Saturday, May 26, 2007

Angry atheists are hot authors

by Rachel Zoll, AP, Yahoo

Thanks to Sam Khouri for the link.

Reposted from:

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hitchensThe time for polite debate is over. Militant, atheist writers are making an all-out assault on religious faith and reaching the top of the best-seller list, a sign of widespread resentment over the influence of religion in the world among nonbelievers.

Christopher Hitchens' book, "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," has sold briskly ever since it was published last month, and his debates with clergy are drawing crowds at every stop.

Sam Harris was a little-known graduate student until he wrote the phenomenally successful "The End of Faith" and its follow-up, "Letter to a Christian Nation." Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and Daniel Dennett's "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" struck similar themes — and sold.

"There is something like a change in the Zeitgeist," Hitchens said, noting that sales of his latest book far outnumber those for his earlier work that had challenged faith. "There are a lot of people, in this country in particular, who are fed up with endless lectures by bogus clerics and endless bullying."

Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a prominent evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., said the books' success reflect a new vehemence in the atheist critique.

"I don't believe in conspiracy theories," Mouw said, "but it's almost like they all had a meeting and said, 'Let's counterattack.'"

The war metaphor is apt. The writers see themselves in a battle for reason in a world crippled by superstition. In their view, Muslim extremists, Jewish settlers and Christian right activists are from the same mold, using fairy tales posing as divine scripture to justify their lust for power. Bad behavior in the name of religion is behind some of the most dangerous global conflicts and the terrorist attacks in the U.S., London and Madrid, the atheists say.

As Hitchens puts it: "Religion kills."

The Rev. Douglas Wilson, senior fellow in theology at New Saint Andrews College, a Christian school in Moscow, Idaho, sees the books as a sign of secular panic. He says nonbelievers are finally realizing that, contrary to what they were taught in college, faith is not dead.

Signs of believers' political and cultural might abound.

Religious challenges to teaching evolution are still having an impact, 80 years after the infamous Scopes "Monkey" trial. The dramatic growth in homeschooling and private Christian schools is raising questions about the future of public education. Religious leaders have succeeded in putting some limits on stem-cell research.

And the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a national ban on a procedure critics call "partial-birth abortion" — the first federal curbs on an abortion procedure in a generation — came after decades of religious lobbying for conservative justices.

"It sort of dawned on the secular establishment that they might lose here," said Wilson, who is debating Hitchens on and has written the book "Letter from a Christian Citizen" in response to Harris. "All of this is happening precisely because there's a significant force that they have to deal with."

Indeed, believers far outnumber nonbelievers in America. In an 2005 AP-Ipsos poll on religion, only 2 percent of U.S. respondents said they did not believe in God. Other surveys concluded that 14 percent of Americans consider themselves secular, a term that can include believers who say they have no religion.

Some say liberal outrage over the policies of President Bush is partly fueling sales, even though Hitchens famously supported the invasion of Iraq.

To those Americans, the nation's born-again president is the No. 1 representative of the religious right activists who helped put him in office. Critics see Bush's Christian faith behind some of his worst decisions and his stubborn defense of the war in Iraq.

"There is this general sense that evangelicals have really gained a lot of power in the United States and the Bush administration seems to represent that in some significant ways," said Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion at the University of Notre Dame. "A certain group of people sees it that way and that's really disturbing."

Mouw said conservative Christians are partly to blame for the backlash. The rhetoric of some evangelical leaders has been so strident, they have invited the rebuke, the seminary president said.

"We have done a terrible job of presenting our perspective as a plausible world view that has implications for public life and for education, presenting that in a way that is sensitive to the concerns of people who may disagree," he said. "Whatever may be wrong with Christopher Hitchens attacks on religious leaders, we have certainly already matched it in our attacks."

Given the popularity of the anti-religion books so far, publishers are expected to roll out even more in the future. Lynn Garrett, senior religion editor for Publishers Weekly, says religion has been one of the fastest-growing categories in publishing in the last 15 years, and the rise of books by atheists is "the flip-side of that."

"It was just the time," she said, "for the atheists to take the gloves off."

******** Comments at **********

7. Comment #44445 by freeurmind on May 24, 2007 at 6:55 pm

As much as I want to see all these J freaks go back in the cave where they belong I wish these books ,and hopefully the ones to come,will spark in many a little sense of reality and get people thinking that maybe what they have been believing all this time,for whatever reason,is not the ultimate truth,ignite the skepticism that lays dormant in all of us and with that bring the debate on a larger stage where ideas can be heard and challenged .I think if we can do that we would have a big impact on the minds of so many people who have been believers until this time because of sheer ignorance,passive ignorance.I believe that many people will have a hard time shaking the rust off their brains but the stronger the shaking the better the chances they will start thinking .For the same reason I think the approach of these latest books is the right one ,playing nice will not get us far.Let's punch the religious bag hard.

11. Comment #44454 by Jayday on May 24, 2007 at 8:43 pm

I am gratified to know that there are people buying Hitchens', Dawkins' and Harris' books. Before the catastrophy of the George Bush presidency and then 9/11 and the Iraq quagmire, I suspect most Americans wouldn't have paid much attention to these authors. Not because they didn't have anything worthwhile to say about religion, but because our world in American was predominantly a live and let live existence. Dawkins rightly characterized it by saying that most religious practice was pretty benign. I may not have been a theist, but if my neighbor was, it wasn't a big deal. However, when our government positioned itself to legislate "morality" and set a foreign policy based on their right wing Christian fundamentalist beliefs, then more people have taken notice! Of course these authors are "hot," and it is a great thing. They are saying what we've always wanted to say but were never motivated. As Dawkins says, we were "taught" not to discuss religion in company. He is absolutely right, there are high stakes, and we shouldn't be bullied into painting a face of false respect by people who are taking away our personal freedom and try to replace it with some supernatural garbage or who paint their idea of a moral world as some simplistic fairytale without nuance and depth. Take away the fear mongers who try to manipulate us and we see the emperor really is naked.

13. Comment #44457 by MelM on May 24, 2007 at 9:12 pm

Harsh rhetoric from religion is at fault? Nope. Blame these instead:

  • Dominionism (see Kingdom Coming)

  • Creationism in the schools

  • Wingnut "science" museums

  • Screwing up American history. (I'm reading Liars for Jesus now.)
  • Court stripping attempts

  • Breaking down the wall of separation

  • Trying to end abortion

  • Attacking Oregon's "Death With Dignity Act"

  • The "Bible Literacy" Trojan horses

  • Anti stem cell research

  • Giving away government money for Christian charity

  • Rediculous promotion of sexual abstinence

  • The promotion of senseless prattle
You bet we're angry! I have some respect for those believers of past centuries who were finding their way out of a religious nightmare but I'll have no tolerance for those believers of today who are trying to work their way back into one.

15. Comment #44463 by debaser71 on May 24, 2007 at 9:46 pm

The way I see it is that these articles talk about what's IMO an important topic, ATHEISM! Even though it's full of insults the very fact that atheism is being talked about at all is a good thing. That more people are open to talk about such things favors us. We have reality on our side.

Anyway most of these articles are just scrubs jumping on a badwagon and recycling the same set of negative adjectives (angry, militant, vehement, assault, etc) over and over. IMO they pretty much play into our hands by keeping the debate going.

16. Comment #44465 by briancoughlanworldcitizen on May 24, 2007 at 9:56 pm

 avatarTruth be told, lots of folks just haven't thought about it that hard, and are more comfortable in saying "yeah, there is some sort of god" to explain what they don't know rather than saying "I don't know the answer to that".

Other than a fairly hard core minority this is absolutely the case. Atheism, simply hasn't been given enough profile as a genuine "option".

Myself and my wife just spent an interesting week helping a fellow previous missionary complete her deconversion.

She still has tremendous fear of hell, inculcated at a very young age, but she is working through that.

Conversations online and off, are what are going to change the world. Getting religion on the agenda and subject to vigorous debate is all that is needed for the change to begin to take.

On youtube we are having a "Bash Islam" week at the moment, generating lots of controversy. Come and have a look!!

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