Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever

Edited by Christopher Hitchens, Daca Press, 499 pages.

The Portable Atheist is filled with typical atheist nonsense:

“As I scan the newspapers, I cannot help but notice that in one happy city – London – the rats have come vomiting from the sewers again. Car bombs have been planted outside nightclubs, in the hope of maiming and dismembering young women who have the nerve to be immodest in public”; and again: “All religions must, at their core, look forward to the end of this world and to the longed-for moment when all will be revealed and when the sheep will be divided from the goats, or whatever other bucolic Bronze-Age desert analogy might seem apt.”

In bringing into one book essential writings of other atheists, Christopher Hitchens' gave himself a simple task – to lend intellectual credence to his belief that religious people are rats and fanatics. This collection offers an interesting insight into the mindset of contemporary atheism.

Ironically, it is often religious people who are defensively touting their intellectual credentials, citing great philosophers and scientists to somehow prove that they are more than simple stooges. Does this latest book by Hitchens suggest that things have changed and that now atheists are moving into desperation in their losing public war against religion? The brilliant Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI alone proved the intellectual and spiritual wealth and depth of Catholicism.

The angry, accusative language used by Richard Dawkins or Hitchens does reflect atheism's inherent violence and perhaps its lack of intellectual depth. Much more ruthlessly than most religions, atheism – including contemporary liberalism cloaked in rights language -- wants to sweep all aside and establish a monolithic culture.

But this is all nothing new for post-Christian zealots. The French Revolutionaries tried to get rid of the Catholic Church with violence, and worshiped the goddess Reason in Paris' Notre Dame; the Spanish Marxists killed thousands of Catholics; Lenin and Stalin forced millions of religious people to suffer on account of Christian beliefs; and Hitler murdered faithful Jews, Catholics, and Lutherans in the name of tribal atheism.

So here comes another atheist trying once again to pitch his belief to us, this time in calm, academic, reasonable gentlemanly tones, rather than in the harsh madness of Nazis and revolutionaries. Yet, when all is said and done, much here has already been said by every armchair atheist.

Elizabeth Anderson does the predictable run-through of violence in the Old Testament and Christian era. Rather than citing the relevant biblical passages and offering sufficient background information so that we can understand the violence of the Bible, by summarizing teaching and stories from the Bible in her own words, she can inflate the teaching. Proverbs' “spare the rod, spoil the child” becomes “Disobedient children shall be beaten with rods.”

She also uses a tiny three pages to cite centuries worth of violence from the Bible, and all without the theological insights that went into these episodes. To the casual reader, this looks like a infinite listing of grievous violence. She manipulates the reader by leaving things so naked. She fails to discuss the kind of society that was developing, and how, for example, “eye for eye” thinking was revolutionary for its time because it called for restraint in the relentless, limitless blood feuds that had been carrying on for generations among families and tribes.

She fails to examine how a very violent society is called by God, slowly but faithfully and steadily, to peace. She fails to examine how ancient Israel's prophetic era then called not only for peace but for justice and a relationship of the heart and not only of ritual between God and Israel. She passes over so much beautiful theology and poetry and the failures and successes of a pious people in search of the truth. She misrepresents the Bible and the entire story of the ancient Israelites.

Ian McEwan discusses this violence with the same superficial sweep, though unintentionally he does sum up best the reason that atheists, not religious types, are an endangered species: “Science may speak of probable rising sea levels and global temperatures, with figures that it constantly refines in line with new data, but on the human future it cannot compare with the luridness and, above all, with the meaningfulness of the prophecies of the Book of Daniel, or Revelation.”

Now if only he could see what his words really mean.

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