In recent years, atheism has been a philosophy on the rise. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris have all published books attacking religion; atheist author Philip Pullman wrote a series of novels that explicitly attacked religion (which, it must be admitted, were apparently quite good) that were made into blockbuster movies (which nobody liked). Most recently, Bill Maher has made a critically acclaimed documentary (sort of) which attempts to ridicule religious doctrine. Atheists are making their voices heard.
As a believer, I think that philosophical debate is a good thing—dialogue is better than diatribes, responding is better than suppressing, etc. And many of the foremost atheist thinkers are remarkably intelligent men—Hitchens is one of the best writers and literary critics alive, Dawkins, undeniably, is a brilliant scientist, and Maher is by all accounts a talented television personality (I’ve never watched his show, and have no desire to). And these men are, apparently, decent and moral men (with the possible exception of Maher). In fact, prominent atheists seem to live better lives than many clergymen (it’s hard not to forget child molestation scandals among Catholic priests, or the numerous Jimmy Swaggartesque scandals among evangelical personalities).
So, atheists are sending out smart, good men to make their case, which means that the atheist argument should be smart, clever, and intelligent. And it is, but it is marred by one fact—all of the most prominent atheists making this argument are crazy.
Some as obviously unbalanced—Bill Maher has suggested that retarded children deserve no more rights than dogs, and that the germ theory of disease is incorrect (thereby losing all right to criticize Christians for being anti-science), while Hitchens has spent a considerable amount of time trying to prove that Mother Teresa was actually a hate filled, evil person. Sam Harris (and Hitchens) disputes the historical existence of Jesus, which is one thing all respected historians agree upon.
Another irrational belief that all these men share is the idea that religion is intrinsically harmful to civilization, a belief that, while popular, seems to ignore all historical evidence. Religion clearly wasn’t responsible for most of the more destructive wars in human history—Rome, the barbarian invasions, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin—none of these men (or empires, as the case may be) were motivated by religious belief, and the wars that were were rather pathetic in comparison—the Crusades, the Thirty Years War, or the Spanish Armada invasion.
(What would happen if Christians tried to peddle an idea this dumb? Actually, they would be treated about as respectfully as most atheists are. Anti-evolutionism is every bit as unfounded as the “religion is responsible for all the world’s ills” meme).
What is striking about this claim is the fact that atheists bill themselves as relentless, dispassionate fighters for the truth, no matter how unpleasant. This line of thought goes that everybody wants God to exist—it’s only atheists who have the fortitude to admit the truth.
Another point: atheists claim that religion is a harmful to society. But every (or very, very close to every) civilization on earth has some form of religion. Are we to believe that, in the history of the planet, not one culture stumbled onto the fact that religious belief was what was holding the human race back? I think most would agree that humanity, even saddled by religion, has made great strides throughout its history. So in what ways has religion held humanity back? Claiming that religious belief holds civilization back, when it is obvious that civilization is advancing, seems pointless and illogical.
Yet atheists feed themselves wild fantasies to “strengthen” their case. What is the value in doing this? Do they think that people will be fooled by this practice, or that repeating these claims to themselves will increase their validity?
Or do they feel that religion is not worth fighting unless it the undiagnosed cause of all the world’s suffering? Of course, that is not the case—if we assume that religion is illogical, then it represents a massive waste of time that should be opposed. But can’t atheist leaders simply condemn religion on that basis, rather than inventing a nonexistent existential threat to humanity?
I can’t prove this idea, but I believe that all humans require some higher dogma. Most find it in religion, a few find it in power, and a few find it in anti-religion. Atheism (as opposed to agnosticism) is simply the flip side of religious belief. It’s adherents are motivated by the same stimuli, and driven by the same fears, as religious believers. Atheism is anti-belief—it is simply another form of religion.