If there is one thing I have come to learn over the years regarding issues pertaining to politics and religion is that people with a stake in the debate are more likely to debate with emotion, clouding judgement, leading to a debate filled with insults, ad hominems, and false information. That is not saying that it is terrible to have emotion involved with a subject, something that I will get into more later on in the analysis. Emotion should be okay within the context of a debate unless that emotion takes away the ability for someone to be accepting of potential counterarguments or evidence. When it comes to the religion/atheism debate, both sides have segments of their respective community that take such an approach to debate.
This article was inspired by a very informative and eloquent piece in Salon published earlier today on the subject of Christopher Hitchens and his academic dishonesty when it comes to representing facts about theology and the history of different religions. Christopher Hitchens made his claim to fame as a public intellectual and journalist who took to the debate circuits as an atheist (or moreso in his case, antitheist) apologist, debating many apologists of religion, such as Dinesh D’Souza. Hitchens is one of quite a few atheist apologists in the community that employ often overzealous tactics of debate, such as ridicule, to make a point.
This piece does not set out to merely discuss overzealous atheism, but also lazy atheism. A good example of lazy atheism is laid out here in this video (created by Youtuber LiberalViewer) of Bill Maher’s show ‘Real Time’ where guest panelist Adam Carolla talks about his form of atheism as one where the point of Atheism is not to worry about political issues or organizing or anything involving thinking essentially. This segment of atheism is the antithesis of the type of atheism that Hitchens and others like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher himself ascribe to, and in my opinion each is equally dangerous to the atheist community.
Both sides of the atheist community reek of elitism, and the elitist attitudes that spawn from both segments of the atheist community do nothing to help bring about peaceful solutions to the problems they espouse, instead creating a hostile environment of ridicule and insult. This has also brought out some very interesting statements from the community’s most zealous apologists. For example, Bill Maher once classified religion as a “neurological disorder”, that keeps people “unenlightened” (claims he has no evidence to back up). This goes against the argument that many of the historical geniuses of the world (e.g. Isaac Newton), as well as great historic social leaders (Martin Luther King) were religious.
I think more debates on religion and atheism should be conducted such as this one that took place on John Stossel’s show. Although there was some bickering and ridicule, there was good conducted back and forth and everyone had a chance to speak within a well moderated environment. There should not be elitism and ridicule within this debate because like any other ideology, religion and atheism are both tools used by individuals that can be used either for good or evil. The problem during these debates is that many in the atheist community have their egos at stake in this intellectual argument.
Christopher Hitchens has argued that “enlightenment reason” should replace religion as the way people should essentially think about the world. When one thinks about the definition of “enlightenment” thinking, one usually thinks of the enlightenment period of 17th century England. This type of thinking is typical once you break down Hitchens elitist attitude towards other modes of thought. It is the type of thinking in which Edward Said alludes to in his monumental work ‘Orientalism’ when it comes to the “Occidental Thought”, the perception of the Occident (Europe) in relation to the Orient (the rest of the world). It is the relation between the noble enlightened westerner and the ignorant savage deprived of western enlightenment, which is in need of a benevolent enlightened westerner to construct an otherwise dead civilization.
Whether or not one takes the zealous or lazy position on atheism, that person is doing a disservice to the atheist community. I fancy myself a part of the atheist community who finds enough solace with their atheism to be able to function with anyone in society. My atheism doesn’t prevent me from finding reason within theological reasoning nor does it prevent me from finding reason from people who base their logic on theological reasoning. Taking a position on something should have some semblance of accountability. As an atheist, are you secure in your beliefs enough to be okay with tough questions challenging your views? As an atheist are you ready to come to terms with the fact that approximately 90% of the world is a part of a religion, and these people are people you are undoubtedly going to work with, function with, and at some point learn from and receive help from? Until the atheist community can do a better job being a part of the world community, we deserve to be classified as a cult that follows dogmatic beliefs equal to the fundamentalism we generally oppose.
Blogger Note: Any atheist or religious person who is looking for some good material relating to physics contributing to this debate should check out Laurence Krauss’s book ‘A Universe From Nothing’. It is a book I read recently that touches on the recent developments in cosmology, especially relating to the discovery of the Higgs Boson, or the “God Particle” which helps to explain how mass is created. Great read!