By Ben Cohen: I’m beginning to feel that the ongoing war between atheists and religion is one big scheme to create controversy, sell books and get on television. While there is an important debate to be had, the constant screeching is becoming boring and I find myself switching off when anyone kicks off a ‘Religion vs Science’ debate.
Bashing the religious leaders who spend their time trying to put religion into politics and destroy science in public education is viewed as sport by prominent atheists, and while it is important to curb the effects of religious fundamentalism, I don’t believe the tactics used to do so are fair, or even effective.
I’ve written a fair amount about the militant atheist, Christopher Hitchens, who made millions selling anti religious books and lecturing on the dangers of ‘Islamofacism’. I believe that Hitchens was one of the greatest intellectual frauds in modern history – a man more concerned with being in the limelight than maintaining any semblance of intellectual honesty. Hitchens was once a serious journalist with a commitment to confronting power, but his metamorphosis into a raging war hawk and shill for the Bush Administration showed a serious flaw in his psyche and moral character. Hitchens got rich pimping the war when it was popular, and he got rich slamming religion when the war (and his position) became unpopular.
Hitchens made some valid points against religion and some of the disastrous effects it has had on society, science and culture. But his single mindedness and extreme intolerance became tiring and predictable. Hitchens wanted everyone to believe that religion was the greatest threat to mankind, and he would be the man to enlighten us. ‘God is Not Great’ became a best seller and the war against religion became Hitchens great cause.
Other prominent atheists like Sam Harris have latched on to a similar trick, selling book after book describing the evils of religion and the particular nastiness of Islam. Harris has a captive audience in the United States, and he’s doing rather well out of it. I’m not suggesting Harris doesn’t believe what he’s saying, but to literally build a career out of slamming religion smacks of something a little disingenuous.
The problem is that militant atheists focus on religious fundamentalism – an easy target because fundamentalist usually aren’t particularly bright. Atheists like Hitchens and Harris hypothesize that religion is a poison and turns people into idiots. The truth is that people are idiots and use religion to justify their stupidity. If it wasn’t religion, it would be another system of belief – fascism, socialism, capitalism, yoga, spiritualism etc etc.
Most of the religious people I know have a very complex understanding of their faith, and do not take it literally. They are intelligent, spiritual people with interesting insights and a belief in something bigger than themselves. I’m a firm agnostic – I know that I don’t know, and I’m completely fine with that. I think that anyone who takes a religious text completely literally needs their head examined, but I won’t spend time debating them. It’s not interesting, and I don’t get off on feeling intellectually superior to them. I get the feeling people like Hitchens and Harris did – or do get off on making people look stupid, and that’s why I have a hard time listening to them.
Attacking religious fundamentalists certainly won’t stop religious fundamentalism. It will only anger them and reinforce their belief that non-believers are evil.
And while militant atheist may not be evil, they are most definitely making things worse.