Not content with reviewing the most important of the post-911 string of best-selling books written by atheists, Anthony Gottlieb [for the love of God!], has also provided historical perspectives, statistical comparisons, and poll data....I summarize:
Since the World Trade Center was attacked by Islamicists on September 11, 2001, Religion has definitively fallen. Not a single saint or revivalist has arisen, from a single cognizable "Religion", with a single publication. The date is significant, however, for creating a publication outbreak for militant atheists throughout the world which had previously been peculiarly silent -- tolerant to the point of complete deference.
In 2004, THE END OF FAITH, by Sam Harris, was on the Times paperback best-seller list for 33 weeks. Then came BREAKING THE SPELL, by the evolutionist Daniel Dennett, and THE GOD DELUSION, by Richard Dawkins, a biologist and Britain's preeminent science writer. In 2006, Harris again entered the virtually un-opposed list, with his LETTER TO A CHRISTIAN NATION. And this year, the nonpareil columnist for Vanity Fair and Slate, Christopher Hitchens has published GOD IS NOT GREAT. Gottlieb does not expressly mention this, but there is NO OPPOSITION to the "points" submitted by this triumvirate who have disposed of the virtual reality in which Religion flourishes. Of course, the biology and the economics remain intact.
And the statistics are bizarre. A significant survey in pre-911 2001 found that more than half of the Christians belief "that Jesus sinned" -- a rejection of a central dogma of their own churches. Religious polling is now established as completely untrustworthy or verifiable. Sociologists estimate that only half the Americans who report "regular church attendance" actually do so, and belief in God is almost certain to be a small minority the world over. Curiously, even non-Christians in America responded to a Newsweek poll, telling them that "they too, expected Jesus to return", possibly within the next 50 years. In a Gallup Poll, 83% of Americans believe the Bible is the Word of God, but virtually none of them have a clue what the Bible says. Most respondents do not know who preached the Sermon on the Mount, and almost none can state what point Jesus was trying to make in his last public appearance.
Gottlieb however, is able to "balance" this one-sided onslaught with history and biology -- he himself is writing a book on "nothingness". While the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa maintained apartheit, its priests also protected protestors. While Pope Pius XII appeased the Nazis, many clerics (among the Protestants as well) were almost alone in their condemnation of the thuggery which was permitted by the Intelligentsia, the Universities, the Army, the Courts, and the Political Parties. The Communists seemed just as interested in thuggery as the Nazis. In Latin America and Brazil, the "liberation theology" of the Church, has been important in safeguarding qualities which decidedly would have been lost at the hands of "atheist" conquerors and thugs. While not mentioned by Gottlief, the great work of Las Casas, Sor Juana Inez, and Armentin under the Cross of Christ in previous centuries has been the only formidable obstacle to the Sword of Tyranny. Gottlieb points out that "The idea that people would have been nicer to one another if they had never got religion...is a strange position...For if man is wicked enough to have invented religion...[to suppress others] he is surely wicked enough to have found alternative ways of making mischief." [79b]
Gottlieb points out, with no little irony, that Christians started out as the "atheists" on the scene in the early days of the Christian era. The first surviving anti-Christian polemic consisted largely as an attack on their failure to worship the accepted Gods -- referencing Celsus, ON THE TRUE DOCTRINE, 178 A.D.
Celsus proclaimed the contradictions of a "personal God" who is in fact indifferent to the triumph of wickedness over good. He did not even send his Son to help until long after many terrible things had been happening to really good people -- "Did He not care before?" This student of Plato noted that Socrates had already expressed most of the wisdom supposedly drawn from "biblical" sources, long before Christ. And continuously, ever since Celsus, Christian and Islamic mobs have sought out and destroyed tons of wonderful Pagan and secular texts.
Gottlieb reviews the work of Voltaire, one of the "fiercest critics of superstition" who was in fact a man of deep "religious feeling". The satirical tale, CANDIDE, is an attack on the idea that all is for the best in a world watched over by a concerned God -- the work was inspired by the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon which killed some 30,000 "believers" while worshipping in crumbling cathedrals. However, Voltaire was awed by the ordered beauty of the universe which he thought pointed to a supreme designer, as a watch implies a watch-maker.
Gottlieb sums up not only the systematic ideas, but also the careful presentation style, of David Hume. In the 1779 DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION Hume prized apart the analogy between the natural universe and a designed artifact. He argues that if it is necessary to ask Who made the world, it is also necessary to ask Who made the maker. But while undermining the concept of a God, and of zealotry in general, Hume avoided inflammatory statements, never replacing dogma with intolerance.
Why does Religion persist, when the arguments against Belief have been so widely published for so long a time? Hitchens says it is born of Fear. Harris holds that there is a genuine biology in play, although the creeds are meaningless. Dawkins devotes a chapter, and Dennet most of his book, to a functionalist account of Religion. However frayed, the propensity to Belief is "hard-wired".
Of course, if Belief is hard-wired, what about the large number of Non-Believers? Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist at Pitzer College in Claremont, reviewed studies of some 50 countries with varying social pressure to believe or not believe, and puts the figure of Non-Believers at more than 500 million. While Non-Belief in a God may constitute the 4rth largest "persuasion" in the world today, it is also necessary to understand that we still may all be "believers". Looking at this landscape historically, and personally, from country to culture, and from ignorant to educated, the following facts remain clear:
(1) God does not exist.
(2) Everyone believes.
Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of suffering fools with "the intolerant zeal" which offended Hume and Gibbon 300 years ago among the Believers or their detractors known as the Philosophes. Now, the dialogue is conducted with bombs. The Improvised Explosive Devices invariably exact "collateral damage" including the loss of life and limb. Many suffer who were otherwise not interested in the conversation. The zeal which offended Hume is armed, and is not content with killing opponents. We are facing a period in which "ludicrous mammals" [Hitchens] prefer to destroy everything rather than build anything. It is not just that the "argument" is over, or that it will no longer take place. People will always argue. This is the subtle part of that "hard-wired" Belief.
The difference today is that the argument will take place in bunkers instead of gardens. Al Quada is not interested in Virgins. The Taliban is not interested in wine, women, and song -- all major constituent elements of a good conversation. The Shia and Sunni warriors are blowing up each other's communities, starting with the some of the most beautiful buildings in the world.
Of course, the Arabs are under pressure. It is demographic. It is a terrible pressure, to be faced with teenagers everywhere, and more coming. In the past, Rome endured it, the Vikings had it, the Huns went through it, and those tragic people trapped on Isla Pascua almost died from it.
Ultimately, the Arabs will reclaim the bedrock of their civilization, which is, of course, the bedrock of ALL civilized people: Wine, Women and Song! As late as 100 years after Mohammed PBUH, the Arabs were still designing the most beautiful stone, ceramics, mozaics, and fountains in the world. We know archeologically, from the evidence of the ceramics, that the Arabs made wine. We know ideologically, from the text, that neither the Bible, nor the Quran, nor any Hindu Gita, teaches anything about race hatred or bombs.
We find only evidence of the people trying to raise their families and educating their children to have a better life, here, now. Civilization has antedotes to chaos, fear, and ignorance.
- Did Socrates say "Know Thyself", or was he misunderstood, as all are. Show Thyself is all we can do. The knowing is unknowable. I am filled with joy. It can't be helped.
Became a Farmer, Builder, Musician, Tank Commander, Librarian, Lawyer and Minister. I have failed at many things. And now retired. Filled, just filled, with Joy.