Reining in the Parachurch
The Death and Rebirth of the Placebo

Atheists....the Next Generation!

Is there a trend hotter today then atheism? When Christopher Hitchens penned "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," his publishers thought 40,000 copies was more than enough. That's how many they printed. Since then they're printed 256,000 to keep up with demand. And a rival publisher has engaged the same author for a follow-up: 'The Portable Atheist.' Sam Harris, who City! gushed over for his 'Letter to a Christian Nation,' is now an also-ran. Only Richard Dawkins, the grand old man of atheism, sits on top, with 500,000 copies of 'The God Delusion.' "This is atheism's moment," says publisher David Steinberger. [WSJ 6/23/07]

It had to happen. Religion has acted too outrageously for too long. Isn't that really why, starting a generation or two ago, people started defecting for the mystical individual faiths, where you could be "one with the universe?" But now people have gone further still. Now they're willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, dumping, not just religious structure, but even God.

These new atheists are fierce. They are in-your-face. They are almost evangelistic. They have pride. No longer will they lay low. Now they assert themselves, and thus they join the universal trend of self-assertion. They join the proud nationalists, proud racial groups, proud ethnic groups, proud disabled groups, proud sexual orientation groups, proud transgendered groups. Isn't there a modest person left on the planet?

Mr. Hitchens, as part of his book promo, challenged a panel that included an Orthodox Jew and a Buddhist nun. "I now wish I hadn't participated," say Nathan Katz, a professor of religious studies at Florida International University. "he was utterly abusive. It had the intellectual level of the Jerry Springer Show" [ibid WSJ] Actually, I got that impression myself when I "took on" a web atheist called Ebonmuse. (the abusive part, that is, not the Springer part)

These are "Atheists - the Next Generation." The first generation had a decidedly different tone. They came in the wake of Darwin's theory, and the floodgates really opened wide following the bloodbath of WWI, in which clergy on both sides eagerly urged their parishioners to maim and kill each other. Thus was founded atheism's initial surge, but it was a "sad" surge. It was mournful. Atheists then despaired of God's existence. They weren't happy with their conclusion. They knew they were giving up on the hopes and dreams of mankind from time immortal, that this life, so fraught with hardship and suffering, wasn't all there is. And, they realized, the death of faith had a deleterious effect even on this life.

For example, H.G. Wells, who turned atheist over time, observed: “The Darwinian movement took formal Christianity unawares, suddenly. . . . The new biological science was bringing nothing constructive as yet to replace the old moral stand-bys. A real de-moralization ensued.” Then, connecting that attitude with an increased appetite for war, he continued: “Prevalent peoples at the close of the nineteenth century believed that they prevailed by virtue of the Struggle for Existence, in which the strong and cunning get the better of the weak and confiding. . . . Man, they decided, is a social animal like the Indian hunting dog . . . so it seemed right to them that the big dogs of the human pack should bully and subdue.” [Outline of History]

They concluded God was dead. They didn't disagree with their own conclusion, but they were saddened by it. They knew they had lost a lot.

Not so atheist's Next Generation! They gleefully saw off the branch upon which they sit, in return for the ecstasy of no one telling them what to do! Our 70-80 years, with nothingness looming beyond, seems to them a great bargain. No matter if it ends in the nursing home with someone changing our Depends three times a day! In his time, Ronald Reagan was, arguably, the world's most influential person. Ten years later he didn't know who he was. Does this faze the "next generation?" Not a bit! For the first time in human history, relative comfort and ease is possible for most of us, provided we play our cards right and aren't terribly unlucky, and live in privileged nations. We can have fine homes, fine cars, cool technology. And that's good enough for them! What could God possibly add to that?

It's sad to see. But it had to happen.

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The wicked one according to his superciliousness makes no search;
All his ideas are: “There is no God."      Psalm 10:4

*****************************

Tom Irregardless and Me      No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Comments

Romulus Crowe

Atheists aren't too friendly to those in my line of work either, since what I do directly violates their 'dead is dead' mantra.

They're becoming as aggressive as some of our current ideological terrorists - 'believe (or rather, disbelieve) as we do or we'll kill you' can't be too far away.

I do wonder how, or even why, those who reject all aspects of religion or afterlife feel the need to force others to their point of view. Are they planning to have atheist 'unchurches' where they go and refuse to sing hymns?

I don't follow any religion, I don't agree with some of the dictats of organised churches, so I just don't go there. I can't see any objection to anyone practicing any religion they like. I simply don't join in.

I won't join in with this new Atheism religion for the same reasons. They're even more oppressive than the Spanish Inquisition.

I've said before that science can never prove the non-existence of anything. It's just not set up that way. This atheism movement isn't science, it's using science as a cover. Evolution might one day be proved, the Big Bang might be proved, but at no point can Science ever say 'God didn't do it'.

My position on God is that God won't prove he exists, and Science can't prove he doesn't.

He might be there. I'll wait and see.

Mike.e

I'm wondering, Tom, if you've even taken the time to read any of these "atheist" books?

tom sheepandgoats

Well....um...ah...ahem...that is to say.........(no)

Perhaps in fairness I should read one or two. Though I have read numerous blogs, as well as reviews of the above books. And it's not that far afield from my established area of knowledge.

Thing is, I suspect these books would make for a very frustrating read. By all accounts, they expose hypocrisies of religion, and in doing so, assume they are building a case against God. The two, however, are very different. Furthermore, nobody has exposed the hypocrisies of religion more than Jehovah's Witnesses, doing so more boldly than these guys and before they were born. http://carriertom.typepad.com/sheep_and_goats/2006/11/religion_is_a_s.html

That being the case, I once imagined that Jehovah's Witnesses might be the least objectionable of faiths to these people. Their weapons are words only. They don't go to war. When turned away from someone's door, they don't afterwards try to force their ways upon others through political means. (unlike most major faiths)

I was wrong. The atheists do give us a green light on these things, whereas most groups get a red light, but they scour our beliefs until they find other things just as objectionable to them and then they harp on these things. Most churches, for example, have long since accepted the status quo of Christian divisions and sects, in spite of vehement biblical counsel against it. They enshrine personal independence at the expense of Christian unity. We yield a certain amount of individual freedoms so as to maintain such unity. Atheists rail against this as totalitarian mind control. But it's a view that only plays in Western society today, a society which is obsessed with throwing off every sort of restraint. One can see it, not just in the field of religion, but in every field. All one has to do is read the newspapers.

Reading is a tricky thing. One can only do so much of it. Alas, the long-suffering Mrs. Sheepandgoats thinks I read too much as it is, to the detriment of such things as household repairs!

Mike.e

I would recommend that you read at least some of the atheist literature. Dawkins, especially, is frustrating because the man wouldn't know good logic if it hit him in the face.

My question to you was actually a bit loaded, because the organization that you are a part of would not wanting you reading such things at all. My church, on the other hand, would encourage such reading because we know we have the truth and have nothing to fear.

I realize that such an issue isn't so simple, because there are some who are weak and new to the faith. But that is why the apostle Paul commands us to have elders and deacons, who should be as involved as possible with the spiritual lives of those in the congregation.

NateDredge

I find your comments about the Atheists coming out as a new ‘pride’ group to be particularly true. Some of my Atheists friends are more overbearing then my Evangelical friends in the advocacy of there world view. One, a former Roman Catholic, has changed considerably from the relatively pious young man I knew in High School. He celebrates a Godless life, championing pornography, masturbation and drunkenness, and raging against superstition in blogs written, admittedly while a little tipsy. While I still find him a worthwhile friend, the examples given being but one aspect of his person, I still am a little floored about how these until recently despised traits can be held up as symbols of pride, and how the absence of belief can become the primary marker of ones personal identity

tom sheepandgoats

Nate: It's a very recent development, isn't it, and surprising in its fierceness.

Mike.e: I wondered what was the purpose of that question. When did you ever NOT ask a loaded one?

Nenetheless, thank you for your observation about Dawkins. I have heard similar sentiments about his "fuzzy" logic. In fairness to the man, however, I have only heard them from his detractors, never his supporters.

As to reading material, it's true that our organization would never recommend such a book. In fact, they discourage (though never by name) devoting time to material that would fit the bill of what Paul wrote to Timothy:

O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge. 1 Tim 6:20

I assure you, though, that if congregation elders were to pay me a visit and the entire Dawkins-Harris-Hitchings trinity was lying on my coffee table, I would not be in trouble. You are overplaying the "mind-control" card.

Screech

Seems to me like the exact same argument Satan made to Adam and Eve. Cast off authority, answer to no one, and decide for yourself what good and bad is. I'm paraphrasing, of course.

Moristotle

Tom, my friend, you write with such verve and passion, I wish you could be more compassionate (if not actually sympathetic) to people who don't believe in God (among whom I now count myself, though not, I hope, in the "next generation" sense you parody).

You have constructed an interesting (and apparently effective) philosophical niche for yourself (and your fellow JWs): "Right [you sort of say], religion is no damn good, with the exception of Jehovah's Witness, which is perfect and keeps the baby God while throwing out the bath water of all of the other religions and, oh yes, of atheism too."

And Jehovah's Witness seems to be so intricately constructed (with all of its interlocking points of Biblical interpretation) as to defy anything but a PhD-dissertation level rebuttal. You seem in a secure, indeed impregnable position. "Go with God," my friend!

In the meantime, I think tomorrow's post on my own blog will quote from Kathy Reich's novel MONDAY MOURNING a passage in which she describes a radical technique for trying to shoo Jehovah's Witnesses away from one's front door. I think it will afford you a good laugh.

tom sheepandgoats

Thanks Moristotle:

It's the nature of parody that, if one has compassion and sympathy, they are not evident in the writing. I'm blown away by the gleefulness with which some embrace atheism. To accept it with a sense of sadness, however, as per the H. G. Wells example, is another thing entirely. That is much easier to empathise with and I like to think I do so, even while disagreeing with the particulars.

I don't at all think Jehovah's Witnesses are perfect. There's any number of things I'm not crazy about, and put up with because the overall structure of the faith is very good indeed, IMO. Another fellow in the cong will also have minor gripes on this or that point. They won't be the same gripes as mine. They may even contradict mine.

Any time people are involved there has to be some friction. You learn to separate what's important from what's not, and what you should do something about from what it isn't your place to. You don't go grandstanding your own views but learn to yield for the sake of peace.

Not at all perfect. But the overall framework I believe is very worthwhile and answers many questions that I have not seen convincing answers to elsewhere.

Moristotle

Thanks, Tom. I wonder whether any atheists are blown away by the gleefulness with which some embrace Christianity, say, but like to think they are able to empathize with those who accept it with a sense of sadness?--the way you seem to accept Jehovah's Witness, perhaps.

I've typed up the Kathy Reichs excerpt for tomorrow morning....

tom sheepandgoats

Touché, Moristotle! A fine retort.

And I am bracing myself for Ms. Riech's salvo tomorrow.

Moristotle

I thought you'd like my rejoinder, Tom. It seems to raise more philosophical question in the posing than I realized when I started to formulate it. I mean the point-of-view thing.

I've put up the excerpt, but Ms. Reichs, though she provides a moderately entertaining read for the so-inclined, is not a writer of anywhere near the ability of other fiction writers I've quoted of late: David Lodge, Kingsley Amis, Ian McEwan. The latter's book, ATONEMENT, is one of the most affecting I've ever read, his descriptions of some English soldiers retreating from France (which is being overrun by Hitler), nurses ministering to war wounded in London. The book also manages to satisfy on the post-modernist level of being a deft commentary on novel writing and on the writing of ATONEMENT in particular. A masterpiece perhaps.

Have you read anything of Lodge yet? Did you finish PARADISE NEWS? I think I got into McEwan because of some tribute that Lodge made to him.

Good day, my friend.

tom sheepandgoats

Something in the back of my head said yesterday "I'll bet it involves answering the door naked" but I didn't want to a.) steal your thunder or b.)be wrong. You're right, it does kinda spoil the mood.

But it's not foolproof. Our people are resourceful. It happened once to my friend Mona, who is both a registered nurse and a quick witted woman. She said "you don't have anything that I haven't seen before."

I haven't read the David Lodge books yet (Mike.e thinks I'm not allowed to) but on your recommendation I will put them back on my "to read" list. I am now re-reading a book I love: Morris Kline's Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge, and after that, Maigret and the Flea. I imagined I had read all the Maigrets that were in English, but I recently discovered this one in the Ithaca NY library, where we took refuge one rainy day. It's copyright 1973 (if memory serves) and must have been the last one he wrote, or close to it.

Alas, I had paradise lost on my shelf for three weeks, but then I returned it to the library unread. It was a particulary busy time for me.

Incidentally, in a recent post I referred to a hilariious yet insightfu short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, from a collection of his short stories whose title I forget. These stories feature Jewish culture, wit and humor. I enjoy them a lot. I recommend them for your own reading list.

http://carriertom.typepad.com/sheep_and_goats/2007/08/earning-salvati.html

Moristotle

Hey, Tom! Speaking of Mike.e's somewhat embarrassing question whether you'd actually read any of those atheist books, I was thinking that your not having read any is very similar (I imagine) to my not inclining to (re-) read scriptures. For both of us, I think the reason is that we know beforehand that our minds are made up about the works in question. We "know" that anything we encounter there that seems to contradict what we already "know is true" can be dismissed out of hand as wrong (even if we can't think of a good reason at the time). So why bother?

As I pointed out to a cousin of mine with whom I communicate about these things (via e-mail), Bertrand Russell delivered his lecture, "Why I am not a Christian," to a meeting of SECULARISTS. That is, his audience was self-selected. And I selected myself the other day to be another of the readers of that essay (and the related essays collected in that 50-year-old book I wrote about on my blog six days ago). Similarly I've selected myself to be another reader of Richard Dawkins's THE GOD DELUSION. I pretty much agree with Russell and Dawkins (from what I know of the latter's views) (and of course with Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, on the subject in question).

Humans enjoy learning more about what they already believe and don't much enjoy the challenge of considering alternative views (unless they think there's an underlying agreement).

That's what my blog essay "All in or All out" was about. I decided to quite shilly-shallying about whether or not I believed in God (Kierkegaard's "noble doubter") and just make things more comfy for myself by going all one way or the other (the atheist way in my case). And I do indeed feel much more comfy. I can even sense how a new atheist can become "next generation"; it's heady stuff. Like discovering sex, sort of.

(For the record, though, I hasten to add that I was appalled by NateDredge's friend who "celebrates a Godless life, championing pornography, masturbation and drunkenness, and raging against superstition." Sounds like a boor and an altogether unsavory character, possibly with some mild or not-so-mild personality problems. (No disrespect intended, just voicing my suspicions.)

By the way, about reading scriptures...In one of Russell's essays, he speaks of Jesus's belief in hell and sometime enthusiasm for everlasting punishment (for which Russell soundly condemns Jesus as not being a nice person). I think I sort of read over (ignored) those passages when I read them in the past, so that they didn't particularly bother me. I remembered how put off I was, though, when I read exactly similar passages in the Qur'an that Maliha sent me. This sort of shows how we can become so acclimated to familiar texts that we fail to read them freshly anymore. (Not sure what to make of that, though.)

Apologian

Mike.e if you don't mind me asking - which denomination/church/religion do you belong to? (I am not setting up a personal attack here, I'm just curious)

tom sheepandgoats

Moristotle:

Sometimes I think that nobody has ever changed their mind about anything on the blogosphere....that it is just one huge forum for grandstanding. Most of us preach to the choir. I've also noticed that our wit and sarcasm never ever ever persuades the other side, though our own chums may think it's clever.

You, at least, have the relative distinction of having "traveled" intellectually in the time I have known you.

Moristotle

I'm glad that I still do seem to have SOME fluidity in my sixty-four-year-old "being"! Aside from sex, the greatest pleasure I've experienced (over and over and many times) in my life has been what I call "epiphanies," nothing more than that "flash of insight" that comes in thinking. It is the height of intellectual (and, I think, human) pleasure. Of course, I suspect that I AM aging significantly in the sense that I get these flashes, now, in rediscovering things I've forgotten!

I'm currently experiencing rumblings of epiphany in my sense of what "spirituality" might be for me (and possibly, of course, for others). I just put a placeholder on my blog to contain my current thoughts on spirituality. The "placeholder" (being simply a photograph of flowers) has its on grand eloquence and might exceed any words I ever add to it [smile].

Moristotle

My "shoo" limerick:

There is a way you might essay,
To shoo the *tabernouche* away:
...Greet them in the nude,
...And maybe, though it's rude,
You'll scare them off to stay.

Moristotle

Tom, your post may be being more provocative than you wanted (or at least more than you expected)?

My initial response to it may have been off the mark, for your essential point (it seems to me after re-reading the post) is that the TONE of activist atheists is insufferable in its aggressiveness (and even abusiveness). I agree in opposing abusiveness, for which we ought not to have any sympathy.

I've been trying to figure out what "something else" I must have had in mind to suggest that you might have shown a little compassion, if not sympathy, for atheists.

I think it was this: Atheists like Harris and Hitchens (and Russell, but decades earlier; I don't know about Dawkins, not having read him yet) really believe (believed) that religion "poisons" stuff. You even seem to agree with that! (And I like you for it.)

Having such a belief, how can a morally responsible person NOT try to "make a difference" by going out and becoming active? Even Jehovah's Witnesses, in their nice, non-pushy way (although not everyone on whose doorstep JWs appear will agree they they aren't pushy) are acting to make a difference, right?

And the atheists in America also emphasize our Constitution's clause about the separation of church and state, so they claim a political as well as a moral basis for their public actions to bring about change. (I myself have spoken out vehemently against what I regard as the ANTI-Constitutional activism of "fundamentalist Christians." And other Christians have spoken out against it too.)

Anyway, THANK YOU for your provocative post and for giving your readers a forum to discuss these important issues.

Screech1976

There is a chance that you might fail,
If the fellow that you hail:
Has no eyes for which to flash,
and your current hopes will have to dash...

tom sheepandgoats

"how can a morally responsible person NOT try to "make a difference" by going out and becoming active? Even Jehovah's Witnesses, in their nice, non-pushy way (although not everyone on whose doorstep JWs appear will agree they they aren't pushy) are acting to make a difference, right?"

Well, yes they are. They are acting to persuade and collect people who feel that human governments are not up to the task and that the only hope for humankind lies in God's Kingdom rule. (the kingdom most of us are aware of from 'the Lord's Prayer.') We are unified so long as we are doing that, since we believe that's what the Bible tells Christians to do. God's Kingdom will solve problems that human governments have found intractable.

The moment we decide to solve these problems ourselves, however, the unity vanishes. We divide up just like everyone else, according to nationality, race, social class, educational level, philisophical bent, etc as to how best to tackle things.

I know from your own blog that you think the Pres & company are the bad guys who screw up everything they touch. Yet they don't agree that they are the bad guys. They think they are the good guys, and they have plenty of supporters. That's how it is with people. Well meaning people don't all come down on the same side of things. We wouldn't either.

A recent post on education quoted John Taylor Gatto who quoted Aristotle who observed that institutionalized education is too entrenched to move and impossible to reform.

http://carriertom.typepad.com/sheep_and_goats/2007/08/john-t-gatto-an.html


On a grander scale, we pretty much feel the same way about this entire system of things. Jesus used the illustration that you don't pour new wine into old wineskins because those wineskins can't handle it....they'll burst. You pour new wine into new wineskins.

Same thing with human governments. They're pretty well irreformable. Whatever positive contributions you think JWs may have are only going to make their mark under God's kingdom rule. And God brings that rule, not us. We just announce it.

Alas, probably not the answer you want to hear. But it's the only one I know how to give.


Moristotle

Right, Tom, alas. I regard your

"the only hope for humankind lies in God's Kingdom rule (the kingdom most of us are aware of from 'the Lord's Prayer'). We are unified so long as we are doing that, since we believe that's what the Bible tells Christians to do. God's Kingdom will solve problems that human governments have found intractable"

a pipe dream, a nice fantasy for those who can believe it.

But I still like you [smile].

tom sheepandgoats

Moristotle:

I cannot reject that description strongly enough. I agree that it plays like a pipe dream, but that is only because it gets lost in the overwhelming torrent of contrary opinion. There is more than enough evidence to satisfy a reasonable mind that the Bible is from a source higher than man. And the book's message itself is explainable and internally consistent. True, you have to knock down a few structures to arrive at these conclusions. (such as evolution, at least insofar as the spontaneous blocks your way at every turn by advancing notions that defy good sense (and find no scriptural support). But these structures are much like the emperor with no clothes....much flimsier than their reputation would suggest.

If there is more than enough information to satisfy a reasonable person, is this to say that everyone not believing such is unreasonable? No. You spoke before of epiphanies in which you come to the realization of this or that point. Should anyone conclude that you were unreasonable before you arrived at your new viewpoint? Obviously not. The situation here is parallel. These matters are quite rational, not at all fantasy, yet easily lost amid today's prevalent opposing views. They require faith, yet the faith is analagous (though on a grander scale) to your faith that the sun will rise tommorow; you haven't actually seen it do so yet, but you have excellent reasons to believe that it will.

mud_rake

Tom- have you ever considered the difference between the word 'atheist' and a-theist?

The latter is a belief that there is no theistic God, no Man in the Sky keeping score on us.

Rather, a-theists find 'God' inside of the person.

Just wondering.

tom sheepandgoats

I've not considered the difference.

"The latter is a belief that there is no theistic God, no Man in the Sky keeping score on us."

Isn't that also the definition of the former?

Barb

from dictionary definition on atheist -- Gk. atheos "to deny the gods, godless," from a- "without" + theos "a god" (see Thea).

So "atheist" isn't "a theist," but a person "without a god."

Good blog, Tom. I guess you are a sheep. Me, too.
I trust the Lord will consider me to be one.

I've noticed this new evangelical zeal of atheists --on line, in unis, and on talk programs --Hitchens got a lot of press.

a good resource web site with faith-building videos is www.leestrobel.com

Barb

Tom, you spoke about the lack of unity in Christendom--the warnings of the Bible against divisions in the church? At the same time, didn't Jesus say of some who were preaching and not of His immediate group, "IF they aren't against us, they are for us?" or words to that effect. Too late for me to look it up right now. Do you know the verse?

Of course, I'm more particular about doctrine than that quote would suggest.

I do think that splinter groups had some good points --like when Barnabus and Paul separated over John Mark --and decided to make two separate missionary journeys because they disagreed about the young man going along. and it turned out to be a good thing--double the outreach.

Likewise, when churches split over biblical interpretation, lifestyle concerns (convictions), or corrupt or otherwise lacking leadership, it may be necessary for the splinter groups who feared they or their youth would die on the vine in a church that seemed too flawed, not teaching and preaching the Word, e.g. --or too legalistic --or too country clubbish --or no youth for their children to grow up with, etc. etc.

Yes, we know we need Christian unity and brotherhood --so the world "will know we are Christians by our love" --but I think splits are sometimes necessary. Not that God wouldn't rather see us unified --but one faction can be more Biblically correct and more Christian in love and lifestyle than the other, sometimes, stifling the church.

Also, smaller churches may have fewer pew-sitters and more people active in ministry --in order to keep the church ministries staffed --and the involvement in ministry is good for folks.

tom sheepandgoats

Barb....

He also said exactly the opposite, and I can think of certain ones who would be quick to pounce on that fact as a "contradiction," but I suspect context explains it all.

"He that is not on my side is against me, and he that does not gather with me scatters." Matt 12:30

"Do not try to prevent him, for there is no one that will do a powerful work on the basis of my name that will quickly be able to revile me; for he that is not against us is for us" Mark 9:39

Both statements, however, were made before there was a Chistian congregation, which was only established after Christ's resurrection, so I'm not sure how much either applies to congregation unity.

But it's usually a good thing to find common ground with people, and the scripture you mention could certainly be used to make that point, if not more.

Barb

thanks for good reply --good blog.

mud_rake

"But it's usually a good thing to find common ground with people, and the scripture you mention could certainly be used to make that point, if not more."

The 'common ground' principle only works when both parties agree that their personal point of view does not trump the others.

I doubt that many folks with heightened religious fervor find [or care to find] common ground with others of a differeng faith.

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