Salon has published another of those articles — you know, the ones where some clueless ignoramus presents his biased interpretation of what atheism means and then proceeds to flog the New Atheists for their imagined sins. This time, it’s Sean McElwee bashing away at What Hitchens got wrong: Abolishing religion won’t fix anything. And here’s his premise:
The fundamental error in the “New Atheist” dogma is one of logic. The basic premise is something like this:
1. The cause of all human suffering is irrationality
2. Religion is irrational
3. Religion is the cause of all human suffering
The “New Atheist” argument gives religion far, far too much credit for its ability to mold institutions and shape politics, committing the classic logical error of post hoc ergo propter hoc — mistaking a cause for its effect.
Tellingly, he can’t quote any prominent New Atheist say any such thing — or for that matter, any atheist at all — but he does quote a reporter from the Independent, Bernard Lewis, and Terry Eagleton on the wickedness of Hitchens, and of course Hitchens himself was rather bellicose and I concede that he might have promoted some hyperbole…but I don’t know of any specific quotes, and certainly no one I know follows that illogical chain of reasoning above.
I’d also agree that abolishing religion (wait, does any reasonable atheist propose abolishing religion?) would not fix everything, but educating people away from irrationality would certainly fix some things. We have a more moderate vision of the affliction that is religion than McElwee credits us with, but at least we can still recognize some legitimate distinctions, unlike him.
The impulse to destroy religion will ultimately fail. Religion is little different from Continental philosophy or literature (which may explain the hatred of Lacan and Derrida among Analytic philosophers). It is an attempt to explain the deprivations of being human and what it means to live a good life. Banish Christ and Muhammad and you may end up with religions surrounding the works of Zizek and Sloterdijk (there is already a Journal of Zizek Studies, maybe soon a seminary?). Humans will always try to find meaning and purpose in their lives, and science will never be able to tell them what it is. This, ultimately is the meaning of religion, and “secular religions” like philosophy and literature are little different in this sense than theology. Certainly German philosophy was distorted by madmen just as Christianity has been in the past, but atheists fool themselves if they try to differentiate the two.
So religion is just like philosophy and literature, and philosophy and literature are just instances of this peculiarly vague monstrous amalgam McElwee wants to call “religion”? Do science, philosophy, and literature have at their heart an unevidenced concept that defies everything we know of reality, an elaborate and ultimately nonsensical premise around which theologians build intricate fantasies that contradict one another and all human experience?
The man libels philosophy and literature, and puffs up myths and lies with a credibility they do not deserve. For shame.