The Atheist Renaissance

     Last week, having some loose change in my pocket, I 
splurged on three recent best-selling books by militant 
atheists: Christopher Hitchens (GOD IS NOT GREAT), 
Richard Dawkins (THE GOD DELUSION), and Sam Harris 
(LETTER TO A CHRISTIAN NATION), as well as a shorter, and 
much more reasonable, tract by an atheist philosopher, 
Julian Baggini.

     I'm still reading the three best-sellers. Not many 
surprises, since they have already received lots of 
publicity and some hilariously deflating reviews. In 
essence, they all offer versions of the Phil Donahue 
argument: How could a benevolent Creator permit the 
existence of mean old nuns? 

     The arguments are pretty bad, ignoring the first 
rule of honest controversy: State your opponent's 
position in a form he could accept as accurate. Only 
Baggini's little book, ATHEISM, passes this basic test. 
The others rely heavily on accusation, overstatement, 
ridicule (Dawkins terms believers "dyed-in-the-wool 
faith-heads"), and the like. Banalities abound: Crusades, 
jihads, "the" Inquisition, and televangelists are adduced 
without much distinction as conclusive proof of what 
religion "leads to."

     And atheism? Doesn't it too lead to rough stuff at 
times? No, our authors explain, Stalin doesn't really 
count as an atheist, because he behaved like a believer. 
As one of Hitchens's reviewers commented, this is the 
kind of argument that gives syllogisms a bad name.

     Harris's book is just childish. Hitchens, though 
sometimes surprisingly empathetic with believers (having 
painfully lost his own Communist faith), knows a 
smattering about an awesome number of subjects (you may 
be less impressed with his erudition when he deals with 
ones you are familiar with). Dawkins is probably the 
smuggest of the three -- something of an achievement, in 
this competition.

     The real trouble with all three authors is that they 
appear to be perfect strangers to religious experience. A 
huge area of humanity is closed off to them. They speak 
of believers as suckers, as if gullibility could explain 
everything; for them there are no "varieties of religious 
experience," only one kind, and that a contemptible one.

     The logic of belief is crudely parodied rather than 
seriously explored. Not that this prevents them from 
accusing the suckers of cunning malice when it suits 
their purposes. Well, which is it?

     The point is that you should at least be able to 
imagine your opponent's point of view, if your object is 
anything but mere defamation. And on this score, I have 
to commend Baggini. He is scrupulously fair and precise; 
he was raised a Catholic, but exhibits no trace of 
rancor; he tries to define, isolate, and answer the 
central questions without rhetorical gimmickry.

     No wonder he's not on the best-seller lists. Maybe 
he doesn't believe in God, but he doesn't seem to hate 

     Alas, even Baggini joins the others in the great 
atheist dogma: He too assumes that Darwin has destroyed 
the argument from design. Does all atheism depend on the 
Darwinian revelation? If so, I feel sorry for it.

     If I may draw my own lesson from history: Whenever 
the atheists get their way, it's never long before they 
start persecuting each other.

     Marx was lucky he didn't live to see the triumph of 

Compulsory Fads

     Liberalism seems to be prone to a special kind of 
bigotry: demanding that people who reject its premises 
accept its conclusions. The other day a writer I usually 
enjoy and respect wrote casually that "of [Franklin] 
Roosevelt's greatness there can be no question."

     Doesn't that depend on whether you believe in the 
U.S. Constitution, limited government in some sense, 
alliances with the Stalins of this world, slaughtering 
civilian populations, and so forth?

     I should think the creation of the atomic bomb would 
by itself give even a liberal some qualms about 
celebrating the memory of FDR.

     Liberals tend to think their latest enthusiasms 
impose moral duties on the rest of us. Consider the 
instant orthodoxy about global warming and the necessity 
of virtual totalitarian government power to control it. I 
can well believe that the planet is heating up; but if 
so, I suspect that the sun has more to do with it than 
the automobile (or is it second-hand smoke? I can never 
keep these things straight). 

     I've already mentioned the Darwinian orthodoxy. 
Liberals want the public schools to make our children 
little materialistic atheists, sensing none of the First 
Amendment problems they instantly raise whenever someone 
urges even a brief and perfunctory nonsectarian prayer in 
those schools.

     And there are no limits to it. In Canada and the 
progressive countries of northern Europe, where "gay 
rights" are enshrined in the legal code, clergymen may be 
convicted of human rights violations if they cite 
scriptural passages condemning sodomy. 

     These and other countries have also made "Holocaust 
denial" a criminal offense. Though I myself have been 
called a Holocaust denier in print (without evidence, of 
course), I'd consider it presumptuous for me to "deny" 
the Holocaust, since I can't read German, don't know a 
thing about chemistry (what is Zyklon B?), and am quite 
incompetent to evaluate the evidence.

     These are only a few of liberalism's sacred tenets. 
One might cite many more, from Lincoln and the Civil War 
to contraception and sexual freedom, on which intelligent 
skepticism is not exactly welcome in liberal precincts.

     If you now believe in things practically everyone 
believed in only 50 years ago, you risk being called a 
bigot, and maybe even being prosecuted as a criminal.

     In fact, even keeping an open mind about certain 
matters is now considered a sign of bigotry. And they 
talk about the Dark Ages! 

                 +          +          +                  

     "If you play Monopoly, you can still buy Park Place 
or Boardwalk for a mere $2,000. The value of a Milton 
Bradley dollar has stood up pretty well since 1932; 
compare the Federal Reserve System over the same period."

     REGIME CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME -- a new selection of 
my Confessions of a Reactionary Utopian -- is culled from 
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                                        --- Joseph Sobran


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