December 17, 2011

"Although we never became religious, by our late teens we had concluded that it was silly to be a militant atheist."

"Why go around proselytizing about what you don't believe in?"

Asks James Taranto on the occasion of the death of Christopher Hitchens.

28 comments:

The Crack Emcee said...

I couldn't agree more and, offline, it hardly ever comes up for me. (I was shown this video, offline, by a female friend who has no idea what my position is.) But, still, if Hitchens was going to write a book about it, then the tour was obligatory and,....

It's nice to discover Taranto's an atheist because I respect his column so much. And, of course, it forces me to say with laughter:

Taranto agrees with me - what say you now?

XXXOOOs

edutcher said...

I always thought people proclaiming their atheism as proof of their intelligence were trying to impress themselves as much as anyone else. Those who only need mention it in passing when it's relevant seem a lot more secure.

And, yes, there's a corollary with people proclaiming their faith (at least some of them).

David said...

True.

But why bring this up now?

KT said...

I think it's a misrepresentation of Hitchens' work to say he merely went around proselytizing what he did not believe in. Instead, he complained of the harm done by religion, and necessarily pointed out the danger of people and institutions driven by faith rather than facts. He pronounced that you don't have to be a "believer" to be a moral, decent person. Not the same thing as going around and telling theists they are stupid and god doesn't exist just for the sake of being right. Not that Hitch didn't love being right.

Oh, and Taranto's use of "we" drives me crazy.

Richard Dolan said...

Frankly, not Taranto's best (the book wasn't Hitch's either). Religious questions, beginning with the most fundamental one, cut to the core of our existence and provides a defining perspective on life and how to live it. That's true whether one embraces a religious faith or rejects traditional religion and seeks to find life's value elsewhere. For anyone whose life is devoted to thinking and writing, it's a natural topic to get all the juices flowing.

Since the religious question is all about how to live and why, Hitch's intense interest in the subject is thus hardly strange. Nor is Ann's, by the way, even though it's hard to say what her personal beliefs may be based on her writing. Far stranger is the fact that so may people can go through life almost as a bystander, as if life were something that just happens to you.

LilyBart said...

... he complained of the harm done by religion, and necessarily pointed out the danger of people and institutions driven by faith rather than facts.

This could easily be said of government, or a number of other human insitutions. Why single out religion?

John M Auston said...

I don't think folks fully appreciate the deep implications of Hitchens' line of logic and observation, (paraphrasing): ". . . but for good people to do terrible things, that usually takes religion".

Might serve to explain the militancy, no?

Paddy O said...

The whole "religion" label, I think, is misleading and unfortunate. Because we limit the concept of religion to the very traditional topics of the supernatural or belief in a higher being. That was useful, I think, throughout much of history, but it's not useful now. Precisely because there are so many other ways of patterning life and morality.

What happens is that those who pattern their life after a religion get regulated in ways those who pick other patterns don't. A nativity scene in public is seen as religious expression by atheists, but OWS is celebrated by many of the same people, in the same public spaces, as being acceptable. But both are expressions of a driving philosophy.

That's why there's this weird similarity between fundamentalist religions and militant atheism, but a similarity that can't quite be adequately categorized in light of our insistence that 'religion' is the only organizing philosophy that deserves special attention. We then give a pass to whatever other organizing philosophy people use.

That people don't believe in God is totally fine. Indeed, I respect a good atheist more than many nominal Christians, because atheists have usually thought a great deal about their position, enough to actually take a position. But by taking that position they don't get excused from all the terrors and evils that religion has brought. Any and every organizing philosophy has its tendency towards evil, and great evils have been done in the no-name of non-god.

That's where Hitchens failed, I think, that he attacked religion while not coming to terms with how much he was participating in equivalent rhetoric. But that's also where so many who attacked Hitchens failed. They tried to go against him on the topic of the existence of God. God's existence or non-existence was never really what caused the problem. Most religions are quick to say that humans are pretty much bad seeds without some kind of enlightenment. Hitchens's philosophy was no different, it just gets wrongly categorized as doing something different.

Paddy O said...

Suggesting that instead of talking about a wall of separation between religion and state, we instead talk about a separation between philosophy and state would change the tone of that conversation.

Rewriting it to "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of an organizing philosophy, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" probably gets the issue back to its more original goal. Religions take all sorts of divinity excluding and divinity including guises in our era and the discussions should be changed to reflect this.

Fernandinande said...

"... How Religion Poisons Everything."

Is Taranto claiming that Hitchens didn't believe religion exists?

pm317 said...

In our previous residence, we were living across from a parson's family. Once they invited us to some churchish gathering and wanting to be neighborly we went. We were introduced to the big congregation with much fanfare and we wondered why all the attention and why they were all so nice. Then one day his wife knocked on the door and asked me if I would join their Tuesday meetings to praise the Lord and I asked who is the Lord? She explained and I politely said no, I don't believe in religion or God but I am a good girl. She laughed and went away. Nice people. The other neighbor (local as opposed to us immigrants) would always complain how the Parson was getting fat on his parishioners dime.

edutcher said...

John M Auston said...

I don't think folks fully appreciate the deep implications of Hitchens' line of logic and observation, (paraphrasing): ". . . but for good people to do terrible things, that usually takes religion".

Might serve to explain the militancy, no?


One could just as easily substitute race, ideology, nationality, or any other differentiating characteristic, but ideology would seem to beat out religion by a country mile.

pm317 said...

While walking to class(this was some 20 years ago), I was stopped by a guy who asked me if I believed in Jesus. I thought being on university campus and all, he was actually interested in an intellectual discussion and so I set forth. But it turned out he was not interested in hearing what I had to say. He threw in the usual harsh line -- 'the rapist has his own religion' likening me to a rapist and walked away ever so politely saying thanks(!) while I stood there steaming to have got suckered into that conversation.

pm317 said...

Being an obedient little boy, we did.

That Taranto article is weird. Who is 'we' there?

The Crack Emcee said...

edutcher,

One could just as easily substitute race, ideology, nationality, or any other differentiating characteristic, but ideology would seem to beat out religion by a country mile.

I wish I could hang around, but I've got to go:

No, religion is unique. I can't bring back the dead, so my conservatism is set, but a religious person can change their thinking. I can't change my race, but a religious person is free to "believe" or not. And only in America can your nationality not be important - ask Nicolas Sarkozy.

Religion and "spirituality" are like smoke, seeping into the crevices of our existence. It's cold turkey or talking gibberish - no in between. I can still feel my horror at that realization, when my marriage came apart, and it's effects rattle me to this day.

What a sordid mindfuck it is,...

The Crack Emcee said...

Two things:

Steve Martin: Atheists Don't Have No Songs

And "God's Song (Why I Love Mankind)"

They just seemed appropriate.

Have a great day, y'all - believers and non-believers alike.

rhhardin said...

Religion ruins many a kid's Sunday.

gerry said...

Not the same thing as going around and telling theists they are stupid

Hitchens DID do that.

Writ Small said...

"That Taranto article is weird. Who is 'we' there?"

Best of the Web is one of the most consistently fine sources of political analysis out there. Someone only now discovering Taranto's use of "we" means he or she has been missing out. Taranto has been using that pronoun for at least ten years of my reading him.

I had similar reaction to Crack. Delight at finding another fellow athiest conservative who shares my dislike for proseletyzing athiests. Although the worst type is the anti-religious, activist athiest always trying to banish religion from the public square.

I'm the rare(?) pro-religious athiest. My experience is that the best people I've known have been deeply religious. I've seen it provide great strength to those going through tough times. Why a non-believer thinks there is a benefit in denigrating the beliefs of others has always been mystifying to me.

pm317 said...

Writ Small said...
-------------

I don't usually read anything much from the mainstream media, left or right especially for political analysis. But your suggestion is well noted.

I am not so much averse to proselytizing atheists (not seen many of them) as I am to the regular religious ones. Lately people have been knocking on our door, send us mail writing long letters and in the last month there was even a message on our answering machine that said something I am going to church this Sunday and see you there. I greatly resent all that intrusion into my privacy, invading my home and my phones.

That said, I also have a number of religious friends and couples one of whom goes to church every Sunday and the other an atheist and all that. Sometimes I admire the peace and strength the religious ones derive from their association to church and God but I would feel strange to give up control and responsibility for my choices to something euphoric entity. I feel fully capable of knowing what is good and bad for humanity in my limited bubble of consequence in this world and try to lead a good life without outside intervention.

David R. Graham said...

'"Why go around proselytizing about what you don't believe in?" "

Because you believe in your not believing and you believe that belief improves you and you want it to improve others to stabilize the improvement you experience from the belief.

Simple. Your ultimate concern is your self and that is your God. You are not an atheist. No one is who believes in anything, including atheism.

Atheism is a gorgeous tautology and theology is a gorgeous-er and far more relaxing one. Atheism is a lazy lack of self-reflection and-realization that sells well to gold-diggers.

David R. Graham said...

"Far stranger is the fact that so may people can go through life almost as a bystander, as if life were something that just happens to you."

A bystander is watching life just happen, not having it happen to them. How can something happen to someone who belongs to what is happening?

No?

David R. Graham said...

"Rewriting it to "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of an organizing philosophy, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" probably gets the issue back to its more original goal. Religions take all sorts of divinity excluding and divinity including guises in our era and the discussions should be changed to reflect this."

Very astute. Now, trying to think this through a little farther, does government have an organizing philosophy? Is Congress part of one such? Is genetics an organizing philosophy? Is custom? Is law?

I think the idea that needs updating is the establishing bit. As all are aware, that's not the same as a separation idea.

Where an organizing philosophy seeks to impose itself on one and all - such as taxing the populace to support the clergy, which is what establishment meant - there should be identified a non-Constitutional establishment.

It is widely observed today that various left-wing organizing philosophies - e.g., global warming, population elimination, carbon fuel elimination, full-life bureaucratic control - are pursued with zeal and persistence akin to that attributed to religious fanaticism.

Specifically, those left-wing organizing philosophies are being projected to control the mechanisms of government, thereby constituting an establishment upon the state and then by the state of a fanatical organizing philosophy, indeed an interlocking array of such philosophies.

An interesting thought. Fight Obamacare on grounds that it constitutes an unConstitutional establishment of a fanatical organizing philosophy. Bureaucrats, education administrators, media moguls, labor unions, politicians and other lawyers are the correlates of the 18th Century clergy this establishment aims to support and protect by taxing the populace.

Indeed, today's gaggle of left-wing "prelates" of an organizing philosophy is far weightier in numbers and reach than 18th Century clerics ever compounded.

One goes to the late Middle Ages of Europe, former Tibet or the Middle East since Mohammed to find a clerical power at all comparable to that of the international left-wing's current leadership.

So yeah, fight them for establishing a fanatical organizing philosophy in violation of the Constitution. No wonder they are allergic to the Constitution and say it does not enter their thinking. It cannot because it condemns their intentions and programs.

Left-wing intentions and programs should be identified as seeking an unConstitutional establishment of fanatical organizing philosophies (i.e., taxation of the populace to support the "clergy"). Then there should be built a wall of separation between left-wing (and also Mohammedan) organizing philosophies on one side and the state on the other. The wall should be built of law and custom enshrining the principles of fairness and personhood.

Job said...

Crack wrote, "No, religion is unique. I can't bring back the dead, so my conservatism is set,.."

What? I don't understand.

Crack wrote "...but a religious person can change their thinking.I can't change my race, but a religious person is free to "believe" or not. "

Um, no. One can't. One cannot will oneself to cease to believe, any more than one can simply cease to believe that the world is round.

I agree with edutcher: Ideology has religion beat by a country mile for instigating bad acts, at least for the last few hundred years -- and probably before then too.

Militant atheists are often secretly believers. They are militant because they fear being subject to an objective morality by which they will be judged.

In contrast, atheists who respect the religious are actually non-believers. Religion doesn't get them angry or fearful because they really don't believe.

As Hitch faded into the long night, he was asking for forgiveness and praying for darkness.

The Crack Emcee said...

David R. Graham,

You don't understand the first thing about atheism and sound like one of the bigger fools I've ever read on the subject. I'd be profoundly embarrassed, to run off at the mouth as you do, knowing so little.

Job,

Crack wrote, "No, religion is unique. I can't bring back the dead, so my conservatism is set,.."

What? I don't understand.

My politics are informed by death and the limits it imposes on life.

One cannot will oneself to cease to believe, any more than one can simply cease to believe that the world is round.

Not true. There are people who still think the world is flat. And people not only switch "beliefs" (as Tony Blair's sister did, going from Catholic to Muslim) but they go from belief to atheism and, occasionally, vice versa. These are choices. Luckily or not, my atheism is hard wired from birth - I never could believe - unlike other atheists who did but, later, walked it back.

I agree with edutcher: Ideology has religion beat by a country mile for instigating bad acts, at least for the last few hundred years -- and probably before then too.

"The last few hundred years" is a blip in the history of mankind, which has been "believing" weird things about the nature of existence - and killing over it - for far longer.

Militant atheists are often secretly believers. They are militant because they fear being subject to an objective morality by which they will be judged.

Such a lack of understanding, regarding atheism, is jaw-dropping. Atheists don't fear morality but the dangers inherent in solipsism.

Atheists who respect the religious are actually non-believers. Religion doesn't get them angry or fearful because they really don't believe.

More malarky. Religious people have a great propensity for doing evil because such evils are endorsed by religion. And believers act on their beliefs - that, alone, is enough to make any atheist angry or fearful. It's not religion, exactly, that is the problem but the religious.

As Hitch faded into the long night, he was asking for forgiveness and praying for darkness.

That is exactly my point - because of your religious zeal, you've just lied on a man using nothing but your cockeyed "beliefs." What good is anything that would cause you to do that?

hombre said...

Taranto agrees with me - what say you now?

I say you and Taranto don't have a vote on whether God exists.

The Crack Emcee said...

hombre,

I say you and Taranto don't have a vote on whether God exists.

Apparently, from the look of things, neither does God.

Give me a call when he shows himself:

I'll be the first to admit I'm wrong.

David R. Graham said...

"You don't understand the first thing about atheism and sound like one of the bigger fools I've ever read on the subject. I'd be profoundly embarrassed, to run off at the mouth as you do, knowing so little."

My goodness, Sir, you are aroused. I am impressed.

"Apparently, from the look of things, neither does God.

Give me a call when he shows himself:

I'll be the first to admit I'm wrong."

You're not wrong. You're right. God does not exist and He will not show Himself to you. I guarantee it.

No theologian has said that God exists. To say that God exists would be absurd because it would place a standard against God by which He could be measured, i.e., to exist or not. That would delimit God - an oxymoron. Such is not possible. God has no second.

God is not asymptotic. He cannot be measured by a standard external to Himself.

So yes, God does not exist. That is rock-solid ground/assumption of Christian, Hindu, Moslem and Zoroastrian theology and religion. Buddhism is non-theistic, at least as from Gautama, yet it is a religion (i.e., legitimate as religion).

Crack, if possible and if you are inclined, please ruminate upon the phenomenon that while you throw opprobrium at me, I do not throw opprobrium at you.