An Atheist Who Gets It

New AtheistsIn the last 10 years the world has had to endure the plague of the “New Atheists.” While not as deadly as those Moses helped visit upon the Egyptians, they are still excruciatingly annoying. Their arguments, such as they are, reveal a type of trite fundamentalism that continually begs the question, over and over and over. But not all atheists are New; one “Old” atheist is British philosopher John Gray, who recently penned a piece for The Guardian titled, “What Scares the New Atheists.”

What separates the Old from the New are the implications that arise from the assertion that reality is purely a material phenomenon. Nether have a logical basis for moral values, but the former admit that to one degree or another, while the latter don’t see any reason to have to justify a basis for such values; they simply assert they exist. The New Atheists also reject the notion that anything good can come from religious faith, while the latter admit that obviously history shows it can, including that liberal values (in the sense of human freedom and dignity) is very much a product of the Christian faith.

The New Atheists believe in a certain kind of Hegelian historical determinism; through fits and starts history is inexorably moving in a certain direction, and not surprisingly it is one where religion is slowly vanishing and a bright new world of liberalism reigns. Strangely enough they claim that this is all undergirded by scientific values, whatever those are. Gray points out several significant problems with this reading of history. One is that it is obviously not true! The human race is not getting less but rather more religious. The other glaring problem is that atheists of a hundred years ago were using so called scientific values to promote eugenics and racism. So which values does science really support? Of course science doesn’t give us any values one way or the other, but the new atheists aren’t terribly clear headed thinkers, as Gray points out:

It has often been observed that Christianity follows changing moral fashions, all the while believing that it stands apart from the world. The same might be said, with more justice, of the prevalent version of atheism. If an earlier generation of unbelievers shared the racial prejudices of their time and elevated them to the status of scientific truths, evangelical atheists do the same with the liberal values to which western societies subscribe today – while looking with contempt upon “backward” cultures that have not abandoned religion. The racial theories promoted by atheists in the past have been consigned to the memory hole – and today’s most influential atheists would no more endorse racist biology than they would be seen following the guidance of an astrologer. But they have not renounced the conviction that human values must be based in science; now it is liberal values which receive that accolade. There are disputes, sometimes bitter, over how to define and interpret those values, but their supremacy is hardly ever questioned. For 21st century atheist missionaries, being liberal and scientific in outlook are one and the same.

He further points out the inconvenient fact that many despotic regimes such as the former Soviet Union claimed that their atheist ideology was undergirded by science.

What scares these New Atheists is what Gray calls “liberal moral panic.” History is just not cooperating! The “grand march of secular reason,” it seems, has gotten a bit bogged down; religion just won’t go away, and in fact is growing worldwide. But regardless of the obviously false narrative these evangelical atheists push, more importantly they refuse to admit that their cherished liberal values have their origins in monotheism. This is one reason you won’t hear these atheists ever talk about Friedrich Nietzsche. Gray tells us why:

The reason Nietzsche has been excluded from the mainstream of contemporary atheist thinking is that he exposed the problem atheism has with morality. It’s not that atheists can’t be moral – the subject of so many mawkish debates. The question is which morality an atheist should serve.

The problem with atheism and morality, as Gray admits and the vast majority of atheists, evangelical or not, do not, is that the moral values that have led to the freedom and dignity of the human person simply would not exist without Judaism and Christianity. In fact, if you bring this up to such an atheist, they will scoff at you. They take liberal values for granted, and offer no logical justification for how a purely material universe could ever lead to, for instance, the golden rule. They will argue religion isn’t necessary for moral values because utilitarian or pragmatic reasons are enough to justify such values, all the while sneaking in presuppositions from Judaism and Christianity.

Gray doesn’t use this term, but like Nietzsche he believes whatever values human beings embrace come from the will to power, and thus you get in his term, “Perpetually warring values.” Illogically but refreshingly, Gray says this does not entail a fall into postmodernist relativism.  He thinks there is such a thing as a definite human nature, and thus we should be able to eke out a “minimum standard of civilized life.” A sentiment far from the faith of the New Atheists which is founded on:

the quintessential illusion of the ruling liberalism: the belief that all human beings are born freedom-loving and peaceful and become anything else only as a result of oppressive conditioning.

In fact, in human history, “It is peaceful coexistence and the practice of toleration that are exceptional.” What truly unsettles these atheists is the thought that much or most of the human race wants nothing to do with their liberalism. Ironically it is Christianity which they so much malign that invented the distinction between God and government that eventually led to the modern secular state.

Unlike the New Atheists, Gray’s view of life is fundamentally conservative because he believes in the “intractable human animal.” Unlike revolutionaries of every sort, religious or not, by simple observation of the “human animal” throughout history, he realizes human nature cannot fundamentally be changed, only managed; a view much more in line with America’s founders than the despots and do-gooders that have ruled much of the modern world, and continue to do so.




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  • EqualTime

    I do not care for the venomous tone of much of the New Athiest dogma, but keep in mind that, accepting that The mythological, Biblical God doesn’t exist, the Judeo/Christian moral code applauded by the author must have been developed by enlightened men and women of their times, even if it were in the name of, or inspired by, that God which does not exist.

  • ET (phone home!), your assertion that God doesn’t exist is an odd one. How do you know this? I always wonder about people who think all of reality is one big, huge, incredibly, unfathomably, complex cosmic accident.

    Be that as it may, I find the evidence not only for a God, theism, to be overwhelming and compelling, I find the evidence for the veracity of the Christian faith, for me, beyond the ability to doubt it. There is no other historical event in the ancient world as securely attested to as the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Even critical scholars like the indefatigable Bart Ehrman agree that the fact that the tomb was empty is beyond question. They just have to, lamely as it turns out, explain it away.

    Since Jesus came back from the dead, claimed to be God in human flesh, said he was the way, the truth and the life, you’ll excuse me if I believe the testimony of his followers over you.


  • rayster

    Judeo-Christian values grew from some close variation of the Golden Rule cherished by the ancients centuries before Christ.
    It may be another millennium before the natural evolutionary psychological and genetic origins of religion fade away.
    The great Enlightenment and the Scientific Method popped the bubble of Judaism and Christianity but centuries of intense emotional attachment to rituals and traditions inculcated in gullible children may allow religion to persist for some time.
    Uncertainty, coercion and economic struggles of the poor, the uneducated and the unfree in the developing world may mean religion may actually grow.
    The Enlightenment never happened to parts of the Middle East and Islam. Unfortunately we see the tragic results of political usurpation and modern wars of religion.

    • Rayster, this is a simplistic assessment of history based on unprovable assumptions (e.g. materialism) and naive faith in “natural evolutionary” processes that are simply given without the least basis in logic or fact, and given willy nilly godlike powers of purpose and teleology. You argue for nothing, assume everything and assert what you will. I think this is called begging the question, and alas, not very persuasive. But hey, thanks for stopping by!

      • rayster

        Where was God when Amtrak 188 crashed and bodies were shredded and maimed? Did you pray to him that night? What did he say? Tell us.
        God’s plan, I know. He was just testing them. Original sin.
        You’ll have more delusional circuitous explanations I’m sure.
        ALL in your head.
        Even the pope approves of evolution now that the Church is cornered, saying, “Oh, the Bible was just meant as allegorical, etc.” Excuses.
        Stop looking upwards. Look forward!
        You’ll find, if you DO the research, that atheists are BETTER at morality, equality, obeying the law, inclusiveness, fairness, etc., than religious types.
        Better. A better world, a humanistic secular one.
        Religion, though still useful, is today’s great divider.

        • Rayster! Great to “see” you again. So you go from begging the question to an appeal to emotion. Again, my friend, not persuasive, to say the least. Your problem isn’t with horrible things that kill people; your problem is with death. All people die, in case you hadn’t noticed, whether of old age in their sleep or under the abortionists knife. So what if some people die prematurely, in the cosmic scheme of things that is irrelevant. We know why there is death, and we know someone who conquered it.

          You know the reason I could never be an atheist is because most of them, or let’s be fair, many but not all of them, are like you. Hostile and irrational. You simply blather assertions as if what you are saying is as plainly true as the light of day, and you simply don’t have a clue about how to make an argument. Joe Stalin, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot, Castro and Hitler, atheists all, killed over one hundred million people, some secular nirvana. You are deluded, my friend. Cheers!

          • rayster

            You shouldn’t post if your facts are wrong. Stalin: studied five years as Greek Orthodox priest, Mao: raised Buddhist, some Confuscianism, Pol Pot: Theravada Buddhist, Castro: good Catholic, buddies with Pope Francis, Hitler: good Catholic former choir boy. All murdered and conducted genocidal wars as part of POLITICAL domination. They adopted atheistic controls as they knew religion was the one thing that could unite commoners against the dictator. And, evil exists the world over especially where reasoned secularism has not succeeded in separating state and religion.
            I am reasoned and rational and deal with what IS, not what ought to be, like you.
            And Christ? Christ is cool. Christ the MAN.
            We have been misled by 2,500 years of monotheism in to expecting some larger meaning.
            I am tolerant and supportive of religion if that’s what WORKS in your private world.When religious zealots lust for political control and discriminate against nonbelievers wishing to impose their mythology and rules on others, yes, I can get angry. The world is sick and tired of terrorist-level religious hatred, violence and slaughter.
            Someone conquered death? Who? Stories written many decades later by some who never knew Christ? Kinda to get things going again I guess? A real good story.
            Sorry, but the burden of proof is on you.

          • Oh Lord, why do I waste my time. Well, I changed my mind, I won’t. Adios.

          • Hominid

            You do realize you’re simply arguing that your delusion is better than his, don’t you?

        • Hominid

          Humanism is nothing more than another ideology, just like religion – no better, no more in touch with reality.

          • rayster

            It is a flat fact that secular humanist nations, such as those of northern Europe, have significantly BETTER social successes at EVERY parameter all except charity donation level.
            Humanism…dead on reality
            Ideology…OK, yes, why not.
            Just like religion? HELL no!
            Stop looking upwards! Look forward!
            Deal with reality as it is, not what you would like it to be.
            Turns out religion nowadays is very dangerous! Ask the victims of the Catholic Church sexual abuse crisis and the displaced, tortured or murdered of radical Islam ISIS.

          • Hominid

            What’s your evidence that the humanist delusion isn’t dangerous?

            When it comes to reality, Darwin had it right; Marx wrong.

            You don’t like facing THAT reality, do ya?

            The socialist-fascist state is the inevitable destination of humanism.

            Kiss freedom good-bye!

          • rayster

            You are entitled to your own opinion. You are not entitled to your own facts.

          • Hominid

            How original!! That, of course, does not apply to you, I take it?

    • Hominid

      Don’t count on that “evolutionary” escape from delusion happening – people are a pretty superstitious lot and, for all anyone knows, that may confer an evolutionary advantage.