A “contributing columnist” to the Herald-Leader’s Life + Dumbth pages is a local preacher named Paul Prather. Today, his written sermon was entitled “New atheists embody the very things they hate.” Original, huh?
Of course, Prather began by railing against “popular books demeaning any form of belief in God.” He mentioned — who else? — Dawkins and Hitchens. And Bill Maher, whose “anti-faith film,” Religulous, “got a ton of attention.” Never mind that Maher has never claimed to be an atheist. Doesn’t matter.
Then Prather went on to point out “the online comments that follow every news story about religion.” The responses, Prather said, “seem to come disproportionately from readers who jeer at all references to God or piety.” That assertion, unsupported by any examples or statistics, must be true. A minister wrote it. What stake could he possibly have had in misrepresenting the numbers?
Anyway, we atheists should show a little respect. That’s the Christian thing to do.
The real kicker of the argument came when Prather accused “the current brand of aggressive atheism” as being “just another form of fundamentalism.” Oddly, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with him if he’d said “a few atheists,” or even “some non-theists.” I’ve met plenty of bull-headed knee-jerk “rationalists.” Haven’t you?
But atheism doesn’t have a “current brand.” Not believing in something nonsensical is simply … not believing in something nonsensical. There have been atheists ( whatever they may have called themselves) throughout history who refused to succumb to their societies’ overwhelming pressure to bow to superstition. There’s no “brand” involved. If we atheists open our mouths at all, we’re perceived as “vocal” and “combative.” And “aggressive.” That’s always our brand, at least when Christians are doing the labeling.
The article continued with the usual foolishness about atheism being just another kind of church. That’s a ludicrous idea, even if it was recently bolstered by at least one Lexington idiot who seemingly claimed to speak for all atheists. In the very same newspaper section. How convenient.
But Prather is full of the milk of human kindness. “This might surprise you,” he wrote, “but I have nothing against atheists.” That’s blatant bullshit, the equivalent of “some of my best friends are Jewish.” Whenever I heard that, growing up in the Bronx, I knew that an anti-Semitic crack was coming. There was always going to be a “but …” involved.
The crux of Prather’s argument, nearly half his column, is that most “smug, dogmatic, and mean-spirited” atheists have not spent time reading a BP-gusher’s-worth of Christian apologetics. “I wish these atheists would venture, say, into a seminary library. They’d find tens of thousands of volumes written by thinkers great and obscure across two millennia.”
Many Christian arguments come around to that. We atheists haven’t sampled enough flavors of their religion to justify our blanket dismissal of its senseless tenets.
So, here are some generalizations about Christians of all brands. These statements are, I think, virtually impossible to challenge except by someone who has an extremely odd sense of what “Christianity” is:
1. Christians accept the existence of a god who is one or more (not necessarily all) of the following: omnipotent, omnipresent, omnisicient, and omnibenevolent.
2. Christians believe that a character known as Jesus Christ actually lived sometime during the first century (by our current counting system).
3. Christians say that this Jesus had ties to their god, through either (a) actually being that god, (b) being a manifestation of that god, (c) having some physical kinship to that god, and/or (d) experiencing an unusually close intellectual bond between himself and that god. (Note: You may notice that (d) might well define any delusional person with charisma enough to attract followers.)
4. Christians assume that belief in any or all of the above numbered items will do one or more of the following: (a) make them better people, (b) improve their lives, and/or (c) ensure them a pleasant afterlife. (Happy deathday to you.)
Now, when I look at even that small list, I don’t feel compelled to spend hours, days, months, years reading about those beliefs. Frankly, they sound pretty goddamned stupid to me.
Since the ridiculous and unsupported claims are all on their side in the constant “debate” with atheists, the onus is on Christians to prove those claims. Asking an atheist like me to read “tens of thousands of volumes,” all written to explain the many divergent ramifications of those four essential beliefs that even a non-threatened child would find incredible, is a tremendous imposition. Do Christians ask one another to visit the library and read thousands and thousands of books on Muslim or Jewish or Hindu apologetics? Or, for that matter, on areligious subjects? “Hey, you can’t honestly say that you don’t enjoy Shakespeare unless you’ve worked your way through two or three million volumes of analyses.” Or: “How can you claim that a diet of Entenmann’s Chocolate Donuts is bad for you unless you’ve read tens of thousands of books on nutrition?”
So, instead of attacking his imagined “new atheists,” Prather ought to challenge himself to clear his head. With no foregone conclusions and with a critical mind, he should read the myriad of silly books that he, himself, recommended.
I repeat: With no foregone conclusions. And with a critical mind.
But since Prather is one of the current brand of god-pushers, it’s never going to happen.