“Baiting the Devout” and The Battle For the Hearts and Minds of the World

Excellent, Excellent (did I say Excellent?) review at Spiked-Online of Christopher Hitchens book God is Not Great. Michael Fitzpatrick wonders why people like Hitchens bother to stick it to fundamentalists at all in their recent spate of books excoriating people of faith? Fitzpatrick writes:

Having lost their own belief in progress and liberation, secular intellectuals are irked by their encounters with people who, on whatever basis, retain a vision of the good society and a commitment to realising it. They clearly feel rebuked by the undaunted practice of those who have not given up.  Indeed, in their own state of confusion and demoralisation, old radicals give too much credit to religion, in this respect, and furthermore, they often misinterpret as religious fervour popular affiliations that are largely pragmatic and instrumental.

Moving from his childhood alienation from conventional Christianity to his adult disillusionment with Marxism, Hitchens leaves little doubt that this book is not so much about religion as about himself. His current state of bewilderment is profound. On one page he confesses that his ‘own secular faith has been shaken and discarded’, only to tell us a couple of pages later that he has ‘not quite abandoned’ Marxism. He admits that ‘those of us who had sought a rational alternative to religion had reached a terminus that was comparably dogmatic’.

Fitzpatrick has a good point here. Those of us who have faith and those of us who haven’t feel uniquely qualified to speak vehemently about the opposing camp. Both sides say, “Well, I’ve been there and I know whereof I speak, so NEAHHH!” and also both sides say, “You don’t know what your missing! Come over here and you’ll find out!” Well, I’ve been on both sides and, believe me, I know what I’m missing! Both sides feel their own sort of extreme self-righteousness and smugness. Neither side can admit that there are good and noble things believed in or worked out by the other. Like the Palestinian/Israeli conflict both atheists and theists cannot dialog properly. Both bring up old wounds and slights perpetrated by the other, much like an old married couple who cannot learn to forgive and forget and move forward in a healthy manner. Each loves to rehash old arguments and open old wounds and each ends up in a kind of verbal swordplay, where they relish that last lick of bloodletting, just to say “I told you so!”

Each side has its weapon of choice: evolution vs. God. Each side has it’s Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit vs. Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris. Each thinks the other is a buffoon who will ruin society as we know it if they are allowed to be in charge, not realizing that they are ALREADY ruining society for the rest of us who have to stand back and watch the town bullies battle it out. Some will even pick sides out of fear and intimidation, just to be liked, or to protect themselves. Some of the more reasonable people will go into hiding and let the more vociferous have their way rather than speak up. Others will get disgusted and perhaps leave the bullies to their fighting and try to ignore it. We think, “Maybe they’ll beat the shit out of each other and that’ll be that.” Who knows? Neither side believes in compromise. Neither side believes that you can have faith AND believe in evolution. Neither side thinks that you can have a wonderfully literate and reasoning brain AND go to church to worship God. No one believes that you can simultaneously work for human rights, try to end the oppression of women and children, AND be submissive in a marital relationship where compromise is the primary key to happiness (and I’m not just speaking about just the female side either).

And there’s the problem right THERE!     COMPROMISE

What an ugly word to atheists and theists alike. Neither one wants to be the one to do it, admit it, or put it into practice. Why? Pride, plain and simple. It’s the morning commute all over again, where everyone is jockeying for position so that they won’t be last in line. It’s thinking to ourselves, “Well, if I give in I’ll look stupid.” or “If I say I’m sorry first, they’ll think they have won the argument.” Bullshit! You’ll just look like a better, more mature person than the idiot who insists they are right above all costs. Who cares that the other thinks they’ve “won?” Are we playing a game here? Since everyone has different rules, no one can possibly win this “game.”  Doesn’t anyone realize how absurd the squabbling mentality is? What is with this need to control another’s thinking, politics, personal habits, or any other private thing in that person’s life? It’s as if we are all fighting for mind control over all other human beings and that, my friends, is irrational.

Inherent in both atheists and theists arguments is that they are ultimately fighting for the same thing, a better society. Each believes the other’s tactics, however, are misguided at best and horribly destructive at worst. Fitzpatrick makes an interesting point about Hitchen’s book, which can be applied to the rest of us as well:

On the one hand, he endorses the misanthropic notions of environmentalism: the cosmic insignificance of humanity, the constraints of biology and the prospect of planetary climatic doom. On the other hand, he saves some of his harshest condemnations of religions for the way they ‘look forward to the destruction of the world’. He has nothing but ‘contempt and suspicion for those who beguile themselves and terrify others with horrific visions of apocalypse’. Yet he appears oblivious to the fact that by far the most influential ‘cult of death’ in contemporary society is not to be found in mainstream denominations or even in millenarian sects, but in the all-pervasive environmentalist movement with its eager anticipation of diverse global ecological catastrophes.

But lest you think that Fitzpatrick is defending religion, you should read the entire article. His is the moderate voice of reason in this hysterical and un-winnable war of the minds. Or should I say war of the Spirit, because it’s really a war between people who do nothing but feel and people who do nothing but think. Faith vs. Reason. Spirit vs. Mind. Soul vs. Body. It’s the same dualism that all people are trapped in. Because faith IS an emotion. You can convince yourself it’s not by your mind, but you still FEEL faith. You don’t think it. The same if for reason. Reason is pure thinking without a heart. You can rationalize anything you want to away, just like that. It’s the override button to a life of feeling.

The point I think I’m trying to make is that all this back and forth squabbling about who has the truth, as if the truth can ever be known for sure, and who’s more rational than who is really very silly and frankly will never come to a conclusion. So why does anyone even attempt to convince the other side? For every atheist turned theist, you will have a theist turned atheist. Fine, switch sides till the cows come home. It doesn’t make you “even” and it doesn’t make either of you “right.” I, on the other hand, will take my agnosticism and hopefully enjoy the fallout after the final conflagration in this battle of wills: a reasonable society without extremists. Yeah! In my dreams!


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