Yesterday's issue of the Toronto Star had an article on The fundamentalist atheists.
I'm getting real tired of hearing this phrase but I haven't completely given up trying to understand what people mean when they use it. In this case, the article is by Stuart Laidlaw, who is billed as the "faith and ethics" reporter. Laidlaw is commenting on a recent talk by Chris Hedges. Hedges seems to be one of those "sophisticated" Christians who have all the answers.1 Naturally, he denigrates the "new atheists" like Richard Dawkins because they just don't understand serious Christianity.
Serious Christians seem to be very concerned about evil and sin.
Hedges, in Toronto recently to promote his book, attacks both fundamentalists and the new breed of atheists as not only intolerant, but wrong about both the Jesus story and the nature of sin.Sin, as I understand it, is when you violate a moral rule of some kind. It usually means you are disobeying the wishes of supernatural beings. It's not a word used by atheists.
Sin, he says, is a personal thing that will always be with us. Humans will never outgrow it through evolution, as the atheist authors contend, nor can anyone (Jesus included) relieve us of it, as fundamentalist Christians believe, Hedges says.
The best we can do, he says, is try to mitigate evil by living a good life, and having democratic institutions in place to ensure that we can get rid of bad leaders from time to time.
Evil is something I can understand. People do bad things. Religious people do bad things and atheists do bad things. No atheist that I know would ever claim that humans will evolve to the point where they don't do bad things. What a ridiculous idea. What in the world is Hedges thinking?
For fundamentalists, evil and sin are an external force – often represented by Satan – to be vanquished by giving yourself over to Jesus. For the new atheists, evil and sin are the fault of religion, and can be defeated by getting rid of all religion and giving yourself over to scientific, reasoned thought.Just because religions can be evil does not mean that all evil is due to religion. No atheist believes this, as far as I know.
For Hedges, it's the same argument: People are basically good, but external forces make us do bad things. Get rid of those forces, and people will be good.
No more effort is needed to achieve utopia, he says.
I believe that people are basically good but they still do bad things and they don't need external forces to do them. People are quite capable of being evil all by themselves. What in the world motivates people like Hedges to make up false stories about athiests? It makes him look very silly.
The question of evil and sin seems to be so intertwined with the existence of God that religious people (Christians?) seem to have difficulty untangling them. They seem to think that atheists are as obsessed about evil and sin as they are when, in fact, most of us don't give it much thought. Perhaps that's because we don't have to deal with the paradox of a good God who allows evil and sin?
Hedges draws a distinction between the new breed of atheists and such past non-believers as Albert Camus or scientists of the Enlightenment, whose skepticism he says helped drive human knowledge and understanding.The "new atheists" claim there are no supernatural beings because there's no evidence of such beings. This has nothing to do with evil and sin. When are these sophisticated Christians going to address the real question instead of going off on weird tangents? If they have a good argument for the existence of god then let's hear it. Otherwise, their "sophistication" looks more like "obfuscation" to me. (Or like The Emperor's New Clothes and the Courtier's Reply.)
But Hedges has few such hopes for the new atheists. Where atheists of the past used their disbelief as a stepping off point to find something else to believe in, the new atheists claim to have already found it in what he calls a "cult of science."
Anything that can't be proved scientifically is simply discounted, Hedges says, warning that such a narrow approach to study thwarts the pursuit of knowledge by denying a voice to those who disagree.
It's time to stop whining and face up to the real question. Is there a god? Questions about evil and sin are irrelevant until that question is settled.
1. In spite of his confusion about religion, he seems to be a pretty good guy. He was right about Iraq, for example.