Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Meta-Atheism - A New Tool for Unbelievers?

Christopher Hitchens has an op-ed piece posted on the Council for Secular Humanism website that caught my attention. Most of it is Hitchens slamming Mother Teresa in his usual biting and brilliant prose. But there is one bit, I think, that brings up a subject that should really be explored in more depth by the freethinking community. With regard to the priests who molested children, Hitchens says,

Their foul crime is not one of hypocrisy. No priest who sincerely believed even for ten seconds in divine judgment could conceivably endanger his immortal soul in this way, and those in the hierarchy who helped protect such men from punishment in this world are equally and obviously guilty of a hardened and obscene cynicism.

Upon reading this statement, I was immediately reminded of an article written by the ever insightful UMD Philosophy Professor Georges Rey on what he calls Meta-Atheism. You can find the full article here and a nice summary here. The basic idea, though, is that many of those who profess religious belief do not actually believe, and that their unbelief is demonstrated in their actions. If one truly believes that upon death a true Christian rises to heaven to rest in the arms of god, then funerals shouldn't be so somber, and Christians should not fear death, but rather welcome it. But this is not the case. And it seems to me that if this is right, freethinkers should use it to their advantage.

If Rey's thesis (and that expressed by Hitchens) is true, this may serve as an inroad for those who wish to see the light of reason illuminate the darkness that faith has brought to the minds of so many. It would be one more argument to use against the religious believer, one more contradiction to force the theist to face. We should continue to point out the evils that religious has wraught, and the irrationality inherent in belief systems based on faith, rather than evidence, but we should include in our arsenal the reminder that with regard to much of what the religious claim to believe, it is not just that they fail to practice what they preach, but they fail to behave as though their beliefs were true.

In addition, making it clear to people that they do not behave as though they really believe might make it a bit easier for them to accept unbelief. They are, if Rey and Hitchens are right, halfway there already.


the heretic said...

I would not be here to defend Christianity, it deserves no defenst, not because it cannot be empirically proven, which it can't, but because as a theology it contains many internal contradictions as non Christian believers are quick to point out.
What I find interesting about Hitchens, and Dawkins, and the phenomenon of what is being called "the New Atheism", is that their attacks are not on God per se, but on people who profess to believe in God, such as Mother Theresa for example. Of course, when Christopher Hitchens hops off his bloody English barstool and goes to live in the ghetto to help the poor there, I might give him a little more credibility.
For an atheist to attack God would be an exercise in stupidity, for if God does not exist, then it is pretty much like punching at the air, isn't it? I remember when I adopted atheism at the age of 16, having decided that the old man in the sky was not going to perform as promised, and I remained atheist until I was 21. In those five years I never spoke about God, read about God, wrote about God, or so much as thought about God. I was in line with pretty much all the atheists I knew. A prayer at a ball game or a high school function was no more than a poem, and meant no more than were it the singing of Howdy Doody Time.
But the "new atheist" seems obsessed with God. It seems to be all he can think about, write about, rail about. To my mind this is quite a bit of power for a being that has no existence.
Dawkins has written brilliantly, but all his writings and rantings, along with Hitchens' rah rahs here here's fail to prove his thesis: there is no God.He may prove that God does not have to exist, although I feel that he falls short of that, but in no way does he prove that a God, however one wishes to picture this being or consciousness, does not exist unequivocally and certainly. And he never will prove this.
So why all the noise with these new atheists. They are certainly no more discriminated against than atheist of the time I was atheist.Their numbers are not any larger either.
But there is in the new atheist the elite and arrogant belief that the four per cent of the world who claim to be atheists are indisputably right, and the other 96 per cent are unequivocally wrong.
The so called "New Atheist" such as Hitchens and Dawkins, put me in mind of the Christian fundamentalist, so obsessed are they with proving that they are correct in their assertion of atheism. And like the Christian Fundamentalist, it would seem to me that this obsession springs from one place, the little nagging inkling, tiny as it ever might be, that they could be wrong. So like the Christian Fundamentalist, the "New Atheist" is forever, constantly, and obsessively trying to win people over to his point of view in a never ending attempt to justify his position.And since the New Atheist cannot attack God, he can only go after the closest thing, the believer.This is the thrust of Hitchens' work, and of Dawkins work. Every treatise of theirs I have read dissolves not into proving that God does not exist, but into proving that believers, particularly Christians, are bad people.
An atheist who is certain of his position should have no more need to justify it that say, I, would have to prove that there is no Santa Clause, no Easter Bunny, no fairies. If people wish to believe this, as an atheist, what care I. But the new atheist cannot stand the idea that there are people who believe in God. Their "proofs" quickly dissolve into personal attacks, elitist statements about the virtues (?) of atheism, and how everyone else in the world, except for them, is deluded.
If an atheist truly does not believe in God, then the concept should never even escape his tongue, grace his pen, or even cross his mind. When the atheist feel it necessary to spend a lifetime, as Dawkins brags about doing, arguing against God, he concedes in the very act of the arguing, that God may exist after all.
Back to Hitchens. Mother Theresa was not perfect,she did many things that were wrong. But we are reminded that she left what could have been a life of wealth and luxury to go work among the people that no one else, including their fellow Hindus, would even cast a glance upon. Her methods may have strayed. By her own admission, she came to a dark night of the soul when she believed "God was not there." (You would think Hitchens would say 'alas, one of us'.) But despite her imperfections and the wrong things she may have done, she certainly leaves a more productive legacy than does Hitchens, who has chosen to spend his life judging the world from the barstool where he has parked himself to ply his mind, or what may be left of it, with alcohol. His book "God is not Great" is not only a weak argument against the existence of God, again, all he does is attack believers, it is also a grammatical disaster.We I an atheist, I would certainly be seeking more apt of a champion.

the heretic said...

Sorry about all the typos in my post.I was quite rushed.

the heretic said...

Hitchens and I can agree on this: Jesus is reported to have said "you judge a tree by its fruit." Given that, Christianity certainly seems a very bad tree that has produced mostly very bad fruit.

bruno54 said...

Christopher Hitchens, as it turns out, was actually invited by the Vatican to be the "Devil's Advocate", a centruies honored tradition in which one is chosen to aruge the case against canonization to sainthood, in opposition to Mother Theresa. He accepted and went and made his arguments. Obviously he failed.