I noted some response to these books before, in Peter Steinfel's New York Times column on two of them (and this other NYT Op-Ed), and the dismay by more learned atheists that atheism was perhaps being seen as best represented by these rhetorical attacks that actually lacked much intellectual punch. Because I wasn't having my students actually read the atheist texts themselves, I didn't have my students focusing so much on what Novak reported as their content (whether or not he was accurate) but instead to pay attention to Novak's attempts at coaching a stronger atheist critique of Judaism and Christianity, and what a substantial critique and dialogue would look like. In particular, I had them discuss what he laid out as Christianity's primary challenges to atheist critique: that is, what – like the Creeds – represented Christianity's actual constructive response to today's intellectual challenge. Instead of the vision of Christianity presented in its Worst Possible Terms or Representatives, Novak offered a "strong" Jewish/Christian position of the sort that an atheist today could really profitably engage, rather than playing games with "straw men" that were created just to easily knock down....
|Lonely Atheists of the Global Village (3/7/2007)|
"The whole inner world of aware and self-questioning religious persons seems to be territory unexplored by our authors. All around them are millions who spend many moments each day (and hours each week) in communion with God. Yet of the silent and inward parts of these lives--and why these inner silences ring to those who share them so true, and seem more grounded in reality than anything else in life--our writers seem unaware. Surely, if our atheist friends were to reconsider their methods, and deepen their understanding of such terms as “experience” and “the empirical,” they might come closer to walking for a tentative while in the moccasins of so many of their more religious companions in life, who find theism more intellectually satisfying--less self-contradictory, less alienating from their own nature--than atheism."
Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris (Knopf, 112 pp., $16.95)
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel C. Dennett (Penguin, 464 pp., $16)
The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins (Houghton Mifflin, 416 pp., $27)
Time magazine, ever the vigilant trend spotter, has celebrated a recent wave of books by atheists--among them, Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, Breaking the Spell by Daniel C. Dennett, and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. These books have three purposes: to speed up the disappearance of Biblical faith, especially in America; to proselytize for rational atheism; and to boost morale among atheists, in part by calling attention to support groups for them. Their overriding purpose is the first one: in the words of Harris, “to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity.”
But all three books evince considerable disdain for Judaism, too. Dawkins calls it “a tribal cult of a single fiercely unpleasant God, morbidly obsessed with sexual restrictions, with the smell of charred flesh, with his own superiority over rival gods, and with the exclusiveness of his chosen desert tribe.” And the God of the Old Testament, Dawkins calls a “psychotic delinquent.”
And it is not as if they admire Islam; rather, they use Islam as a weapon for bashing Christianity and Judaism. Harris says to Christians, “Nonbelievers like myself stand beside you, dumbstruck by the Muslim hordes who chant death to whole nations of the living. But we stand dumbstruck by you as well--by your denial of tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God.” In truth, though, the main intention of all three authors is to praise the superiority of atheism, at least the rational atheism of professors such as themselves.
In fact, there is much in atheism to praise. ( Collapse )