Sunday, June 17, 2007

Atheism: Is it the only truth?

So it seems society has settled on its new favorite reading material. For at least 6 weeks now, two books have shared top spots on the Globe and Mail’s bestsellers list. The books in question are God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Both of these are essentially pugilistic diatribes against the whole concept of religion (in the case of the former) and the idea of the existence of God (in the latter case). The notion that those who believe in God or practice religion are somehow delusional is prevalent in our society. So allow me to be the first to admit that if this is so, I am one super delusional nutjob.

My problem is not with these gentlemen espousing their ideas nor with consumers buying their books. My problem is with the wholesale rejection of the opposing view by these authors and those who share their opinions. My biggest problem is with their assertion that atheism is somehow the default worldview, that it is the only one that makes sense, and that any other view should not be entertained for fear that we will only encourage the development of intellectual retards.

What these authors and many other thinkers do not accept is that their worldview is as much a leap of faith as mine. The belief that there is no God and that there is no place for religion in the world is no less based on objectivity than the alternative. One of the main arguments made by atheists such as Msrs. Hitchens and Dawkins is that believers in God and proponents of religious life are taking the easy way out and hiding behind a belief that cannot be empirically tested. Of course, this is an absurd argument because no cosmological belief as broad as this can be either proven or falsified but that does not make it any less of a valid view. Atheists cannot possibly test their view either, but somehow belief in nothing is more psychologically responsible than belief in something. So I will not sit here and commit the same faults as these thinkers by purporting that my worldview is correct, but I will say that ones mind must be open to exploring all views.

And that brings me to some alternatives. A new book was recently published by Pope Benedict XVI, AKA Joseph Ratzinger, called Jesus of Nazareth. In it he seeks to explain both the historical Jesus and the spiritual one. It is said to be surprisingly measured for a man commonly thought to be an ultraconservative polemicist. Now, while I have not read any of the above books yet, I am a believer in reading books that both challenge my worldview and confirm it, and I recommend the same for all of you out there.

I plan to read all three of these books in due time. Of course, I will most likely agree with the Holy Father, and most likely disagree with Msrs. Hitchens and Dawkins, but I find it incredibly refreshing to read the views of those who do not share mine.

For example, I once read Critiques of God, a collection of essays by many of today’s top thinkers on why the idea of a God creates dissonance with reason. While I really questioned some of the thoughts put forward, it was a very intriguing book and mind opening to read. In full fairness of disclosure, I will admit that more of the books I read on ontological philosophy are in support of my view, but I do try to intersperse them with those challenging my views, and I recommend the same for you. The next book on my list after the above two is Atheism: The Case Against God. If everyone in the world could embrace intellectual discovery, we wouldn’t have so many ridiculous squabbles over ideas.

Allow me for a moment to deal with one favorite of atheists: war and death in the world is all due to religion. While this may seem so on the surface, is it not equally likely that it is not religion itself causing the “Holy Wars” around the world, but instead the intellectual rigidity of those following these “religions”, which, equally likely the cause of these wars, are often not the true religions they have been named but distortions of the original concepts used by those leading the fight to bring followers to their side. Is it not also possible that if people were to just open up to other worldviews that the whole problem wouldn’t exist, that if the atheist mantra that there is only one true ontology and all others are to be spoken out against, that the problem would go away? Maybe it is in fact a poor grasp of the true meaning of spirituality and religious teaching that leads people to recklessly take the name of God in vain in pursuit of their twisted ideologies. Maybe Rosie O’Donnell was a bit emotional about it, but the Bush administration’s war against Islam is very much a part of the distortion of Christian belief held true by Bush and his followers, and although not overtly so, somewhat terroristic in nature. It is an extension of Manifest Destiny still held by many in the upper echelons of American political society.

Let us take a moment to reflect on a potent diatribe against the “Christian” theology of the Bush administration. This I take from John Tirman’s excellent 100 Ways America is Screwing Up the World.

The following are distortions of Christian belief taken up by Bush’s soldiers:

1. “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!…It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Mr. Tirman goes on to point out that Mr. Bush and his family are exorbitantly wealthy and most of the policies put forward by Bush Jr and Sr favored the rich and punished the poor, quite the opposite of Christian teaching.

2. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

There is no escape clause for 9/11. Retaliatory and preemptive strikes are not the purview of Christ.

3. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the Earth”

Gandhi and his teaching of nonviolent resistance hit this one on the head, but Bush seems to have missed that sermon. “He who taketh up the sword shall perish by the sword. Think ye that evil can be overcome by evil or violence by violence? The way of peace requires courage and patience, but it will prevail.”

4. “Mortals go to war so that they can inherit dust. It is because their vision is distorted by the followers of the lie that they value that which is nothing. In destruction there is no victory but for darkness. The power of victory is not force but Love.” ‘Nuff said.

5. All the over-the-top public promotion of Christian beliefs, prayer breakfasts, etc.?

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into they closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.”

What a great piece.

Finally, to wrap it all up, I present to you a list of books I have read on the above topic for your perusal. Since the atheist books are quite high on the list right now, this may be welcome to believers in both views looking for some balance.

1. The Case For Faith, The Case for Christ, and The Case for a Creator, a series by Lee Strobel, a former atheist.

2. Seven Story Mountain, by Thomas Merton, a former atheist turned ascetic monk.

3. Science & Religion: From Conflict to Conversation, by John F. Haught

4. What Faith is Not, by Mitch Finley

5. Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science & the Biology of Belief, by Andrew Newberg, Eugene D’Aquili, and Vince Rause

This is a short list. I have numerous others on my Amazon wishlist that I have not read. If you would like more ideas, let me know.

I leave you with the following. While all worldviews differ in some way, I like to think that they are all intricately tied together by the big picture known as The Golden Rule: Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. See comparisons of this statement in numerous world religions at this site. And remember that everytime an atheist stands on his soapbox shouting that religion is the cause of all the world’s problems remember this: do not blame Christ or Allah or God, for their teachings are not the problem; blame their followers and then seek to teach them peace, love, and understanding.

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