The Political Future of Atheism (Jacques Berlinerblau)

       Dear Reader:  More on the theme of We Already Told You New Atheism was an Ice Cube Waiting to Unhappen Theme

The Political Future of Atheism in America: Don’t Go It Alone

               (Chronicle of Higher Education, December 6, 2011 by  )

For starters, we might want a new ad agency.

If I were in charge of American Atheism—which I am not, but then again who is?—I would ask myself the following questions: Why does poll after poll indicate that we are one of the most disliked groups in the United States? Why are there so few self-professed atheists among 535 congresspersons and senators? Why have all three branches of the federal government turned their backs on the vaunted mid-century policy of Church/State separation? Why has atheism—a once formidable intellectual tradition—become such a “little idea” as R. Joseph Hoffmann memorably put it in an important recent essay.

As Head Atheist in Charge I would first get my priorities straight: The intellectual crisis of atheism is actually far less severe than the political crisis. Pop Atheists have certainly made atheism a small idea. Though Hoffmann himself emerges from the erudite and thoughtful Secular Humanist circle. Alongside that school there exists some truly excellent scholarly research about nonbelief.

In scholarly journals—where far too many religion reporters fear to tread—a completely different understanding of atheism is emerging.  Those like Hoffmann who think seriously about their subject matter are routinely debunking popular misconceptions about atheism. Once the media turns its attention to this scholarship, produced by both believers and nonbelievers, atheism becomes a big idea again.

The real priority for American Atheism concerns its political future, its ability to shape policy agendas so as to represent the interests of its constituency. The key question, then, is: What do atheists want? If what they want is to abolish religion—a New Atheist theme with deep roots in the Radical Enlightenment, Deism, and Marxism—then there is no political future. Atheism will simply remain a movement of overheated malcontents lamenting their great civic misfortune.

My guess, however, is that the majority of American nonbelievers are not bent on abolishing religion. Their (legitimate) gripe is only with the most power-mad and theocratically inclined forms of religion. If permitted to find their voice (and if ever approached by the media) I think they would not express a desire for religion to disappear but aspire for a much more modest goal: freedom from religion.

Therein, I think, lies the future of American Atheism and to this end leadership might consider the following:

Of and From:  “The Constitution,” vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman famously intoned in 2000, “guarantees freedom of religion not freedom from religion.” It is precisely this form of demagoguery and its associated policy implications that atheists must strenuously challenge.

Freedom of and freedom from religion are not mutually exclusive. A clever atheist leadership would spend its resources not on billboard advertisements devoted to making the point that your God is a doofus, but to demonstrating that these two freedoms can exist in symbiosis. The key word is freedom. Southern Baptists, after all, want no more to live under a Catholic establishment than Catholics wish to live under a Southern Baptist one.

Widen the Tent: Why must the admission price to American Atheism be total nonbelief in God and hatred of all religion? Can’t the movement, at the very least, split the difference?

Why can’t those who have doubts about God but remain affiliated in some way with a religion be included in the big tent? Conversely, why can’t those who have no religion (see below) but some type of spiritual or faith commitment enter the movement as well? Why can’t skeptics and agnostics join the club? What about heretics and apostates? In short, democratic mobilization requires numbers. Atheism needs numbers, accurate numbers. . .

Know Your Numbers: “Atheists have the biggest underground movement in America. They are everywhere.” Such were the words of the famed atheist firebrand Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Not surprisingly O’Hair would claim in 1969 that her advocacy served 74-million Americans!

O’Hair’s estimate is part of a long tradition of Atheist self-aggrandizement. To this day extreme atheists in America estimate their numbers in the tens of millions. The error often stems from a misreading of various American Religious Identification Surveys. Those studies discovered growing numbers of  “nones” or people who professed no religion.

Atheist ideologues routinely assume that the “nones” are atheists and hence conclude that they represent roughly 15 percent of the American population. The mistake is not only baffling, especially for a cohort that prizes itself on empirical precision, but disastrous to the strategic vision of American atheism.

After all, how effective would the political activism of Jewish Americans be if they
started from the premise that there were 110 million Members of the Tribe shlepping about the country?

Reach Out and Touch (Moderate) Faith:  And while we are at it, why can’t atheists make common cause with religious moderates?  In its first decade of operations New Atheism has virtually assured its political irrelevance by acerbically shunning the very religious folks (think Mainline Protestants, Liberal Catholics, Reform Jews, etc.) who are waging their own pitched battles with fundamentalists. “Even mild and moderate religion,” averred Richard Dawkins in the The God Delusion, “helps to provide the climate of faith in which extremism naturally flourishes.”

Evangelicals, it bears noting, achieved many of their greatest political triumphs by entering into what Francis Schaeffer called “co-belligerency” with Roman Catholics and Mormons on issues like abortion, gay marriage, religion in public schools, etc. In other words, leadership put aside seething theological animosities in order to achieve pragmatic political goals.

In so doing, the Christian Right successfully managed to curtail both freedom from religion and freedom of religion for countless Americans. The time has come for a strategic atheist defense of both these virtues.

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Remembering the New Atheism

Nothing new about saying the New Atheism has run its course, except this was said two years ago…..

The New Oxonian

 

Re-Made in America: Remembering the New Atheism (2006-2011)

by ADMIN posted on JANUARY 1, 2012 at rjosephhoffmann.com

 

UPDATE:  Apologies are due to Greta Christina who was in fact ranked by an atheist website as one of the top ten popular atheist bloggers. rjh 

 

Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”

The Missouri boy in Connecticut

 

HO remembers their Huckleberry Finn?  In chapter 19, Huck, Tom and Jim, afloat on the Mississippi River,  meet up with two grifters, the Duke and the Dauphin, who claim to be exiled European royalty.

Their scam is going from town to town performing makeshift “scenes” from Shakespeare’s plays, then escaping with their lives when the rube public hear declamations like this:

To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin
That makes calamity of so…

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The Church of Small Things

My liberal friends implore me to give up my idea of marriage as being out of step with everything else I think. Or else not to talk about it. But I have always thought—for historical and cultural reasons—that the church holds the imprimatur on the definition of marriage. Marriage only makes sense to me in a religious and cultural context, like penis gourds and hula skirts. But the Church does not hold a patent on human relationships, sexuality, and happiness.Add your thoughts here… (optional)

The New Oxonian

I have to admit that Pope Francis was not my situla of holy water when he came on the scene back in March.  To the extent I care about popes, I like ones who dress up, know how to sing, think like theologians and make the Church an easy target for critics like me.  I miss you, Benedict. Papa Francesco can’t do any of those things, and now he has also made the church a more difficult target. He thinks the Church should stop talking about abortion and gays and bedroom issues and step out into the sunshine.

Maybe it’s because he comes from a sunny country and has a fairly sunny disposition. Anyway, it’s hard to argue that the church should get out of the bedroom when some of its own priests seem to prefer public toilets and darkened sacristies. Anyone who has paid attention to the history of…

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Bill Grogan’s God

I used to do a masterful rendition of the novelty tune “Bill Grogan’s  Goat” on the ukulele, which contrary to popular prejudice is a real instrument and not a fly-swatter with strings and an annoying plonky sound.

For those of you who don’t know the story of the song, a hapless goat, named Goat, has just eaten three red shirts from Bill’s clothes line. He does this, apparently, because he is a goat and goats will eat anything.   They are stubborn, disobedient, sexually compromised creatures who, if they were men, would go to hell.  Incensed by this act of reckless defiance,  his master ties him to a railroad track to meet his doom.  The train approaches at full speed, but with the ingenuity that can only be posited of a shirt-stuffed goat, Goat coughs up the shirts in the nick of time and flags the train, saves himself, and lives happily ever after. Who knows where.

The story means that we should never be punished for what we are, especially by drunken Irishmen.  Even if we are goats, salvation cometh in the morning and evil-doing  masters like Bill Grogan will lose in the end.

What does this story have to do with God?

In the last few months, the Pope who has developed a reputation for saying outrageous things, causing conservative Catholics  apoplexy and liberals to return to the fold, has said that God doesn’t slap us.  He may wag his finger at us, scold us, but he will never ever slap us. “He never, ever hurts us.”

That’s not what God does, says the Pope.  God is more like Beaver Cleaver’s dad—in fact just like Beaver’s dad.  He talks to us patiently. He encourages us. He wants what is best for us. He doesn’t inflict pain, he rallies us with furrowed brow (ouch) and disappointed sighs.  But in the end, if we are good, he smiles at us and rewards us for coming round to his way of thinking.  This God would never hurt anyone intentionally, not even a sparrow or a lily of the field. From his home in heaven, like home home on the range, he never speaks a discouraging word.   –You know the love you never got from your alcoholic mother, your distracted father, your spiteful older brother or your slutty sister? Well, God is all that love and more.

I love this God too.  Pope Francis’s God, the God that gave Bill Grogan’s goat the courage he needed when his doom was sealed, is my God.  I want to throw my arms around him and say, Thank you for being god.  I feel I can pray to you and you won’t laugh at me.  And if he has time, and happens to be listening, he won’t.

But unfortunately,  that’s not the end of the story.  I mean in some other universe in some other galaxy, there might be another God who is brutal and bossy.  A God who slaps people around for the hell of it,  In this other world, God might give orders and hurt people for not listening to his booming voice.  He might promise them paradise and give them thistles and dust and childbirth.  He might offer them eternity and then give them early death for minor offenses, like eating the wrong fruit.

A god like that would be mean enough to wash the whole human race down the tank if he was in a bad mood, but then build it up again so that they could fight wars, leave the land soaked with the blood of brothers, choose certain people as his children and tell others to piss off or study philosophy.  He probably would send typhoons and tornadoes to blow away the livelihood of the poorest of the poor just when they thought they were getting ahead.  He would send hopelessness and financial despair, and if that wasn’t bad enough he’d make people susceptible to various diseases and watch passively as they died from plague.  He would also be arrogant. So conceited that he would actually record his debauchery in a book and tell people to revere it and to cope with all catastrophes by muttering a prayer—“Thy will be done.”

And to top it off, being the kind of god who likes games—specially Chutes and Ladders– he would grow bored and send his son into the world to suffer a horrible death so that the ones who toady to his commands could live with him high above the clouds whilst the ones who have disobeyed are sent to a fiery pit for all eternity.

I couldn’t live in a universe ruled by that god. No way.  so I am very glad to be living in a world ruled by Pope Francis’s god, the one who just loves us, doesn’t get angry at gays, tells atheists they have a fair shot at heaven if they choose to believe in it—and if they don’t, no harm done–right?  I don’t know about you, but what I need is a good pat on the head from an unconditionally loving father, not a fist-in-the-face or gun-at-my head, drunken Bill Grogan of a God who gets off on violence. No thank you.

But there’s more to this than I’ve been saying, and I tremble to tell you the rest.

Occasionally people send me theological questions and recently I had one from Myron in Dubuque who wrote, “Excuse me? Are you aware that the God you are describing is the God of the Bible.  The God of my people?  This is just more of your anti-Semitic slop.”

So, I went back and looked at the Bible and I was surprised to find that, yes, if you read around in the first bit the God there does look vicious and mean.  But as I said to Myron: “The pope is the pope you silly Jew, and who is more likely to understand the Bible, a man who dresses in a simple white gown or your ridiculous rabbis with their idiot black hats and curls and strings and fringey shawls and pez containers tied to their arms swaying around like—well like silly Jews.”  In a comment, Myron accused me of lacking all decency and basic human feeling and probably not being circumcised.  “It’s people like you that explain  the holocaust,” he said,  To which I said, ‘Oh yeah?, and if your god is so great why didn’t he wipe out the German army before it happened?  Better yet, why did he let Hitler get born?”

Still I was restless and confused, until the answer came to me. In fact, you can call it a revelation.

Here is my theory: At some point along the way Pope Francis’s God was shoved out by Myron’s God who visited earth several thousands of years ago, maybe as an ancient astronaut. If you read your Greek and Roman stories, this kind of thing happened all the time with gods.  Maybe he sent an avatar to do the actual fighting.  That would be cool.  Anyway, the good god was too nice to object to the evil god taking over the world, so the evil god managed to get people to worship him and made them believe he was the only God.  If people asked, ‘Where is that nice God we used to worship” he would say
“Shut up and eat your lamb and don’t touch those pigs because that’s what Greeks eat and I’m sending them to hell for worshiping other gods.”

When they kept asking,  he sent a huge flood and after that he gave them a new book all about him since the old books were too wet to be any good and no one could read anyway.

From then on, until Pope Francis, people have worshiped the wrong god. But now, with this pope, we’re getting the true story—finally.  Revelation unsmudged by the oily fingers of Myron and his tribe.  Which proves, in the long run, being nice and good pays off. Especially if you have eternity to work things out for the best.

Thank you, your Holiness, for making it so clear.  And thank you God—‘Abba’ if I may– for being—well—so darn nice.

The Mirage



Then we ascended to the second heaven. A voice asked, ‘Who is it?’ Jibreel said, ‘Jibreel.’ Then the voice said,  ‘Who is with you?’ He said, ‘Muhammad’ Then came the voice again, , ‘Has he been sent for?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ It was said, ‘He is welcomed. What a wonderful visit is this!” Then I met Isa  and Yahya who said, ‘You are welcomed, O brother and a Prophet.’ Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 4,Book 54, Hadith number 429

He rises and begins to round, / He drops the silver chain of sound (Meredith) 

Omnia vincit Amor: et nos cedamus Amori.” (Vergil, Eclogue 10)

Lailat al Mi’raj

 y  arms about you
we rise like incense rises,
like Jesus (they say) rose–
touching Satan’s cloak–
above the evening clouds to view
all the kingdoms of earth
golden before him:
his stomach knotted,
teetering on the
edge of the highest high
mountain, so high
that to look down made
even a god dizzy with power.
Rise like the lark ascending
into the gray English skies
fluttering in darts and fits
first to sight, then barely visible
and then like a hell-kite
at one fell swoop down, down—
from beauty to despair.

I take my arms away.
We are unlocked
and the soul that rose with you
falls hard to earth, shorn from
the wings that bore it,
the pinions that for a moment
took us to the Lote tree,
the garden of refuge,
where choirs of angels
praise Allah
ceaselessly.

 

 

The Moral Apathy of Atheism: Leaving it to the Snake

One of the saddest stories of the last five years was the decision of Paul Kurtz, under enormous pressure, to leave the organization he had founded in the early-eighties, the Centre for Inquiry and its two constituent groups, the Council for Secular Humanism and Committee for Skeptical inquiry.

There may be barely enough distance now to get some perspective on that event, which in various ways has been an occasional theme on this site since 2009 when New Oxonian was launched.  For those who don’t know about Paul Kurtz, he was a leader and chief theoretician of the secular humanist movement in the United States. He died in October 2012.

The reason for Kurtz’s leaving CFI—the famous final straw—was a gimmick promoted by the organization as a coup for “free expression”: the Blasphemy Contest and its successor event, the “Blasphemy Rights Day” contest closeted within a larger box, the Campaign for Free Expression .

Kurtz himself, like many European intellectuals who interpreted social freedom and personal liberty against the background of the Reich and the beginnings of Communism, was interested in blasphemy laws as a vestige of the dominion of religion over the thinking and speech of ordinary citizens.  In America, in a history that stretches back to the deists and Revolutionary pamphleteers, the right to insult and defame has been taken as a virtual absolute.  The extreme opposite of America’s vaunted liberty in this regard, at least in the late twentieth century, was the Islamic world, in parts of which even a rumour of insult to the Qu’ran or the Prophet could get you into very deep water, often without your head.  Islam thus became the natural whipping boy for the new atheists, a kind of illogical, apposite worst case scenario of what might happen if conservative Christianity ever got the upper hand.

To get to this First Amendment apocalypse, a kind of unwarranted conjunction had to be made, and was made, by new atheist writers like Sam Harris who decreed that there is no such thing as a harmless or benign faith, only degrees of toxicity, so that what can be said of Islam can also be said of Christianity, despite their very different pattern of historical development and social and political outcomes.  This meant that pars pro toto poking Christianity in the eye was also a blow for freedom of speech, because all “faiths” constituted the especial ogre now called, without discrimination of type or doctrine, “Religion.”  The muse of history had been slain by someone dressed up like the goddess of reason.  Besides, poking Christianity in the eye in Dubuque was a lot safer than poking a Muslim in the eye in Riyadh.

Blasphemy, however, was a nineteenth and early twentieth century topic.  By the time the Free Speech Movement happened at Berkeley in 1964, it was more or less taken for granted that you could say almost anything, even if there were still consequences to pay and, as George Carlin and Lenny Bruce famously proved, certain words that would get you bleeped by media censors–and certain topics that were considered impolite for public consumption in a country still edgy about religious differences and sensitivities.  Long before P Z Myers spiked a communion host (to use the official term), Bill Cosby in 1969 provoked thousands of Catholics by describing his first trip to a Catholic church and watching parishioners receiving “individual pizzas.”

That seems a thousand years ago. By the time Kurtz’s organization became interested in blasphemy (mainly in researching its history; the historian David Nash from Oxford was associated with the Center), the Simpsons had debuted, followed by the studiously outrageous South Park, with Muhammad dressed in a bear costume, and Family Guy—slightly distaff of mainstream entertainment that is broadcast even in the Arab world.  I can watch Family Guy on Dubai One, and last night it parodied the second coming of Jesus (pbuh) with a small Jew dressed in a linen cloth explaining to the dejected-looking crowds that people were shorter in his day. Lol.

It is hard to take blasphemy seriously nowadays because it is hard to take religion too seriously. If media can get by with this, what possible contribution can a “free expression” campaign make to the cause? It’s like the posse coming into town after the good people of Laredo have already been liberated from the Dalton gang  by a bevvy of marauding suffragettes.  CFI has a pattern of doing this: it published the Muhammad cartoons in 2006 ages after the real heat had been borne (not much) by other news media.

This mock bravery and swagger is all boots and no cowboy.  In 2013, almost any insult thrown at religion is a virtual ringer for a cheap shot.  Getting born of a virgin, walking on water, rising from the dead, ascending into heaven can be lampooned without fear of serious reprisal because only the most stalwart Christian believes in them literally.  Most liberal Christians have been laughing at Christianity–their own and their neighbor’s–since Tom Lehrer wrote Vatican Rag—in 1964:

Get in line in that processional,
Step into that small confessional,
There, the guy who’s got religion’ll
Tell you if your sin’s original.
If it is, try playin’ it safer,
Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
Two, four, six, eight,
Time to transubstantiate!

As with South Park and Family Guy, funny goes a long way in knocking the stuffing out of religion.  And a primary audience for this are people who think religion needs to be knocked around a little.   Offensive is in the eye of the beholder.  And after all, didn’t Jesus knock the stuffing out of the Judaism of his day?  (Not the schlock Jesus the atheists have created for their derision—the real one.)  He did.

You may be way ahead of me.  I am trying to suggest that satirizing religion, even its most sacred doctrines, has a long and noble tradition in the west, going back to Boccaccio and Chaucer, and reaching a kind of climax in the great Catholic satirists of the Renaissance and seventeenth century.  Randy priests and lascivious nuns are nothing new to the history of parody.  And some of the woodcuts of the early reformation depicting the Pope as a tiara-sporting demon outdistance almost anything we could throw at the Vatican today.

I am not sure why atheists, especially the New variety, think that they are the first to attack religion. But I have a theory.   One is that they are jaw-droppingly stupid about the history of religion, especially (of all things!) the Christian and Jewish traditions where most of them, if they came out of anything, came from.  The Church used to call it the “pride of ignorance,” but to simplify, it just means that atheist needs to understand that smart religious people have been protecting the world from the edicts of an angry God and a greedy church for a thousand years.

Give me three atheists in a secure room, and put to them the following questions:

  • Name Boccaccio’s most famous work.
  • In what famous work does Luther attack the sacraments and the papacy?
  • Of all the priests and nuns on Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrimage, which one does he not bitterly mock?
  • When and by whom was the following passage written:

“Almost all Christians being wretchedly enslaved to blindness and ignorance, which the priests are so far from preventing or removing, that they blacken the darkness, and promote the delusion: wisely foreseeing that the people (like cows, which never give down their milk so well as when they are gently stroked), would part with less if they knew more…”

We could stretch this list from the 12th century to the 16th (the last quotation is from Erasmus in the sixteenth in his satire, In Praise of Folly), and we would have trouble finding a decade when the assault on credulity and superstition wasn’t a major theme of men who counted themselves to be pretty religious—often better Catholics than the pope and better protestants than Moses.  The prototype for the modern parody of religion and superstition are medieval and reformation parodies of superstition and religion.  And hear this: most of the most bitter critics—people like Erasmus himself and even Thomas More, died in the good grace of the church. And the latter became a saint.  There was a time when cardinals chuckled over their wine at a really good rip.

Monastic duties

So my first point is that modern atheism is late to the game, and very un-new, or new only in the sense that its movers don’t know the history of the game before them.

But the second point is larger:  the new atheists are terrible at satire.  They don’t do parody well.  I’ll give a pass to a few stand-up comics like Bill Maher, but even they are running dry with shtick and one liners. (“Hey ja hear the one about the talking snake?”) Outside the comedy clubs, atheists usually just resort to insult because they think that is what blasphemy is. And lacking the rhetorical know-how to do parody, they choose the easy road: the sort of outsourced unfunniness that made the CFI Blasphemy contest the travesty of good taste that it was.

When blasphemy was blasphemy, it was often serious philosophical or theological critique of sacred doctrines.  It wasn’t posted in the back of a hay wagon; it was ‘discovered’ in treatises by Christian mandarins who were designated as official blasphemy sniffers by Rome.  Blasphemy was a more direct assault on the core teachings of the Church than heresy, which was considered error, could still get you into the faggots before sundown, but might be the result of simply misunderstanding important truths.  But blasphemy was not mere ridicule.  It had a basis in its aversion to specific doctrines, notably the trinity and the divinity of Christ, a deliberate affront to the “fabric” of the faith, not a slip of the tongue.  Luther’s theology was heretical; blasphemy in the strict sense is limited to an attack on God, or God as the church teaches him.

Please understand, I am not slapping the wrist of the atheist billboard makers and coffee mug sellers who abuseth the temple of the Lord for not understanding the things they are trying to ridicule. I am just trying to suggest that perhaps they lack the satirical savoir faire to say anything funny about religion, to point up its central absurdities in ways that make people think rather than slap their leg.  Blasphemy must have annoyed the church, but it was not merely designed to get on people’s nerves.

But in addition to being incapable of anything except hipshot insult and calling it “free speech”   (really?—in 2013, this is what we fought wars to attain?) atheists also need to consider the motivation for what they think of as the right to blaspheme.

Is it payback for centuries of oppression by a religious monopoly?  Is it a useful measure to get people to think about what kind of speech should be (to use a word I hate) “privileged” and what kind isn’t?  Is it a cold splash in the face attempt to get people to sit up and pay attention to the ignorance of religious belief?  Or is it just an annoying plea for attention from a population that, frankly, doesn’t believe much of anything and doesn’t know very much about anything—whether science or religion—that isn’t sold at Wal-Mart.

When Paul Kurtz walked out of the front door of the Center of Inquiry for the last time, he did so feeling that certain principles he believed in had been trivialized by new and strangely infantile approach to the understanding of civil discourse and free speech.  Unfortunately, the rarefied atmosphere of the center prevented it from being in touch with some of the key intellectual developments happening in the wider non-atheist and academic worlds which surrounded it.

Paul Kurtz was internationally known for his work as a philosopher and writer who promoted secular humanism.

Just when it became ok to “blaspheme,” the anti-hate speech campaigns began to flow through college campuses.  Anti-gay, anti-woman, and neo-racist propaganda seemed to call for new ways of dealing with free expression within the context of a society that simultaneously valued the right to free expression and dissent, but claimed also to protect persons, choices, beliefs, and lifestyles that have historically been vulnerable or non-conventional.  It took professorial skill that movement atheism lacked to explain the difference between what they were doing and the hate speech that increasingly infected  schools, universities and the workplace.   No one was buying that insult could be repackaged as a pillar of free expression and thereby dodge the suggestion that free expression depends on non-provocative and civil disagreement, moral engagement rather than simple ridicule, not rhetorical kicks to the groin.    Even more crippled and contra-historical was the attempt to defend the rough tactics of the new atheism by saying that “religion” had dealt this way for centuries with non-believers.

What have we learned here, as the self-help gurus like to say.

(1)  Atheists need to know that most of what they are doing is nothing new.  They don’t know this because they don’t know very much about the history of religious dissent and anti-ecclesiastical parody.  As I often tell my classes, the first writer to make fun of the story of a high-flying Jesus being shown all the kingdoms of the world by Satan is the second century writer Origen, and some of the funniest barbs against Christianity are stolen by the pagans from Jewish sources.   The charge that Christians are superstitious and dim is two thousand years old. The charge that religion is greedy and corrupt goes back to Jesus’ rants against the doctors of the law and the publicans.

(2)  Second; atheists just aren’t funny—except perhaps to each other.  Go to an atheist meeting and you will notice that it has all the intellectual weight of a night out at the Elks lodge.  It is bowling team, and we’ve all heard Frank’s jokes before.  But what is even worse than not being funny is not being able to take a joke, to accept the corrective possibilities of satire.  ‘Tis a very bad cap’n what steers his ship towards the same gale that ate the three what went afore it.”  Historically, it is a problem of atheism not to be able to take correction and thus to steer its ship ever and again into the storm of unsuccess.

Religion survived in no small measure because it learned how to take a joke, and then make jokes at its own expense.  It is the mark of the maturity of any social group to take it on the chin without crucifying your critics, in reality or in rhetoric.  Judaism and Christianity used to do just that, stoning prophets and dispatching inconvenient teachers like Jesus. But for the most part, on a world scale and even in America’s mainstream churches, they reached that point a long time ago. We wait for atheism to catch up and show us what it’s made of.

And finally an observation:   What is the market value of insult? When did it become fun to upset grandma or the lonely woman in the cancer ward whose religion is a source of consolation?   Do you really think reading her a few chapters of Dawkins or Sam Harris rather than the Sermon on the Mount or Psalm 23 would see her through to the end?  Atheists will say this is not their intention.  Some would say it isn’t their job.  They are mere servants of the truth (like Paul was a mere slave for the gospel?) and should not be judged by unintended consequences.

Atheism in its New form comes dangerously close to moral irresponsibility.  In an age where civil discourse is increasingly important among people and nations, it has decided to eschew it; in a world where forgiveness and mercy are in short supply, it preaches something like the get-even ethics of the Old Testament.  What this means for the long term, is that new atheism is bound to become old before it reaches maturity, and maturity is in very short supply.

Atheist History for Young Learners

I was recently privileged to be asked by a major publishing house to review the outline for a new world history text (History of the World), written by a key new atheist writer, who also happens to be a scientist.  As we are all aware,  atheists are especially keen to guarantee that material appearing in textbooks is  accurate–especially when it involves material about science.   So I was happy to see them turning their gaze towards historical questions and developments.   I hope that, in future, our children will benefit from more history books written by men (and atheist women!, let’s not forget ) committed to an atheist worldview:

HISTORY OF THE WORLD

by Jerry Lewis Cohen, PhD

 1.  First came the classical period.  It was when people first began to classify things.  In the classical period men began to get skeptical (skeptical is a Greek word) and they had almost come to disbelieve in the gods and to develop science. Especially Aristotle, and others, too [insert list from Wikipedia].  In this period people invented  biology, though they got some things wrong, and geometry.  The main language was Greek and Latin from which we got a lot of scientific names for things.

Ancient scientific laboratory

2.    But then, Christianity happened.  Superstition is invented. Libraries are burned by Christian theists, especially the big one in Alexandria, where all the scientific discoveries were kept.   Monks eventually take control and close the schools. Women are sent to convents and men are forced to farm for monasteries or become priests.  Constant fighting was called feudalism. Classical learning is destroyed by religion. [Chapter insert: The Greeks were too smart to fight wars. They were too rational. The Romans fought one or two, but what would you expect of people who fell for Christianity.] Black death happens, caused by stupidity about bacteria and disease caused by Christians closing the schools.

Clueless Christian “doctor” dealing with Black Death

3.   After Christianity takes over, things go from dark to darker. If you criticized religion, or talked trash about God you got burned at the stake or beheaded. Things got worse and worse until sometime in the Middle Ages [find date] the pope started the Inquisition.  [Chapter insert:  People believe in witches and think bread can be turned into zombie flesh.]

4. Just when things were getting really dark, Islam happens, started by a psychotic bandit named Muhammad who marries a six year old. If Christianity was bad, Islam was worse because it had never heard of the Greeks,  just a bunch of nomads praying to god for water in the desert [Research–just beginning to find out what other bad things Muslims believed, such as praying and so on.]

5.   Christianity and Islam burn all books and almost destroy knowledge between the dark ages and later times [see names of later times] through superstition and war and violence. The church tries its best to keep people illiterate and poor and away from books.  Earth is flat and sun goes around it. [Chapter insert on Galileo].

6.  Atheism begins sometime during this period, although we don’t have many names because the Church got rid of them with the books.  Many atheists suffer and die for their ideas while pretending to be good Christians [for example…insert some names]

Giordano Bruno

6. But not all the atheists are killed.  Some unbelievers found all the books that the Church had buried and didn’t have time to burn and started schools and tried to open people’s eyes. Unfortunately, religion fought back and killed these people as heretics. It taught people that the world was created by a giant in six days and that people would be punished for their actions if they questioned the Church. But if they obeyed they would go to heaven. This period just before the Enlightenment is called [find name on Google, the one after the time with all that art]   America discovered.

How theists see heaven

7. Some famous men rose up against the Church in this period and even suggested that maybe this giant didn’t exist and that the stories about him in the Bible are lies told by theists. The most famous of these thinkers was a man by the name of Charles Darwin, who proved that the bible was wrong and that human beings were just a thinking species of animals evolved from an apelike ancestors.  The church was not able to kill Darwin because he lived in [insert century].

8. Religion however denied evolution and continued to spread theism and crazy superstitions and fight against reason and science. Even though science is true, religion did not die.  It went on to produce Fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism. [ Insert: Why Science and reason did not produce wars or death: omit China, Russia, Tuskegee experiment, nuclear weapons]

9. Summary: How much more advanced would we be if religion had not come along and destroyed the great, scientific ideas of the Greeks? It is hard to imagine.  [Insert: list of famous atheists starting with Socrates down to Stephen Hawking, leaving out French names and some Jewish accommodationists.  Use mainly scientists]