This op-ed by Robert Grant, claiming that the New Atheists are ‘dangerous’, was infuriating. What a string of stupid cliches!
While their starting point was the lack of scientific evidence for God’s existence, they quickly expanded their target to argue that religion is the “root of all evil” in the world. Far from being tolerated, religion should be banished. It obstructs the progress of the human race; and progress based on the pursuit of science and reason.
Can anyone find a single quote by a prominent New Atheist that demands that religion be ‘banished’? Anyone? Anywhere? Bueller? How about any one of them stating that the root cause of all evil in the world was religion?
The New Atheists offer a binary world view, neatly divided into good and evil. Science and reason on the one hand, religion and faith on the other. The implication being: if we get rid of religion we get rid of evil.
Oh, nonsense. Morality is always going to be an ongoing struggle; it’s a process, not a state of bliss. Freeing yourself of religion rids yourself of one source of ignorance and flawed thinking. It does not make you perfect.
They make the mistake here of treating evil as if it exists exclusively within a set of beliefs or practices, rather than as an inherent part of human nature.
As journalist Chris Hedges puts it, they externalise evil. Fundamentalist religious groups do the same, only for them evil resides in liberal secularism.
Oops, -100 points for relying on the rabid anti-atheist Chris Hedges.
Again, why does Grant keep claiming these things that are simply not true? He got into an argument with Michael Nugent on this, and Michael rightly hammered him on this claim. He can’t cite one source or give even one quote to back up this assertion (neither can Chris Hedges, who in a recent talk was reduced to this same strategem of equating atheists with fundamentalists, so he could quote fundamentalists, and then announce, “Aha! see! That’s how atheists think!”)
Religion is a specific problem of traditional teaching of invalid and bad ideas. It’s not that we think people are perfect if their brains are freed of the poison of religion — quite the contrary, human brains are faulty and full of shortcuts and limited in their degree of comprehension of the real world. But it doesn’t help if we compound our flaws with lies and lazy excuses and incoherent moral teachings. That’s the objection to religion: that it is counterfactual and destructive.
It’s as if we’re trying to teach that 2 + 2 = 4 in our math classes, but swarms of people were to insist that in their cherished traditional folkways, and in the words of their holy book, 2 + 2 = 3, and they must teach it that way. We should be able to say that that will give them wrong answers. It does not in any way imply that if only they all accept the truth of fourness, math becomes easy and everyone will be doing calculus by the time they hit kindergarten.
On the other hand, teaching people to question religion does mean that maybe, just maybe, they won’t kill other people who also question it. Check out this horror story from Iraq: fanatical Sunni Muslims in ISIS are administering roadside tests to refugees. There is, apparently, an absolutely correct answer to how you hold your hands during prayers: a Sunni way, and a Shiite way, where praying like a Shiite is utterly wrong, and the penalty for failing the quiz is to be led off to the side of the road and get a bullet in the brain.
You won’t find the New Atheists sympathizing with that approach. Rather, we’re appalled that anyone finds these artificial distinctions within bogus superstitions, whether Sunni or Shiite, Catholic or Protestant, to be useful ways to order one’s life. That we point out the futility and waste of these divisions does not imply that we’re planning to take all parties to the side of the road and have them shot — that’s religious thinking, and that’s what seems to be infecting poor Robert Grant’s mind.