Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What the New Atheists Don't See

reposted from:,1825,n,n
Chris Street comments are in bright green; highlights in blockquotes (yellow).

What the New Atheists Don't See

by Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal

Thanks to Florian Widder for the link.

Reposted from:

To regret religion is to regret Western civilization.

The British parliament's first avowedly atheist member, Charles Bradlaugh, would stride into public meetings in the 1880s, take out his pocket watch, and challenge God to strike him dead in 60 seconds. God bided his time, but got Bradlaugh in the end. A slightly later atheist, Bertrand Russell, was once asked what he would do if it proved that he was mistaken and if he met his maker in the hereafter. He would demand to know, Russell replied with all the high-pitched fervor of his pedantry, why God had not made the evidence of his existence plainer and more irrefutable. And Jean-Paul Sartre* came up with a memorable line: "God doesn't exist—the bastard!"

Sartre's wonderful outburst of disappointed rage suggests that it is not as easy as one might suppose to rid oneself of the notion of God. (Perhaps this is the time to declare that I am not myself a believer.) At the very least, Sartre's line implies that God's existence would solve some kind of problem—actually, a profound one: the transcendent purpose of human existence. Few of us, especially as we grow older, are entirely comfortable with the idea that life is full of sound and fury but signi-fies nothing. However much philosophers tell us that it is illogical to fear death, and that at worst it is only the process of dying that we should fear, people still fear death as much as ever. In like fashion, however many times philosophers say that it is up to us ourselves, and to no one else, to find the meaning of life, we continue to long for a transcendent purpose immanent in existence itself, independent of our own wills. To tell us that we should not feel this longing is a bit like telling someone in the first flush of love that the object of his affections is not worthy of them. The heart hath its reasons that reason knows not of.

Click here to continue:

Sam Harris comments:,1834,n,n

Response to Theodore Dalrymple

by Sam Harris

Reposted from:

Sam Harris responds to the article "What the new atheists don't see" by Theodore Dalrymple:

First, let me confess that I have long enjoyed Theodore Dalrymple's writing. This only became an inconvenience yesterday, in fact, when I learned that Dalrymple had subjected my first book, The End of Faith, to especially malicious treatment in the pages of this magazine. I hope readers of City Journal will believe me when I say that it's not every day I discover a writer whom I admire vilifying me in print. But there was Dalrymple, denouncing me for my "sloppiness and lack of intellectual scruple," for my "assumption of certainty where there is none," and for my "adolescent shrillness and intolerance." As if these weren't deficiencies enough, Dalrymple went on to declare me both a "sinister" person and the author of "quite possibly the most disgraceful" sentences ever written by "a man posing as a rationalist." Where, I wonder, will Dalrymple be when I need my next blurb?

Beyond simply hating my book, Dalrymple seems to imagine that he has exposed me for what I am: not merely a fraud, and a lazy thinker, but a genocidal maniac. On Dalrymple's reading, everyone who liked The End of Faith—my editor at Norton, the critics who favorably reviewed it, the deluded souls at the PEN America Foundation who awarded it their prize for nonfiction in 2005—must have simply skipped the chapter where I recommend that we murder millions of innocent people for thought crimes. Granted, the few sentences that Dalrymple lifted from my book with forensic care, like bloody fingerprints, seem alarming when viewed out of context. Indeed, I appreciated this liability when I wrote them. I am very happy to report, however, that no devout Christian, Muslim, or Jew—many of whom detested The End of Faith—has had the gall to excerpt these sentences and intentionally mislead readers the way Dalrymple has. His summary of my views is among the least honest I have come across, and his criticism of the "new atheist" bestsellers the least enlightening. This is more of an accomplishment, in fact, than it may appear. The race to the bottom has been fast and furious.

Needless to say, Dalrymple is not the first critic to respond to Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, and me as though we were a single person with four heads. He is not the first to claim, somewhat paradoxically, that our criticism of religion goes much too far without, he is sorry to report, going so far as to say anything new. He is not the first professed "atheist" to suggest that, while he can get along just fine without an imaginary friend, most human beings will always need to delude themselves about God—nor is he the first to fail to see just how condescending and unimaginative one must be to believe such a thing about the rest of humanity. Dalymple is, however, the first in one respect: he is the first writer to claim that he could have produced every argument found in the "new atheist" books ("with the possible exception of Dennett's") by the tender age of 14. I do not doubt this for a moment—though this leaves me wondering how many blows to the head Dalrymple has suffered in the intervening years.

In lieu of answering our arguments against faith—in lieu, even, of noticing them—Dalrymple simply misses the point of our books outright. He misses it petulantly at first, but his obliviousness to matters of substance soon swells to something like exultation. He then delivers what he clearly imagines to be the killing blow, comparing our misbegotten work to a few religious meditations he deems especially profound. Perhaps it was meant as a further insult to us that he sought to convey the invidious gulf between the "new atheists" and certain "Anglican divines of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries" by furnishing the readers of this journal with some of the most banal religious meanderings ever recorded. But I fear there is not this much method in Dalrymple's madness. The man appears simply lost. He sees neither what is worst about religion, nor what is best, with anything like clarity. It's a pity we don't have the 14-year-old Dalrymple to reckon with. Then we all might have learned something.

No comments:

Post a Comment