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Holy War!

A new army of atheists is taking no prisoners in its battle with God and his self-appointed faith dealers
By JAMES PARKER  |  June 6, 2007


There’s no doubt about it: right now, God is on the side of the atheists.

The apostles of unbelief are having their Pentecostal moment. The spirit is upon them, endowing them with the gift of tongues and commanding them to spread the Bad News. British contrarian and journalist Christopher Hitchens’s current smash God Is Not Great (Twelve) was preceded on the bestseller lists by Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin) and Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation (Knopf). Then there’s Tufts professor Daniel Dennett, whose Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Penguin) has also been doing quite well.

In pure publishing terms, this mini-boom in godlessness can be interpreted as a backlash against the mumbo-jumbo juggernaut of The Da Vinci Code and its ilk. More profoundly, it has provoked serious public discussion of the role of faith in our current politics, and in the prosecution of the so-called war on terror. And more profoundly still, it has given the average unreligious Seinfeld fan, well, something to believe in. Secularism is not glorious: it’s a dude in Starbucks tweaking his Blackberry. Now at last, with these champions going before him, this slumped figure can rise and partake of that cosmic gallantry on which the faithful, hitherto, have had a monopoly.

With the exception of Dennett’s work (he mildly researches “the belief in belief”), the manner of these books is urgent and intemperate: atheism, their authors insist, is an idea whose time has come, and the sooner this religion business gets knocked on the head, the better things will be for everyone. And since the antidote to piety is disrespect, the believer can count on few courtesies in their pages. Dawkins labels churchgoers “faith-heads”: a word to be pronounced, presumably, with the same asperity as “crackheads.” Hitchens returns again and again to the idea that religion belongs “to the infancy of mankind,” and scolds and chides the religious accordingly. Harris’s style is hoarse and didactic, fitted to what he sees as a state of global emergency: “You believe that Christianity is an unrivaled source of human goodness,” he writes. “You believe that the Bible is the most profound book ever written and that its contents have stood the test of time so well that it must have been divinely inspired. All of these beliefs are false.”

Even the genial Dennett, who is bearded like Santa Claus, proposes with a professorial twinkle that the God-free be called “brights,” and credits them with a significant moral edge: apparently, brights have the lowest divorce rate in the United States.

The atheists have also carried their crusade to the media, where, so far, their opponents have been brought low like something from Psalm 18 (“Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.”) Consider, for example, the recent woes of Al Sharpton. On May 7, the Reverend Al debated Christopher Hitchens at the New York Public Library, on the notion “God Is Not Great.” The debate was a rhetorical mismatch, without particular interest until the moment when the Creator, in His wisdom, allowed Sharpton to open his mouth spectacularly wide and insert the entirety of his own foot.

Alluding to the Mormonism of Republican candidate Mitt Romney, Sharpton grandly told his audience not to worry, because Romney would be defeated by “those who really believe in God.” Lazy chuckles from the crowd. But within hours, the Romney war machine had mobilized: the candidate went before the cameras complaining of “religious bigotry,” appealingly casting himself in the role of maligned believer and forcing the reverend into a blustery self-defense.

Worse, the suitability of Mormonism in a presidential candidate — a tricky area for Mitt — was suddenly off the table as an issue: which of Romney’s conservative opponents would want to be on the same side, even for a second, as Al Sharpton? Score one for the Mormonator. Hitchens, meanwhile, preened in triumph. He glittered with delight: here, on the front page, was the sort of low-brow tribal god-squabble that gave meaning to the subtitle of his book: “How Religion Poisons Everything.”

Hounds of Hell
Next, consider the fate of Ted Haggard. In 2005, the then-pastor of the New Life Church and chairman of the National Association of Evangelicals was interviewed-slash-confronted by Dawkins for a documentary on religion called The Root of All Evil? Filmed at the New Life compound in Colorado Springs, it was a leering, lip-curling encounter, a showpiece of contempt, in which the atheist Dawkins accused the Biblical literalist Haggard (somewhat tautologically, perhaps) of knowing nothing about evolution, while Haggard suggested that Dawkins’s grandchildren might one day “laugh at him” for his belief in natural selection. “You wanna bet?” snarled Dawkins, his mad-scientist eyebrows standing quill-like in fury. The pastor then threw Dawkins and the camera crew off his land, uttering the classic creationist retort: “You called my children animals!”

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Related: Backlash blues, Feeding the rabid right, Springtime for Darwin, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Al Sharpton, Alan Colmes, atheism,  More more >
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Holy War!
I have no problem with believers and their beliefs until they start trying to forcefeed me those beliefs. Then there's a major problem...with them and their beliefs. Keep your religion to yourself, folks!
By Terry C on 06/07/2007 at 7:19:02
Holy War!
"Secularism is not glorious: it’s a dude in Starbucks tweaking his Blackberry." Funny, to me Secularism the freedom for people of other faiths or none not to fear persecution by the authorities for their beliefs, for a trial based on law and evidence rather than seeing if the Devil makes the witch float, to decide matters of conscience based on rational discussion rather than the dictates of bronze age tribal leaders long gone to dust, to question long held beliefs with inpunity and accept or reject them based on the answers forthcoming rather than face arrest and even execution for apostacy and to question the majesty of the universe without having to fear the consequences should my observations not match religious dogma. That is Secularism and I think it IS glorious, it's opposite is not 'Faith', rather 'Theocracy' and it has been seen too many times where that leads. Atheism is not a necessary prerequisite to be a secularist.
By PJ on 06/07/2007 at 8:13:19
Holy War!
hooray for PJ! 'cosmic gallantry' indeed!
By rain king on 06/07/2007 at 8:09:13
Holy War!
I second that, though I'd have broken up that killer second sentence of PJ's into a couple pieces. But regardless your defense of secularism is, itself, glorious. PJ.
By Ron Huber on 06/09/2007 at 3:47:12
Holy War!
I agree about breaking up sentences. You may also want to acquaint yourself with "topic sentences." Why not run expressions like "mumbo-jumbo juggernaut" through a "statistically improbable phrase" checker? This may be an interesting article, but who knows? It's completely unreadable!
By zorg on 06/10/2007 at 9:20:00
Holy War!
Droll, these "anti-god" belivers, are worse than zealots. They think about god more than belivers albiet in a negative light and pursue their point of view until they are either smashed or the other person backs away usually to their harpy cries. They push their non belief the same way they acuse other of pushing their beliefs. Monsters most of them.
By jshm2 on 06/10/2007 at 9:23:12
Holy War!
As always, those who attack atheism do no speak to fact; they resort to insult and derision. The basics of religion are so flimsy and tenuous that no believer can argue them without coming to the conclusion that their beliefs are baseless and bizarre. Which is, of course, why religions prefer their adherents to just have faith and not question. Questions lead to answers and answers in this case lead to an undeniable conclusion: religion is false, dangerous and indeed poisons everything. WriterWriter
By writerwriter on 06/10/2007 at 10:04:45
Holy War!
Great article I would disagree that "[the atheists] attacks on him are rather personal." Bronze age tribesmen who wrote the Old Testament describes god as capricious, immature, and insecure. The reason for why the universe exists is described by religions as a man and with a human personality. For example, "god" plays a game of favorites with Cain and Abel (his grandkids), and he does this arbitrarily and the result if murder. God hardly hesitates at the idea of wiping out all of mankind in a flood because he decides he didn't make us well. Pointing out these details helps illustrate the lack of credibility that should be attributed to the writings of primitive writings who could only imagine the cause of the universe as a man
By bachdog on 06/10/2007 at 10:20:43
Holy War!
Terry C.: excellent comment. Well put and right on the mark.
By writerwriter on 06/10/2007 at 10:32:21
Holy War!
At the least, religions should not proselytize, but the fundamentalists do anyway as part of their doctrine. But the problem is not just about forcing personal beliefs on others and the public school system. The problem is that much of this country's policy comes from the opinions of church leaders. Ralph Reed? James Dobson? The US is unique in that we do not have a religious state, but we are getting closer to what could be called a synthesis of "theocracy" and "plutocracy" By the way, if god is all-powerful and all-knowing then why does he need the fundamentalist to go out and convert people? Why does he need missionaries at all?
By bachdog on 06/10/2007 at 11:28:43
Holy War!
When mixed with force or government religion moves from silly to dangerous. The "righteous" crusade in Iraq which has now killed, maimed and displaced millions and unleashed a religious-political civil war as well as America's endless consensual crime war which is responsible for needlessly imprisoning millions for sin are both tragic examples of the results. If only people could see through the fog that clouds their minds from early childhood. Believe what you want but make an attempt to refrain from enforcing your beliefs with a gun or threat of violence.
By hrothgar on 06/10/2007 at 1:16:28
Holy War!
I had to register just to point out that America is not at all unique for having a religious state. Most non-Americans recognise that America is extremely religious, with a very thin veneer of secularism. I can think of about fifty countries which are not religious states, and the US doesn't really rank highly in the list. Also I had to enter my zip code to register which is exceedingly stupid as i don't have one.
By phauna on 06/10/2007 at 7:52:13
Holy War!
I like how when you criticize Christianity or Islam, suddenly you are a big, bad, Atheist! What is the difference between the unverified claims of Zeus fathering Hercules, and that of this Jewish god named YHWH fathering Jesus? What about Osiris-Horus? Why don't you have faith in Ahura Mazda? You are blinded by your faith in a superstition originating in the Middle East. If you had been born in Iran, you would be a Muslim. If there is a god, it doesn't care if you believe in some Zombie Jew, or some Pedophile from Arabia. At least, any god worth worshipping wouldn't care about such trivial bullshit.
By zoot on 06/10/2007 at 9:06:36
Holy War!
"Secularism is not glorious: it’s a dude in Starbucks tweaking his Blackberry." Ah, such a subtle thing. An everyday scene, but the gadget and the internet which supports it would have been speculative fiction twenty years ago, the coffee (transported thousands of miles and still fresh), the cups (marvels of mass production), even the very fact that the economy supports such gratuitous indulgence - these are the products of scrupulous realism. The atheist with his Blackberry is in harmony with his surroundings. The religious man is an incongruity.
By Just a Guy on 06/11/2007 at 12:53:24
Holy War!
Picking the ancient scab of religion Christian right intelligent design of faith compliance. Scientific left Darwinian Theory on fact based science. Clergy quote Geneses stating Gods creation dominance. Atheist scientist map and quantify human experience. Tithing religionists wobble in slack jawed wonderment. Agnosticism is beginning to grow beyond confinement. Prayer is becoming stagnant as crime and war escalate. No divine intervention peace God visible to participate. Muslim terrorist bowing to Allah to justify human killing. Christian soldiers circle in prayer before combat go willing. Apologetics patch holes in the hypocritical gay church. God fearing news media keeps all the public in the lurch. Has the mortal brain fossilized into superstition and myth? Is humanity still operating with Pleistocene chromosomes? Technology did not alter fear thinking Stone Age brains. Psychobiocircuitry tells man to cover body when it rains. Some persons think smarter, electrochemically evolving. Their offspring acquire new DNA for brains requalifying. They become free thinkers for the betterment of mankind. Operating from fact based educated freewill choice mind. Self-governing self-sufficiency education need be learned. Land ratio population birth control must not be spurned. Mentality of commonsense must evolve to qualify reality. Ideals of truth, beauty, and goodness being the normality. Discarding daily apocalypse fear, myth and superstition. Will leave room for a healthy evolving loving disposition. Todays fear praying & worshiping religions are antiquated. Living goes at the speed of commonsense choices anticipated. ~~~Gasser~~~
By commonsensekid on 06/11/2007 at 3:13:06
Holy War!
Religion Reality Check Using commonsense reason to subjugate superstition. Will prove embarrassing to believe in God’s position. Thinking mans intelligence will check all illusions. Erasing fear, myth, and all apocalyptic conclusions. Real reality goes at the speed of educated fact choices. Not by ecclesiastical hypocritical authority voices. A morality gut feeling is the natural default setting. Trusting ethical intuition won’t leave you regretting. Belief, prayer, and faith lead to absolutisms incased in lies. Stabilizing and protecting fragile myths that fact denies. Most religionist are completely deranged by religious faith. Holy books are badly construed fables imbedded with wrath. Christian moderates are just as bad as jihad Muslim fanatics. Immunizing religion from rational discussion of its dramatics. The Bible story of Jesus is a phantasmagoric parable fairy tail. The Koran is a manifesto for religious death divisiveness on sale. ~~~Gasser~~~
By commonsensekid on 06/11/2007 at 3:17:38
Holy War!
Separation of Church and State is crucial in America, the only Western nation not officially secular. We've gone to the moon, we have enough nuclear weaponry to wipe out all life on the planet, and our President creates a National Day of Prayer, creates a Jesus Day in Texas, and has as his "favorite philosopher" for whose existence there is no shred of contemporary historical evidence. I have no quarrel with people practicing their belief in private and in designated places of worship - I support the tax exempt churches, I want them where I can see them! - but religion of any stripe should not be active in government, and certainly not in public schools.
By Rozmarija Grauds on 06/11/2007 at 11:43:46
Holy War!
All very impressive. Now the only question left is: How many divisions does Chris Hitchens have? I mean aside from the NATO forces in afghanistan and what's left of the "coalition of willing" in Iraq.
By Scalawag on 06/11/2007 at 3:10:51
Holy War!
The current atheist attacks on religion are, of course, only a conflict-du-jour. Without religion to fight about, we would find any number of other tribalistic reasons to have at each other -- nationalism, racism, competing claims on resources, whether your mother wears army boots, and so on. We live to be in conflict, and we'll find any reason to be so. Religion is particularly well suited, though, because it is both unprovable (and therefore unresolvable) and a matter of life and death to its adherents.
By KY Independent on 06/14/2007 at 2:33:45

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Doubt, doubt, let it all out
Five classics from the soon-to-be-established atheism section of your local bookstore:
1.Letters From The Earth: Uncensored Writings, by Mark Twain (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
2.Why I Am Not a Christian, by Bertrand Russell (Routledge Classics)
3.Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman (HarperSanFrancisco)
4.American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, by Kevin Phillips (Penguin)
5. God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory, by Niall Shanks (Oxford University Press, USA)

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