Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thoughts on Atheism, Theism and Agnosticism, Part V

Well, I am going to resurrect (pun probably intended) this old set of essays because, well I have a lot of free time on my hands. Of course this does not mean I will kneeling down and sitting in prayer, but rather continuing in my analysis of the atheism vs. theism debate, or should I say more accurately WAR, given the way that the vitriol on both sides has recently increased, mostly due to the fact that Atheist writers and apologists, who largely ignored theist attacks against them until now, have begun turning out book after book with titles designed to inspire their fellow non-believers, and inspiring fear and hatred among fervent theists.

Let's take a look at what trend I'm talking about:



This is George H. Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God. From the Amazon site, it seems to have come out in 1980. It seems fairly non-combative, almost part of a legal argument and not something heated, purely philosophical. If you disagree with the author, fine, you can go and believe in God, he's not going to hurt you or haunt you in your dreams. On an added not the color scheme reminds me of NYU, where purple and white are the school colors and they like to throw yellow in to grab your eye (and your dollar).



Here is another atheist classic, perhaps the first, Bertrand Russell's 1927 "Why I am Not a Christian." The cover design hints at the religiosity of the text, but it is not overpowering. One is led to think that he is taking about Christianity as if it were a hobby of sorts. The contorted shape and the cross in middle slightly resembles a candy wrapper with the sweet taken out and devoured. The title is a simple declaration, part of a conversation. If you want to sit down and learn why the author is not a Christian over a cup of tea, fine, but if not, well then that's okay too.

Since the beginning of religion, particularly theistic religions, those who have refused to believe have been called atheists, often inaccurately (as was the case with early Christians for not believing in the Roman pantheon of Gods). They were tortured, exiled, forced to convert, and even killed. But throughout history, Atheists generally have kept their cool. That notable exception was of course, the Marxists, who went after the religious as much as the religious had gone after freethinkers previously, as well as the radical French Republicans, who most of today's religious people believe all atheists are inspired by and want to emulate.

But like I said earlier, Atheists have generally kept themselves out of the limelight, wishing to be left alone and to educate all those willing to listen. This however has changed, and it is reflected in the publishing world. There are two main reasons I think for this:















(Forgive the awkward pasting job) 9-11 and the rise of the evangelical (and conservative Christian vote in general) I think have caused atheists to remember that religious beliefs are not just abstract things. They are value systems that are the basis for action, unfortunately action that causes harm to other believers as well as to atheists. Watching the rise of Islamic terrorism and calls to establish theocracies through the Muslim world, atheists, I believe, have had to sit back and think about just how damaging religion can be. It is no longer about the inquisition and the Crusades, but about things going on today. Likewise the rise of W. Bush and his cohorts demonstrates hostility to the secular values that atheists want to see guiding American domestic and foreign policy.

Consequently, there has been a rise in books whose purpose is to rally fellow non-believers and make them understand what is at stake in the modern age, hoping to avoiding a return to the 17th century wars of religion. We see titles the are meant to be provocative and refuse to be nice or make compromises. Is this a bad thing? I don't think so. Militant atheists are often blamed for forcing their beliefs on others, but I have never heard any Atheist American, no matter how militant utter anything like the following:

"No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."
- President George H.W. Bush in 1988

Many of you will be familair with the titles that have been published so far:








Well, how have things changed! We have Atheism with muscles now, Atheism that doesn't just debate in university dorm rooms or bring cases to the Supreme Court, this is an Atheism for the average man, who like his non belief like his liquor, strong and undiluted! These books take no prisoners! They are bleak and sleek, killers of God. I suppose that publishers have discovered good money can be made in rational argument, fanning the flames of the old disputes about the existence of God. They can sell a religious books on one hand, and atheist books on the other, apologetics and screeds, a great business.

I do wonder if it is all about money, about selling and not reaching. Perhaps Dawkins' originally wanted to title his book: "Some Thoughts Regarding the Non-Existence of a Popular Supreme Being." But then the agents and editors told him it wouldn't sell in Peoria if he called it that so he sexed up the title. With Hitchens, I'm sure that he had wanted to go it something worse. "God is not great, He's a Bastard, Worse than Mother Teresa."