Characteristics of New Atheism: Part II

Disclaimer:  As I have said earlier, this post isn’t necessarily meant for Atheists.  This isn’t meant to increase discussions.  There are plenty of venues where that is being done.  This is more for the readers of my blog to get familiar with New Atheism, and how I see it.  I realize that I will say some things that may be contested, but I am trying to be as accurate and even handed as possible.

I know what some of you may be thinking.

1. “Wow, Tim’s writing a lot lately!” Yes, yes I am.  I guess there has been more to write on, and since New Atheism has been so prolific with their writings, there will be plenty more to write on in the future.  I do most of my blogging at work since we don’t have internet at home, so that is a reason I don’t get a ton of it done, but I’m trying to do some at home and then just post it when I get in.  Now that the holidays are past, you’ll be seeing more consistent posting.

2. The other thing you are thinking is, “Wow!  There is actually a Part II!”  I feel like if I decide a post is too long and break it up into two posts, the second one is less likely to get written.  Here’s to trying to break that habit!

Without further adieu, here’s the rest of the characteristics:

Reason to replace a biblical morality

I spoke a little of this earlier, but it is central enough that it bears more discussion.  This is particularly the view of Sam Harris, from his interview with “Wired” magazine:

“There would be a religion of reason.  We would have realized the rational means to maximize human happiness. We may all agree that we want to have a Sabbath that we take really seriously–a lot more seriously than most religious people take it. But it would be a rational decision, and it would not be just because it’s in the Bible. We would be able to invoke the power of poetry and ritual and silent contemplation and all the variables of happiness so that we could exploit them. Call it prayer, but we would have prayer without [expletive deleted].”

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Characteristics of New Atheism: Part I

Disclaimer: As I have said earlier, this post isn’t necessarily meant for Atheists. This isn’t meant to increase discussions. There are plenty of venues where that is being done. This is more for the readers of my blog to get familiar with New Atheism, and how I see it. I realize that I will say some things that may be contested, but I am trying to be as accurate and even handed as possible.

History

This isn’t by any means an exhaustive history of Atheism, as that can be a very difficult pursuit. There can be some references that could be interpreted as atheistic as far back as Socrates, but I’m going to start with around the 1600’s. Interestingly enough, Karen Armstrong had this to say about Atheism prior to this age:

“During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the word ‘atheist’ was still reserved exclusively for polemic … The term ‘atheist’ was an insult. Nobody would have dreamed of calling himself an atheist.”

During the 1600’s, Humanism began to become the way of thinking. Basically speaking, Humanism says that man is the center of existence. Man is the ultimate authority. The Enlightenment really helped spread this way of thinking. God was no longer the center of things, and the militant wing of Humanism became Atheism. They were not content with man just being the center of existence, but also wanted to push God completely out of the picture and society.

At first, Atheism was primarily opposed to the Judean/Christian God, but as the 20th century came, it moved into more of an objection to all deities. Until the last thirty or so years, atheism was mostly about just not believing in God. They generally didn’t care if you believed in God, just as long as you didn’t press it on them. They were mostly content with just living without God being a factor in their lives.

But over the last twenty years, there has been a seismic shift in atheism, leading to something called ‘New Atheism’. Mitchell Cohen says it is “a reaction against politicized and intolerant religious fundamentalists who have acted aggressively to impose their views of the world on American politics and public life for several decades. A strong intellectual challenge to them has been long overdue.” As you can see, this new brand of Atheism is seeking to make a difference in the world. Here are some characteristics of New Atheism:

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The New Atheism

Disclaimer: This post will begin a series I’m going to be doing on New Atheism.  Let me begin with a warning and a request.  I realize that these posts will be somewhat unpopular with many people, namely atheists.  The purpose of these posts really isn’t to create a dialogue between Christians and Atheists, and as you will see later, I don’t think this would be possible or a good opportunity to do that.  So here is my request:  if you are an atheist and you really hate these posts, this isn’t a place for you to voice your aggravation and continue to attack Christianity.  As we will see, New Atheism isn’t about an open debate, but about intolerance towards any sort of acceptance of Christianity.  So if you have a comment that wouldn’t be considered ‘healthy dialogue’, I kindly and respectfully ask you not to post it.

New Atheism

For many years, atheism has been a view that a person would hold to if they just didn’t believe in God.  It often reflected a lack of desire to try to believe or search things out.  Most of the time they didn’t mind if anyone else believed in God, as long as those beliefs didn’t infringe too much on their own lives.  Recently, there has been a significant shift in atheism, and a ‘New Atheism’ has been born.  This new movement can be characterized by not only intolerance towards Christianity, but also towards anyone who would tolerate it to any degree.  They see themselves as being repressed and held down by a society that inexplicably holds to Christianity, only to its own demise.

Just like any movement, this one is lead by charasmatic personalities, both young and old.  The senior statesman would be the British scientist and evolutionist, Richard Dawkins.  Dawkins, who holds the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford was, for many years, known as the author of  “The Selfish Gene”.  Though he grew up in a normal Anglican family, he questioned religion from an early age.  Interestingly, at one point he was convinced back to Christianity due to the argument from design, but eventually abandoned religion altogether when he became convinced that evolution satisfyingly answered the questions of the complex design of the world.

Recently, around the events of 9/11, Dawkins began to become more militaristic in his fight against Theism, namely Christianity.  This is worked its way to his recent book, “The God Delusion”, where he presents his evidence that a belief in God is just foolishness.  It is mostly centered around the idea that Creationism is just  “preposterous, mind-shrinking falsehood”.  The book has been very successful, reaching #5 on the New York Time’s bestsellers list for hardcover non-fiction books.  As of November 2007, it has sold 1.5 million copies.  It has gotten around, to say the least.

Another, and even more militaristic personality, is an American named Sam Harris.  He has been called Atheisms new bulldog, and has led his charge with two books, “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation”.  Sam Harris seems to take it to the next step, blaming every bad thing in America on Christianity, calling for an abandoning of  Christianity to a new society based on  reason.  The thing that all these men have in common is that science is the new religion. They see science as falling woefully short of obvious scientific truths.  Harris grew up in with a Jewish mom and a Quaker dad, attended Stanford studying English, but dropped out when he started Ecstasy.  This lead him to study Buddhism, meditation, and read hundreds of religious books.  Eventually, he would return to Stanford, obtaining his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy.  He is now pursuing a doctorate in  neuroscience, using functional magnetic resonance imaging to conduct research into the neural basis of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty. (Wikipedia)

Harris says that religion, namely Christianity, served a purpose for some time, but it is now time to view God the same way we view the myth of Zeus.  It is now time to leave religion behind, and take society in a new direction.  Religion as been “one of the most perverse misuses of intelligence we have ever devised.”  According to Harris, we must bring the nation to a point where we can not only talk about how mentally ridiculous Christianity is, but to the point where we cease to let it effect the way our society is run.  Reason, instead, should be the basis of society.   In the near future, I will be writing some views on his “Letter to a Christian Nation” book, so you will become very familiar with Harris.

Other personalities in the New Atheism movement are Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens, as well as entertainers Penn and Teller, who have made bashing Christianity and Creationism a part of their popular act.  If you could boil all of their thoughts down to one, I think it may sound something like this: A belief in Christianity, Theism, God, Creationism, the Bible, the Koran, or any other ‘holy scripture’ is idiotic, baseless, and you are stupid if you believe them.  They very much carry themselves as being societies best thinkers, and anyone who thinks otherwise is just a nim-wit.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be adding various other posts to continue to explore some of these writings, what they teach, and how it may affect our society.  Their mission is to make Christianity intolerable, outlawed, and banished, along with those that hold to it.  They will not rest until their mission is accomplished.  What is a Biblically minded Christian to do?  Through this series, I pray that you do not fear these men and their bravado, but you realize that this is another season of attacks on faith.  Interestingly enough, in England, where Dawkin’s books shot up the sales of books of spirituality by 50% and the sales of Bibles by 120%.  Somewhat ironic that this has lead to a resurgence in the reading of the Bible.  I doubt that was the intended reaction.  I pray that it leads us to a resurgence in understanding our faith, and how to defend it.

Al Mohler on “The Golden Compass”

For those of you who know me, I absolutely love Mohler and always have my ears open as to what he has to say.  If you are wondering a Biblical reaction to something going on in our culture would be, chances are Mohler has spoken about it.  This includes the furor growing around “The Golden Compass”.  If you were wondering how big of a deal this movie is and how it has touched off many a debates, all you have to do is look at the popularity of the post I had on it.  To date, the post has received 256 hits.  That doesn’t even include people who look at the blog and read that post with others.  That is those who have individually clicked on the post, or found it through a search engine. And that is just since November 14th, when I wrote the post.

So, needless to say, the subject has become very popular, as I knew it would.  I wanted to include some thoughts that Mohler brought to his blog.  As he always does, he puts it much better than I could ever explain it.  Here are some blurbs:

This is not just any fantasy trilogy or film project.  Philip Pullman has an agenda — an agenda about as subtle as an army tank.  His agenda is nothing less than to expose what he believes is the tyranny of the Christian faith and the Christian church.  His hatred of the biblical storyline is clear.  He is an atheist whose most important literary project is intended to offer a moral narrative that will reverse the biblical account of the fall and provide a liberating mythology for a new secular age.

This point has been humorously debated by atheists, and even Pullman himself.  He denies that this was his motivation, but that is either an incredible case of denial of the obvious or he’s trying to cover his tail to silent some of the furor, in hopes that it does not detract from the success of the movies, which would lead to further success of the books.

The most direct attacks upon Christianity and God do not appear until the last book, The Amber Spyglass, in which Lyra and Will (a boy her age who first appears in the second book) eventually kill God, who turns out to be a decrepit and feeble old imposter who was hardly worth the killing.

I include this note, just because I didn’t read the last one, and I didn’t want to quote a source that I didn’t necessarily trust, but Mohler’s word can be trusted.

In response to the question, ‘Is Pullman’s attack on Christianity exaggerated by his critics?’ Mohler had this to say:

No — his attack is neither hidden nor subtle.  The entire premise of the trilogy is that Lyra is the child foretold by prophecy who will reverse the curse of the Fall and free humanity from the lie of original sin.  Whereas in Christian theology it is Jesus Christ who reverses the curse through His work of atonement on the Cross, Pullman presents his own theology of sorts in which the Fall is reversed through the defiance of these children.  As Pullman insists, Eve and Adam were right to eat the forbidden fruit and God was a tyrant to forbid them the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Mohler quotes Pullman saying a few things about “The Chronicles of Narnia”.

Put simply, Pullman hates C. S. Lewis’s work The Chronicles of Narnia.  He told Hannah Rosin that Lewis’s famous work is “morally loathsome” and “one of the most ugly and poisonous things I ever read.”  Narnia, he said, “is the Christian one . . . .  And mine is the non-Christian.”

When the first Narnia film was released in 2005, Pullman described the books as “a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice.”

Yeah, the whole ‘good overcoming evil’ theme is just loathsome.  (Now atheists, I know there are other things that Pullman would object to, but it just seems quite humorous that he finds them so despicable.)

In Mohler’s conclusion, he has some good points:

The Gospel of Jesus Christ has enemies; this we know.  Christian parents must be informed about His Dark Materials and inform others.  We must take the responsibility to use interest in this film to teach our own children to think biblically and to be discerning in their engagement with the media in all forms.  We should arm our children to be able to talk about this project with their classmates without fear or rancor.

Philip Pullman has an agenda, but so do we.  Our agenda is the Gospel of Christ — a message infinitely more powerful than that of The Golden Compass.  Pullman’s worldview of unrestricted human autonomy would be nightmarish if ever achieved.  His story promises liberation but would enslave human beings to themselves and destroy all transcendent value.

Another thought:

This is about the battle of ideas and worldviews.  While Christians will not celebrate the release of this film, we should recognize the mixture of challenge and opportunity that comes with millions of persons watching this film and talking about the issues it raises.  When the movie is mentioned in the workplace, in school, on the playground, or in the college campus, this is a great opportunity to show that Christians are not afraid of the battle of ideas.

We should recognize that the Christian Church has some very embarrassing moments in its history – moments when it has failed to represent the truth of the Gospel and the love of Christ.  Authors like Philip Pullman take advantage of these failures in order to paint the entire Christian Church as a conspiracy against human happiness and freedom.  Of course, that charge will not stand close scrutiny, and we can face it head-on with a thoughtful response.

I couldn’t say it any better than Mohler, but this is not something we should run from.  Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting some thoughts and evaluations of the “New Atheism”.  I realize that these will be lightening rods for some Atheists, particularly those who have frequented this blog over the last few weeks, but so be it.  This New Atheism is not tolerant of Christianity, or those who tolerate it.  They desire to see it broken, destroyed, and obliterated, and they seek to shame those who would even dare to tolerate it.  I think this calls for some familiarization with some of the thoughts of the movement, who the personalities are, and some of the arguments that will become louder as the movement grows.

Top Objections to Christianity- Part 3: Part 2

Alrighty, people.  We’re going to try this again.  I’m going to present an argument that is very common, and one that you would probably be confronted with at some point.  So how do we answer this objection.  Give it a try, leave a comment, nothing to fear:

 I could not possibly believe in Christianity because there are so many hypocrites in the church.  It seems like we’re always hearing of pastors and priests getting arrested for something and then so many of the Christians I know totally don’t live like Christians.  There is really no difference between me and them.  So why be a Christian?

Top Ten Objections to Christianity: Part 3

Time for another objection!  The last one could be a little difficult, so I will provide an easier one now, but still a very common objection.  Again, leave time for the students to respond first, and if possible, try to provide some Scripture.  Here it is:

I could not possibly believe in Christianity because there are so many hypocrites in the church.  It seems like we’re always hearing of pastors and priests getting arrested for something and then so many of the Christians I know totally don’t live like Christians.  There is really no difference between me and them.  So why be a Christian?

Objection 1

Objection 2