O my my my my my. What do we have here? Michael Ruse, a British philosopher of biology, has an essay in the Guardian (aka the Ministry of Propaganda for Anglophone materialists) in which he takes on — wait for it — the New Atheists, whom he alternately describes as “humanists,” albeit of the most inhumane variety. What’s gotten Ruse’s goat? Dawkins, Coynes, et al. are behaving as particularly intolerant heresy hunters of a new religion:
Humanism in its most virulent form tries to make science into a religion. It is awash with the intolerance of enthusiasm. For a start, there is the near-hysterical repudiation of religion….
There are other aspects of the new atheist movement that remind me of religion. One is the adulation by supporters and enthusiasts for the leaders of the movement: it is not just a matter of agreement or respect but also of a kind of worship. This certainly surrounds Dawkins, who is admittedly charismatic.
Freud describes a phenomenon that he calls “the narcissism of small differences”, in which groups feud over distinctions that, to the outside, seem totally trivial. The new atheists show this phenomenon more than any group I have encountered.
Lest anyone think Mr. Ruse is a closet Jesus freak or on the Canterbury Trail or something—
Dawkins has said that on a scale from zero to seven, from belief to non-belief, he scores about 6.9. I am even a tad higher than that. I am a true non-believer. I am also a fanatical Darwinian – more so even than Dawkins, because I think that when it comes to culture, genes do much that he hands over to his own special cultural notion of “memes”. I have written many books about the implications of Darwinian thinking for epistemology and ethics.
What’s more, I think that religion has done and continues to do much harm to society. In the blog I write for the Chronicle of Higher Education I have taken on the Catholics, the Calvinists, the Mormons (that got me into hot water), and even the dear old Quakers (perhaps a bit Oedipal, because I was raised a Quaker). I was the expert witness in philosophy in Arkansas when the American Civil Liberties Union successfully fought against a law requiring the teaching of so-called “creation science” (aka biblical literalism) in the publicly supported schools of that state. I have been a vocal opponent of creationism for many years.
Gotcha. But apparently, this is not enough for the doyens of Darwinism:
And yet I, and others like me, am reviled in terms far harsher than those kept for real opponents like creationists. We are labelled “accommodationists” for our willingness to give religion a space not occupied by science. We are put down in terms that denote strong emotion, way beyond reason. In The God Delusion, I am likened to Neville Chamberlain, the pusillanimous appeaser of Hitler. Jerry Coyne, author of both the book and the blog Why Evolution is True and an ardent groupie of Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, wrote about one of my books in terms used by George Orwell: “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”
The Minnesota biologist PZ Myers, who writes the blog Pharyngula, has referred to me as a “clueless gobshite”.
If one day, owing to some internal revolution, I found myself losing my faith in God, I believe that all I’d have to do is remind myself of the likes of PZ Myers and that alone would be enough to snatch me from the abyss.
This is why when the New Atheists or the New Humanists (both of whom are really just the Old Jacobins whom the culture has for the time being deprived of sharp objects) start jabbering about religious wars or fanaticism or bigotry aimed at nonbelievers, it’s like duck off a Frenchman’s bib — history has shown, and modern rhetoric reiterates, what a monstrous army of warlords these “Brights” would make.
Now, before we wallow in Schadenfreude (and if you have to look it up, you can’t afford it), we should take a moment and think about that aforementioned “narcissism of small differences.” Christians have demonstrated throughout the ages and across denominational factions that despite all the defenses we make of certain literal readings of Scripture — whether it’s creation in six days, “this is my body,” “baptism now saves you,” meeting the Lord in the air, “Esau is an hairy man,” etc. — we draw the line at most of the things Jesus said, which we qualify the hell out of. “Turn the other cheek,” “give him also your shirt,” “anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the hellfire” — and most important, “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
We’ve rarely if ever done this on a large or sustained scale, and never will. Because while we like to reference all the things we may have in common, sectarians will always write certain groups out of the faith altogether. Many if not most Baptists, and most if not all Reformed Baptists, do not consider Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy Christian, for example. But we all put up walls of one kind or another, and even if we do consider the Methodist or Presbyterian or Catholic next door a “Christian,” we simultaneously extend the right foot of this close and no closer.
In short, we cling to our traditions because we believe they’re closer to the proper construal of the faith than the next guy’s. Even nondenoms and emergers who hate “religion” and “confessions” and “creeds” and just want to cultivate followers of Jesus must apply Wite-Out to 2,000 years of doctrinal wrangling. Can they help but view confessional Christians who “cling” to their religion with more than a hint of condescension?
And we all do it for the same reason: in the name of either a pure Gospel or a pure Church.
If you think I have a solution, you’re so wrong you have just used up your right to be wrong about anything else for the next ten years. Listening to Jesus sure hasn’t worked. I imagine a communist revolution would help, but only until the counterrevolution (see how the Orthodox in Russia have worked to suppress Protestant churches). An invasion from Plutron would only have us blaming each other for inviting the unwanted attentions of the Armies of Zog (which, of course, like the Babylonians, are merely agents of divine wrath).
And I’m no one to talk. I’m as guilty as anyone of stirring the pot when it comes to controverted doctrines. (Sure, I’m right about everything — but do I have to flaunt it the way I do?)
I think the best any of us can do is be aware of how this looks to a watching world. It looks like, well, read Ruse’s article.