Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Don't Fall for the Big Con of Religion, Atheism

Intellectual folly, profit motive at the heart of modern religious-atheist intolerance

In an Easter Sunday op/ed article published in Britain's Daily Mail, AN Wilson offers a scathing denunciation of atheism, hyperbolically entitled "The Religion of Hatred".

In the article Wilson complains that most of the public intellectuals in Britain are allegedly atheists, the result of a secular society which has branded religious belief as "uncool" and "unsexy".

Wilson's greatest criticisms are reserved for Polly Toynbee, a columnist for The Guardian and President of the British Humanist Association.

"Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?" Toynbee once wrote, as Wilson quotes.

"When absolute God-given righteousness beckons, blood flows and women are in chains," Toynbee is again quoted.

Individuals like Hitchens, Dawkins and Toynbee are treated as evidence that atheists are smug, hateful and intolerant.

It's little secret that this smugness and arrogance is largely the design of these atheists. Many of them enjoy irritating religious believers into passionate denunciations of them, feeling this confirms the allegedly irrational basis on which religious belief is established and held.

When religious believers lash out at atheists in this particular fashion, they tumble into the same pitfall that these most fervent atheists fall into -- the pitfall of being threatened by other peoples' beliefs.

This inevitably leads to all kinds of folly -- including the folly of taking an individual like Christopher Hitchens, who is as committed an atheist as there ever was, on the radio to try to convince him that he should believe in God.

Just as atheists need to accept that there are reasons why the religious believe, religious believers need to accept that there are reasons why atheists do not believe. To fault them for that fails to address the simple fact that religion has evidently not met the spiritual needs of these individuals -- if indeed these individuals feel they have any spiritual needs at all.

There are plenty of atheists who are more than willing to go about their lives, believing as they believe (or rather, don't believe) relatively quietly without demanding that everyone else believe as they do.

While individuals like Hitchens and Richard Dawkins often promote themselves as spokespeople for atheism, many atheists have made public their discomfort with having such individuals represent them.

To hold up individuals such as Hitchens, Dawkins, or the Rational Response Squad as atheism's leading examples is to risk overlooking the vast majority of atheists who are content to mind their own spiritual business -- just as holding up religion's most vigorous proselytizers as leading examples risks to overlook the vast majority of believers who are content to mind theirs.

Of course such moderate views -- by either atheists or the religious -- are far from marketable. Inherent in these broad denunciations of opposing camps is the big con of a self-promoting ideologue out to enrich themselves through the sale of their next book or their next movie.

Many of these people are perfectly content to lead their masses of followers into folly if it will earn them a few extra dollars annually.

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