Sunday, March 23, 2008

Christianity Today: New Atheists Are Not Great, a review of a book by D'Souza by Tony Snow.

Hmmm. A review of a review when I haven't read the original book. Anyone who reads this will thus know how many grains of salt to start with. The original book and the reviewer both take a shot at Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I probably don't need to throw more rhetorical stones at Dawkins and Hitchens at the moment.

There are a few things commendable in this article, such as a reminder that the first explicitly atheist modern movement was the French Revolution. This was a rather nasty affair, but also leads to one of the cruelest possible insults to be hurled at British New Atheists: Stop acting French! I'm sorry. That was too nasty.

Both Tony Snow and D'Souza seem to have adapted the modernist world view that mental endeavors are divided into religion and science. My fundamentalist world view is the three-way religion-science-intellectualism divide, of which intellectualism is by far the most common and has no validity at all, but likes to exploit science and religion like a tic exploits a dog. But back to the two-way split world view: Dawkins and Hitchens think that religion and science aren't reconcilable. Snow and D'Souza apparently think that they clearly are reconcilable because we can clearly pray to both God and Darwin. OK, that wasn't exactly what they said, but it you start with an Atheist world view, it is hard to argue your way out of it.

The review asserts the Christianity gave us free markets and democracy. Apparently Themistocles was a Christian according to their history lessons. The review mentions only 2,000 lives lost in the inquisition over 3.5 centuries which does help to put some context into this, but doesn't mention that property confiscation was probably much more common. I tend to look at the Inquisition as more of an early form of Tax & Spend, which is done more subtlely today. Snow's review gets better when he starts dealing with the human, existential aspects of Christianity. Indeed, this is truly the focus of Christianity and the reason it is something that people find so compelling. Jesus loves me, saves me from my sins, and rose to give me new life.

One thing that is left hanging is the long list of pejoratives that are hurled at God at the beginning: God is "jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, ...". How do we answer this? More than half of the problem begins with the fact that Atheists don't accept God as God and begin their moral reasoning with themselves at the center of the universe. If God really isn't the creator of the universe, then he is just someone down the street who conjured up God in order to all kinds of wild things to others, including me. If, on the other hand, God is who he says he is, then moral reasoning doesn't begin with us, but it begins with God. All of the invective that we have hurled at our Creator as if he were some bloke down the street with an overgrown ego suddenly has a different meaning. We are simply shown to be little ingrates who were given life to do something good and chose to focus on ourselves. That later focus, speaking from experience, is bound to disappoint.

This won't be the end in this shouting match.

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