4.11.2007

Frustrating the Neo-Atheists

A Washington Post column from last week was brought to my attention today, titled Answers To the Atheists. E. J. Dionne Jr, the columnist (Who I like. I just added his column's feed to Google Reader.), describes the 'neo-atheists' that have come about in recent years. Authors like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have recently written popular books not only refuting Christianity's beliefs, but militantly asserting that religion in general is primarily destructive and incompatible with tolerance, and has no place in modern society. They also have a problem with the power of traditionalist and fundamentalist versions of Christianity.

From the column:
As a general proposition, I welcome the neo-atheists' challenge. The most serious believers, understanding that they need to ask themselves searching questions, have always engaged in dialogue with atheists.
...
The problem with the neo-atheists is that they seem as dogmatic as the dogmatists they condemn. They are especially frustrated with religious "moderates" who don't fit their stereotypes.

In his bracing polemic "The End of Faith," Harris is candid in asserting that "religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each one of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others."

Harris goes on: "I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance -- born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God -- is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss. We have been slow to recognize the degree to which religious faith perpetuates man's inhumanity to man."

I agree that asking questions and engaging in earnest dialogue with atheists is a good thing. Not only does it show them that we are interested in their questions and concerns, but it strengthens our own faith. When we have to think about questions we've not been faced with before, we have to engage our mind with what we say we believe, and, once we've thought through the implications of whatever aspect of our faith is being challenged, we no longer only believe it, we know why, and we're stronger in the end. I appreciate it when people challenge me to think through aspects of what I claim to believe. Really, it's doing me a favor in an area I've gotten lazy.

The second thing that jumped out at me from the column is, I want to be the Christian that frustrates these neo-atheists efforts. I want to make THEM think. I want to break the mold they've tried to fit all Christians in. I can't do that by arguing with them dogmatically or with the attitude that I have a monopoly on the truth, because, in doing this, I would be validating their assumptions on what a Christian is. I would be stereotyped, labeled, and dismissed. If, however, I am a 'moderate' Christian, I frustrate their whole argument. I am no longer a close-minded militant fundamentalist or a Republican zombie; I am a fellow person-- willing to dialogue, willing to confess my own sins and the past sins done in the name of Christianity, willing to listen. When I do this, the spotlight will change, and be on their glaring dogmatism, and they will have to answer for their close-mindedness.

Listening is very disarming.

article discovered via Christdot

If you have the time (it's long), check out another article, totally unrelated but fascinating, pointed out to me by James. It's about noticing beauty in the everyday, and the impact of context on beauty, with a real-life experiment set up by the Washington Post. I'd blog about it, just by itself, but James found it first, so he gets dibs :) Oh, and it mentions Immanuel Kant's theories of beauty, which I tried to understand once with less luck than the article's author.

1 comment:

Ashley said...

When I entered high school, I was for the first time surrounded by people who didn't believe the same things as me. I was the only Christian in my high school until the end of 10th grade, and those two years were very challenging to me.

Fortunately, I fell into a good group of friends who were more interested in thinking than drinking. We often pondered "the meaning of life". I remember once early on during one of these discussions I spouted off a Sunday School answer. My friend looked at me, and said, "You know, you are very close-minded." That shocked and hurt me at the time, but in a sense she was right. I think that's a dangerous thing about Christians - we know all the "right" answers, and sometimes we forget to be open to other ideas - even if it's just to refute them.

After that, I tried to be more open. God taught me a lot, and I wouldn't trade those 4 years in a secular school for anything.

I know I should try to respond more intelligently to your posts, but I feel like I can't keep up with an open dialog with you! You are so much more eloquent than me. :-)

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