Monday, 5 November 2007

Christian's Op-Ed Lacks Sense

Last week I was forced to take a break from my studies to respond to an op-ed piece in The Press which raised my ire. Local pastor John Stringer decided that he should air his views on Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" (several month late I might add), and ham-fistedly segues into a vain attempt to belittle atheism as unpopular.

Also in the same edition, a perplexing letter to the editor appeared, obviously from a christian with some kind of axe to grind.

Both are reproduced here in full. The original op-ed can be found here on The Press website.

Atheists beat familiar drum - The Press, Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The prominence of atheistic views is failing to convince the masses against religious beliefs, writes JOHN STRINGER.

The bovver boys of atheist nay-saying are at it again. The latest international atheist golden boy, Richard Dawkins, flush from successful international sales of his recent book The God Delusion, has upped the ante on us wafer munchers and cross clutchers.

It's nothing new, of course. The church and Christian and Jewish belief in a monotheistic God have endured this kind of playground collar-tugging and name-calling for more than 3000 years. From pharaohs not getting the hint from gnats, boils, locusts and frogs, to the Roman Caesars (until Constantine's dream) to Karl Marx's famous "religion is the opium of the people" one-liner in his 1843 Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, religion has been fair game.

It is, of course, blamed for war and all the social ills of our times, including paedophilia, ignorance, hatred, homophobia and intolerance. Where are some fresh lions when you need them?

The atheist retinue pride themselves on superior intelligence, sophistication and a certain logic. But that is where I've always found the likes of Brian Edwards, Dawkins, Stephen Hawking and Christopher Hitchens somewhat incongruous. Atheism seems to define itself entirely in relation to something that isn't; and atheist champions seem to talk an awful lot about God to the point of preoccupation, which would seem to be oxymoronic.

How can God, for example, be "a vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser, infanticidal, megalomaniacal and sado- masochistic" (Dawkins as quoted in The Press, Oct 17) when he's not there? It beggars belief ... and unbelief. Dawkins owes a lot to God. Without him, sales of his book might have to be immaculately conceived. One wonders if he's flicked God a royalty cheque of late.

These outspoken atheists and their disciples seem to have an almost pathological obsessive hatred of the Big Fella, their academic diatribes fuelling a reactionary debate, which the media lap up. Conflict is the opium of the media.

Atheism is a relatively recent philosophical phenomenon. By far the majority of humans throughout history, ancient and modern, have accepted the existence of God or gods. The word derives from the French "atheisme" ("without theos") of about the 1570s.

Atheism grew, in divergent forms, with the rise of modern scientific scepticism and the open criticism of religion encouraged by the Protestant Reformation, itself a religious movement.

The germination of modern atheism can perhaps be linked back to early Hindu atheist schools and Theravada Buddhism, and even earlier to the pre-Socratic Greek philosophies of thinkers like Diagoras (the "first atheist"), Critias (the violent tyrannical politician uncle of Plato) and Democritus (who came up with the idea of the atom), among others. Where Christianity has actively formed and influenced modern politics (from Christians within the courts of the Caesars, the Roman army, to the Caesarian edicts of the early 300s outlawing persecution of minorities) liberty, and in general terms, open and transparent society have flourished.

Atheism has a less than wholesome track record as a quality philosophical foundation for civil life.

In the few countries where atheism has been actively practised (the only state to officially outlaw religion was Albania under Hoxha after World War 2 until the 1980s, Stalinist Soviet Russia and Mao Zedong China and Mongolia), the prevailing culture has been one of repression, tyranny and economic stagnation.

Despite that, however, the citizens of these nations have embraced religion, particularly Christianity. Professors of a Shanghai university have estimated that between 40 and 100 million Chinese worship as Christians and that 31.4% of the Chinese population consider themselves religious.

In Russia, a report on religious freedom by the US State Department estimated 85% of Russians in 2006 considered themselves Christian, including Russian Orthodox Christian. The Slavic Centre for Law and Justice says there are about 3500 Protestant church organisations in Russia alone.

At the time, belief in God – certainly among ordained ministers – was something of a requirement.

Today it is fashionably correct among many denominational clergy not to believe in God, which must make hymn singing uncomfortable at moments.

Richard Dawkins might blow a lot of smoke, but in the end the masses of humanity are not inhaling.

Graffiti tels truth - The Press, Wednesday, 31 October 2007
Our lives are predicated on our physical and intellectual world following laws that are observable, predictable and stable. We build everything on this foundation. The alternative is chaos.

Scintists such as Richard Dawkins assume that they are rational creatures, examine their world, conclude it has irrational origins and then declare belief in God to be irrational and themselves the paragons of reason. It takes your breath away.

Atheism is the ultimate offence against bothe reason and the heart, and we need not drown in philosophical complexities to grasp this simple truth. The logical extension of evolutionary thought is no more eloquently expressed than by our oung street-wise philosophers in their contemporary maxim—life sucks. It is written in their graffiti.

With what presumption does science dismiss all realities other than that which can be verified by their own instruments?

- Milton Heyward, Shirley

These were, of course, red rags to a bull. My response was to write back:
It was with disgust that I read John Stringer's article and Milton Heyward's letter in yesterday's Press. The views presented therein were nothing short of willful ignorance and ill-deserved smugness.

If atheists seem preoccupied with the question of God, perhaps it is because vocal theists like Stringer are continually bashing us over the head with the "we say God exists, therefore God exists" vein of circular reasoning. We atheists are merely rebutting the position advanced by theists like him. Such rebuttal is only based on centuries of methodically gathered scientific evidence, thoroughly scrutinised, cross-checked, and tested; that's all. To date, nothing we have discovered by these highly consistent means has implied the need for the existence of a 'God'.

What both Stringer and Heyward are attempting to do is to equate public opinion with the truth: How can so many be wrong? By this logic, the Germans under Nazi rule were quite justified in murdering millions of Jews, civillians and allied servicemen, since the Nazi ideology was popular in Germany at the time. See the problem here?

Stringer also blames atheism for "repression, tyranny and economic stagnation" in Russia under Stalin and China under Mao. Here the blame is misplaced: It is the removal of freedom of belief that is the cause of the resultant protest regarding belief, not the particular belief espoused. It must be mentioned that mandatory belief is exactly what theists like Stringer and Heyward dream of - except that it's their absurd systems of belief they'd like us all to swallow.

Surely Mr. Stringer must be joking when he speaks of 'open and transparent' societies founded upon christianity. Any oppression atheists are accused of pales in comparison to the centuries of brutal torture, witch hunts, crusades, inquisitions (yes, inquisitions plural; there have been many christian inquisitions - the Spanish inquisition alone lasted more than 300 years), fear-mongering, sectarian violence, etc., that religious leaders would rather were all swept under the carpet. All done in the name of an allegedly loving and just God.

Milton Heyward asks with what "presumption" does science dismiss other 'realities'. There's no presumption here: the straightforward answer to this is that the only reality we can know is this one - the one we physically inhabit. Anything else is unknown. If Heyward prides himself on "[predicating his] physical and intellectual world following laws that are observeable, predictable and stable", then he has no reason to believe in a supposed supernatural entity which (if indeed it does exist as they claim) displays none of the above characteristics.

As Thomas Jefferson - an early freethinker - put it, "Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty". He could very well have been referring to religious despotism versus liberty of thought. The worldwide rifts caused by religions are a millstone around the collective necks of humanity. It is time for theists to grow up, and move on.

My letter wasn't printed, although I had forseen this, as it is well over the 150 word target expressed by the Press. Even so, I could not let this outrage go unattended, and feel much better for having done so.