The Cries That Bind

Why Doubt Puts Us In Good Company

Twenty years ago, on August 31, 1997, Princess Diana died in a tragic crash in Paris in a car with her boyfriend while her husband and two children waited for her in London. Five days later, Mother Teresa of Calcutta died due to complications that apparently developed after a decades-long battle with heart disease that worsened with her contracting malaria the year prior. Over the next three months Princess Diana graced the covers of the major news magazines Newsweek and others at least nine times. The world grieved. Her story led the evening news every night and her funeral was broadcast live to millions. Sir Elton John even re-wrote a song for her.

Meanwhile, Mother Teresa barely warranted mention in the news tsunami that left her swamped behind the flash and glitz of the princess. This said more about our cultural values than Mother Teresa ever could have said herself.

But this week that changed. Suddenly, Mother Teresa is newsworthy … the lead story no less … cover material. This week Mother Teresa has even supplanted the backwash tsunami of the ten-year remembrance of Diana’s death. But it is not the ten-year remembrance of Mother Teresa that the press has found so marketable. It is not even a belated appreciation for her 60 years of work with the poor and dying in India.

No, what is so tantalizingly important about her now is that she had a “crisis of faith” that has recently been revealed in letters which she had specifically requested not be made public, but rather destroyed. (Funny how the press’s commitment to its sources’ privacy changes from time to time — especially when they can scoop a story like this one). The hook, you see, is that Mother Teresa, a world-renown icon of religious commitment, sometimes questioned her faith.

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Thinking About The “New Atheists”

Engaging The Belief Police

[This is a re-post from several years ago that I think is still completely relevant today]

Two books on the NY Times Best Seller list share a common thesis — that religion in general, and Christianity specifically, is not just wrong, or off-base, or a subject worth debating — but that it is evil, deluded, dangerous, and the righteous target of the thinking man’s scorn. Sam Harris’, “Letter To A Christian Nation,” (# 31 on the list) and Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion,” (# 14 and on the list for 24 weeks) don’t just want to appeal to their atheistic brethren, but want to question the sanity of religious belief itself and suggest that we would all be more safe if religion were forcibly banished from the public square.

This view of religion is nothing new to Dawkins who, blasting the intolerance of Creationists in his 1986 book, “The Blind Watchmaker,” claimed that …

It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

With an incredibly ironic inability to see the intolerance of those two ideas existing in parallel, Dawkins denies any respect to those who happen to disagree with him — and instead offers them nothing but contempt. Disgusted by the proselytizing of religious folk, he engages in a little proselytizing of his own when, on the fifth page of his most recent book he claims that, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

For all the bluster these two claim about their own “healthy” and “vigorous” minds as compared to the mental midgets who oppose them, it is a little too convenient that they fail to even mention the significant input to science and philosophy that has been contributed by theists throughout history. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the fact that most of the greatest scientific minds — Newton, Galileo, Pascal, Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler — were all devout men who studied the physical universe because they believed it was ordered and a reflection of the mind of God. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the great philosophers throughout history — Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, C.S. Lewis — who were not only Christian theists, but that began as atheists and reasoned their way to faith. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the fact that the Bible itself challenges us to “test everything” and that the scientific revolution began with Christian scientists who did just that.

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New Atheists (6); Apples To Oranges

Sam Harris despises religion — so much so that he has blinded himself to an intellectually honest assessment about the differences between them. To put that claim in context, Harris (as discussed earlier here), misunderstands the concept of condemnation to hell and, because of that misunderstanding, believes his in-your-face his chest beating has some force behind it when he says:

The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are.

His serious delusion regarding the public impact of his own views aside, Harris’ taunt (p. 4) rings hollow. I can only speak for myself of course, but it seems that Harris fails to realize that we Christians don’t hold our view based on the popularity or reputation of those who may, or may not, share it with us. To be honest, most Christians had never heard of Sam Harris before his book hit the stores. But this kind of misunderstanding on his part leads him to make what can only be described as completely baseless associations like this:

Assertion (p. 6-7):

Every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian. And yet you do not find their reasons compelling. The Koran repeatedly declares that it is the perfect word of the creator of the universe … The burden is upon them to prove that their beliefs about God and Muhammad are valid. They have not done this. They cannot do this. Muslims are not making claims about reality that can be corroborated

Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devout Muslims view Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions.

Response: To put it is nicely as I can, Harris’ complete ignorance about the nature of religion in general, and the relationship between Christianity and Islam in particular, is stunning.

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New Atheist Rebuttals (5)

Hitchens’ Childhood Epiphany

Christopher Hitchens begins his screed against God and religion by recounting his awakening, as a 9-year old “insufferable little intellectual,” to the “overreaching” comment of his grade school teacher, Mrs. Watts. The statement that is burned into Hitchens’ memory from that day is this: In an attempt to …

fuse her two roles as nature instructor and Bible teacher, she said, ‘So you see, children, how powerful and generous God is. He has made all the trees and grass to be green, which is exactly the color that is most restful to the eyes. Imagine if instead, the vegetation was all purple, or orange, how awful that would be.’

Assertion: I have to note that Hitchens is charitable in his assessment of Mrs. Watts. His only description of her is as a kind and loving woman with sincere motives. But Hitchens’ memory of this incident is that he was “appalled” by what she said. Knowing nothing of the argument from design, the claims of Darwinian Evolution, or any of the related issues, Hitchens remembers that he “simply knew, almost as if [he] had privileged access to a higher authority, that [his] teacher had managed to get everything wrong in just two sentences. The eyes were adjusted to nature, and not the other way around.”

This epiphany led him to notice other “oddities” over the next few years, such as:

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New Atheist Rebuttals (4)

On My (Qualified) Agreement With Sam Harris

To restate from the last post on this topic

Assertion: Sam Harris was compelled to pen The End of Faith on September 12, 2001 and wrote his Letter To A Christian Nation a few years later. He is one of a growing number who equate the travesties perpetrated by Muslim terrorists with anyone who claims what he calls a “rigid” religious view. Rigid thinkers are dangerous in this world because they become too extreme.

Keep that idea in mind as you consider some points of agreement that Harris claims to share the hard-core “Christian right.” In summary, Harris agrees that (p. 3-4) …

  • If one of us is right, the other is wrong.
  • The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn’t.
  • Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation, or he does not.
  • True Christians believe that all other faiths are mistaken and profoundly so.

For all the relativists out there I want to point out that Harris, like me, appears to believe in the existence of objective truth. That being the case, we each must admit that one of us is right and one of us is wrong. It has to be so. We cannot hold completely contradictory views and both be right.

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New Atheist Rebuttals (3)

On Sam Harris’ Understanding of Condemnation to Hell

Assertion: In the introduction to his Letter To A Christian Nation, Harris is quick to differentiate between harmless, liberal/moderate Christians and “the religious right.” Harris scolds the former if they should cover for the latter because, by doing so, liberal/moderates “give shelter to extremists of all faiths.” That’s the setup and it is important to remember in this discussion.

Remember that Harris was compelled to pen The End of Faith on September 12, 2001 and wrote his Letter a few years later. He is one of a growing number who equate the travesties perpetrated by Muslim terrorists with anyone who claims what he calls a “rigid” religious view. Keep that idea in mind as you listen to the beginning of Harris’ argument against the Christianity he despises …

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New Atheist Rebuttals (1)

As promised earlier, this is the first in a series of rebuttals to the so-called “New Atheists.” I will try to keep them short and sweet, citing a quote or argument from their book(s), complete with a page number for reference. I will then attempt a response. Your comments are welcome …

Assertion: (The God Delusion, p. 4) “…delusion [is] ‘a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence, especially as a symptom of psychiatric disorder’. The first part [of this definition] captures faith perfectly. As to whether it is a symptom of a psychiatric disorder, I am inclined to follow Robert M. Pirsig … when he said, ‘When one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.’ … Of course, dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument.”

Response: On what basis does Mr. Dawkins separate himself from the possibility of being likewise deluded? Yes, there are people for whom faith is a blindly accepted belief devoid of the need for evidence. Likewise, there are atheists, apparently like Mr. Dawkins, who fully admit that they could never be convinced of the existence of God, regardless of evidence produced to the contrary. Is it too much to ask that, instead of mischaracterizing the position of his opponents, Mr. Dawkins would instead engage the arguments of those who do not accept their faith blindly? Can Mr. Dawkins offer an example of what amount of evidence it would take to convince him to change his belief? Some like him claim that no amount of evidence would convince them — proving that their atheism is not intellectually based, but rather volitionally or emotionally based.

I would also offer that many who profess atheism could likewise be accused of suffering from a psychological disorder stemming from the absence or abuse of the father figure in their lives (see: Vitz, Faith of the Fatherless). If it is acceptable to see religion as a compensatory psychological disorder, fair play would demand that atheism should also be subjected to the same test.