrands Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, who with their acolytes are already challenging the world's record for overuse of vitriolic rhetoric.

We will make three SWNIDish observations:
  • First, the expectations of the "New Atheists" that they are on the threshold of a major expansion of religious unbelief is very likely not true. If history demonstrates anything, it is the persistence of religious belief, which has been challenged in every generation. Dawkins, Harris and company simply exaggerate their own personal importance to think otherwise.
  • Second, religious people--or more specifically Christians who read and believe the Bible--have a tidy explanation for the events chronicled by the AP's intrepid reporter. Namely, they know that human hubris that says, "Let us build a tower and make a name for ourselves" ends in fractious tribalism. It is to the church's shame that she has experienced such atheistic hubris within her own boundaries. But it is not to the church's surprise that she sees the same--faster and harder--among the unbelievers.
  • Thirdly, the principals in this affair have a significant stake in its outcome. Old atheists like Epstein have made a comfortable living with the stance that they offer a distinct but equal alternative to religion that should be socially and fiscally enshrined in much the same way as religion. New Atheists like Dawkins and Harris are making a lot of scratch from their shrill denunciations of all things religious, especially things Christian. "Follow the money" remains good advice on all human affairs, including the affairs of those who claim to be sober, high-minded rationalists on a crusade to save the world from salvation.

No comments: