Friday, February 2, 2007

thoughts on the "new secularism"...

There appears to be a "resurgence" of secularism among some Americans, in part as a response to the "religious right" and the 9-11 attacks. Of course, the most popular book related to this movement - if that is indeed what it is - has been Sam Harris' "The End of Faith." Having only read excerpts and reviews of the book, I can't and won't comment extensively. Others - even some from the atheist camp - have already criticized the book's oversimplifications. But I will just say this:

For someone like Harris to say that all religion is bigoted, hateful and destructive, and those of us who aren't "fundamentalists" are just fooling ourselves, is to make a generalization that can be easily refuted. Harris asserts that Hitler and the Nazis were primarily promoting a Christian anti-Semitic agenda. The fact of the matter is there are plenty of scholars who have pointed out over and over Hitler's atheistic tendencies and manipulation of religion for his own twisted purposes. Then there is the fact that other non-religious leaders (Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.) were/are just as cruel and manipulative as Hitler, if not moreso.

Granted, history is littered with atrocious examples of religious abuse and corruption. But to say that religion is the problem is to ignore the bigger point: Humans are the problem. And since Harris is a human, he's in the same boat as the religious people he's attacking. Does he really think if "secularists" held sway over the minds of the people that many of them would not turn out to be just as corrupt and cruel as the supposed "religious" powers which currently control much of the world?

Not to mention the obvious fact that Harris' infamous statement "Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one." is a false dichotomy. There is no reason to assume that belief in an afterlife results in intolerance and fundamentalism. IT CAN -- but that has more to do with the type of belief (a belief based in fear) rather than belief itself. And, in fact, most of the early Christians, and many Christians throughout history (and especially in the last 50 years) have rejected the type of intolerant fundamentalism Harris fears, while maintaining a strong sense of dogmatic and Scriptural integrity. Unless Harris wants to say that people like MLK and Desmond Tutu aren't really Christians.

And, on top of all that, Harris and those who agree with his reasoning are appealing to fear just as much as the fundamentalists appeal to fear in their attacks against atheism, infidels, etc. The two sides seem cut from the same cloth to me. There are clearly problems with religion, and problems with human interaction. But spreading a message of fear is not the way to begin solving them.


Roy said...

Hmmm...where have I read this before?

Geoff said...

hehe... sometimes I say things that are halfway intelligent, so I have to share them! :-)

benmc. said...

Didn't Paul spend half his time telling the church to be more tolerant of each other?

The other half of the time ... he was telling them to be holy, which involved Romans 13-style subversion at best, definitely not killing people to change the government. The guy who did that was Barabbas, and last I checked weren't too many churches following him.

Guess Paul wasn't a fundamentalist. But we already knew that didn't we?

This whole lierature of Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, etc., is just getting more and more shrill and less and less logical. They have something important to say but they have forgotten how to say it. What disappoints me is that for some reason it sells books still. But maybe it's the shiny cover.