Firstly we have Dinish D’Souza. He’s not at all happy with the likes of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris and responds to their descriptions of the harm caused by religion with counter-claims that actually atheism is behind history’s mass murders. This is also the man who just days after the Virgina Tech high school killings rather insensitively decided it would be a great opportunity to attack atheists for apparently not doing anything, which drew this sensitive response from an atheist professor at the college). In short he’s pretty rabid in his hatred for atheists.
Anyway he’s now laying into Pat Condell, who although quite witty and charming is pretty hardline in his attacks on religion – on his website he states: “Hi, I’m Pat Condell. I don’t respect your beliefs and I don’t care if you’re offended.”; The trouble is that Condell and D’Souza are almost a perfect match, confirming the very worst they see in each other’s beliefs. The video post of Condell that D’Souza includes on his site responds to the angry ‘burn in hell’ comments he has received from earlier videos and so the cycle continues.
D’Souza doesn’t seems to recognise there are extremes on both sides although doesn’t see himself as part of that (naturally):
If the televangelists are guilty of producing some simple-minded, self-righteous Christians, then the atheist authors are guilty of producing self-congratulatory buffoons like Condell.
What worries me about this mirroring is that cannot have a happy ending. As beautifully clear and well argued as the God Delusion is, it’s arguments against religion will largely have the effect, not of making atheists of people (well not many), but of bolstering existing atheists and firing up believers to come up with counter arguments to confirm their own poisition and the walls go up even higher. Alister McGrath is one example with the Dawkins Delusion and now D’Souza claims with the smugness he attributes to Condell that his forthcoming book
“will empower believers and challenge unbelievers. It meets skepticism and atheism on its own intellectual ground, which is the ground of reason and evidence. …Stanley Fish [says] “The great merit of this book is that it concedes nothing. Rather than engaging in the usual defensive ploys, D’Souza meets every anti-God argument head on and defeats it on its own terms. Infinitely more sophisticated than the rants produced by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, What’s So Great About Christianity leaves those atheist books in the dust.”…
Well good luck with that.
On the other hand
…the new atheism is an important, useful auditing of our religious ideas. We should read its arguments and, rather than defensively parry them, consider them with a critical mind. And where appropriate, we should check our religious zealotries with careful reflection, ethical consideration and, yes, quiet meditation before they lead to dangerous consequences.
But he also points out a number of weaknesses in the new atheists’ arguments as applied to religious moderates.
To begin with, all the leading atheist tracts assume that religion….is bad science, basically, which insists that untenable propositions be taken on faith — especially since they can’t be proved, and can often be disproved relatively easily. This may be the religion of most Christians and some Jews, but most of Judaism is, in the familiar formulation, more about deed than creed — more what you do than what you believe. Keep the Sabbath, act justly, pray, obey the dietary laws? You’ve got most of Jewish law covered right there, regardless of what you believe about God and history….
Second…the religion conjured by the atheists is altogether too rational….For most spiritual liberals, however, religion is what gets you in your guts: It’s the primal archetypes that speak to the heart, the embodied rituals, the symbols pregnant with thousands of years of history….most people…need a system that provides meaning, community, ethics and story; they thirst for symbol and myth.
Finally, there is the element of community. Yes, as Hitchens relentlessly points out, most people’s images of God are primitive. But this is the genius, not the failure, of religion. As Maimonides wrote more than 800 years ago, religion works because it speaks on multiple levels. Philosophers can find their truth in biblical text (albeit with some linguistic stretching), and people too busy feeding their families to study philosophy can find ethical guidance and communal myth.
So if religious people can be self critical can’t we humanists and atheists? Who do we want to see when we look in the mirror – D’Souza or Michaelson?