At mass on sunday a question was posed to me: What do you make about this buzz around the sudden appearance of books and forums on atheism in the media. I believe the most recent attack on God is by the contrarian who supported Bush’s War on Iraq, Christopher Hitchens. The more noteworthy carriers of this phenomenon are Professor Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Sam Harris in the USA. They are all advances on the crude Madeleine Murray O’Hare, the angry atheist of yesteryear.
My response to the question was this.
The latest arguments, some “better” and more nuanced than others. are a response to the lousy track record of Christianity in the media and the market place. The media, simplistic as it is, revels in cartoonish approaches to Christianity and Islam for that matter. George Bush has done a fantastic job at discrediting Christianity in the world. I make no judgment of him but when people see him and his constant posturing as a born again, they look at the abysmal record of the US on the national stage from its ugly war making, to its support of global thugs who have guaranteed them markets in Latin America or Africa or Asia, its enbarrassing record of generosity on the global stage—less than .15 % of 1 % of GDP—-last among advanced capitalist countries. If this is Christianity, give me atheism they say. This thinking accelerated after WW ll—60 million dead in the heart of Christendom. How could this have happened?
Church attendance as well plummeted after WW l when the Churches caught up in a jingoistic fervour were seen as little more than microphones for an unreflective nationalism. Instead of being salt and light, the church was a bloated reflector of the prevailing zeitgeist.
What these people often are rejecting is the theistic, god of the gaps, the divine pupeteer who grants some prayers, ignores others and watches the Holocaust happen and babies die regularly. An outmoded view of God. Give me atheism these people say.
Atheism is unknown before the late 18th century. The incomprehensible Mystery, why there is something rather than nothing, the numinous, the Wholly Other has been part of humanity’s experience since recorded time. Our idea of God is still growing as it must. The Divine who chose only Israel, ordered the deaths (100 times in the Jewish Bible) of nonbelievers etc is surely dead. We are struggling to understand God and in the process are leaving behind childish notions.
The Russian proverb, “the fish first rots in its head” might apply here. Reason can only take us so far in this debate. The new atheism is understandable, maybe even necessary in this time of crude fundamentalism.