My friend Mike recently linked here, to 2 extended video clips of four of the top “New Atheists,” Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, discussing the interplay of the “New Atheism” and religion (mainly Christianity) as well as the criticism that has been leveled against them that they are rude and offensive. I’ve only had time to watch the first video, and I found it very interesting; if you have an hour or two to kill, I think it’s worth hearing what these guys have to say.
Now, I don’t say this because I think what they had to say has any merit. On the contrary, I found them all incredibly naive when it comes to religion, and this is one of the things which I find so interesting, and even surprising. These are four very intelligent individuals, yet they really don’t “get” the concept of what it is that they are railing against. I could understand it if they would say, “I really don’t understand this” or “I think I understand what you are saying, but I can’t come to the same conclusions.” However, they appear to have become foolish in their attempts to be intelligent, and perhaps have become unaware of what they do not understand.
Another interesting thing about the discussion is that you can see the differences in their beliefs (or non-beliefs). Hitchens seems to have the most understanding of religion – he just doesn’t like it. One reason why I like him is that he tries to be even-handed, and at times corrects the misstatements of the others. Dawkins still strikes me as someone who is perhaps just foolish. He has apparently tossed aside the need for logic or reason in dealing with the issue of religion, and is quite happy believing whatever he wants about what Christians believe; he has judged religion as loony, and beneath any sort of honest evaluation. Harris simply seems out out of his league, and Dennett seems content to play the grumpy philosopher. But, watch the clips and judge for yourselves. Each has some interesting things to say, and occasionally they do have some valid complaints.
In contrast to this is another discussion, between Anthony Bloom, who was a Russian Orthodox Archbishop, and atheist novelist and critic Marghanita Laski, which is found in Anthony Bloom’s book God and Man, where it is found as chapter 1, entitled The Atheist and the Archbishop. The discussion was televised in July of 1971 for the BBC. Bloom (1914 – 2003) was a Russian who was educated in Paris as a scientist and became a physician prior to becoming an Orthodox monk. He later served as the Archbishop (Metropolitan) of England & Ireland. Laski (1915-1988) was a professed atheist who, like our esteemed New Atheists, was intrigued by religion – although she was not nearly as offended by it as the aforementioned four. The Bloom-Laski discussion is, among other things, much more respectful than what I often see today in similar discussions.
Laski is an atheist of a different sort than our contemporary quadriad, who would probably toss out many of her thoughts as archaic. In response to a question by Bloom about what she thinks about the experiences and assertions of the millions who would say they are certain there is a God, Laski replies, “You lead me to the besetting sin of the atheist which is arrogance, so I think I have to say I don’t know.” She also acknowledges that atheism, as a lack of something rather than having something, is certainly lacking:
… since the Renaissance for instance, it’s been all too sadly apparent that in all the arts there has been no inspiration comparable with the inspiration that religion gave. There have been no words for secular music that compare with the music of a Mass. I certainly think that belief in God and the religions that arose from belief in God did give a shaping and a pattern to life for which I can see co conceivable substitute and to that extent I would certainly grant to you that my life is poorer than that of a believer.
She then says,
I probably haven’t made atheism seem at all rich and I don’t think it is. I think it’s a very Protestant, very puritanical faith that, as I say, does tend towards arrogance because we lack authority. But there is one thing I would say for atheism, as against religion, and that is this: if you try to practice it, it trains you in a virtue that I value highly which is endurance without whimpering …
Again, the “New” atheists would probably toss her out on her ear, and certainly she speaks with no authority other than her own opinions. However, it’s an interesting contrast in attitude, and the whole conversation is worth reading, if you can track down a copy.