Richard Dawkins was unable to attend the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. on June 4, 2016.
Here’s the speech he would have given:
There are those who fear reason as cold, bleak, cheerless, unpoetic. That’s not just untrue; it’s the very opposite of true. Science is the poetry of reality.
The fact that you exist should brim you over with astonishment. You and I and every other living creature are machines of ineffable complexity. This complexity and its powerful illusion of design is why so many people succumb to the God temptation. The temptation to evade, by invoking a designer, the responsibility to explain. The God temptation is an evasion of responsibility because it invokes the very kind of thing it’s supposed to be explaining.
I’m a biologist, so I speak first of the biological version of the God temptation, the false argument destroyed by Darwin. There’s also a cosmological version. The fundamental constants of physics are said to be “fine-tuned” so that, in the fullness of time, eyes and peacocks, humans and brains will come into existence. The God temptation here is to invoke a divine knob-twiddler to adjust the dials of the physical constants so that they have the exquisitely precise values required to bring evolution, and eventually us, into being.
“God did it” can never be an explanation for anything. It is sheer intellectual cowardice. If you’ll stoop to magicking into existence an unexplained peacock designer, you might as well magic an unexplained peacock and cut out the middleman.
Nevertheless, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for such cowardice. The complexity of a living body, every one of its trillion cells, is so mind-shattering to anyone who truly grasps it, the temptation is overwhelming. It’s like when you see a really brilliant conjuring trick. You have to smack yourself and say, “No!” However largely my senses and my instincts are screaming “miracle”, it really isn’t. There is a rational explanation. In the case of the conjuring trick, we know it’s not a miracle. And honest conjurers like Jamy Ian Swiss, James Randi, and Penn & Teller tell us so.
In the case of nature’s apparent miracles, Charles Darwin plays the role of honest conjurer.
But conjurers only tell us that it’s a trick. Darwin tells us exactly how nature’s trick is done: cumulative natural selection. Darwin’s brilliant explanation has withstood 150 years of sustained attack and emerged without a scratch.
Physicists are well on their way to disposing of the cosmic God temptation, too.
My book The God Delusion, celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2016, provoked a score of what came to be called “fleas”: religious books with plagiaristic jacket designs and parasitic titles like The Dawkins Delusion or Deluded By Dawkins. The flea name came from a line of W. B. Yeats: “But was there ever dog that praised his fleas?”
Some of our best theologians, if indeed theology is a subject that can be good at all, if indeed theology is a subject at all, some of our best theologians pathetically tried to argue that, far from being complex, God is simple. There is no limit to the explanatory purposes to which the simple God’s infinite power is put. Is science having a little difficulty explaining X? No problem! Don’t give X another glance! God’s infinite power is effortlessly wheeled in to explain X. Along with everything else. And it’s always a simple explanation, because, after all, there’s only one God. What could be simpler than that?
The effrontery of it is beyond astounding. This supposedly simple God had to know how to set the nuclear force 1039 times stronger than gravity. He had to calculate with similar exactitude the requisite values of half a dozen critical numbers — the fundamental constants of physics.
Do you, with your prodigiously complex brain, understand quantum mechanics? I don’t! Yet God, that paragon of ultimate pure simplicity, not only understands it but invented it! Plus special and general relatively. Plus the Higgs Boson. And dark matter.
Finally, the icing on the cake: On top of being the ultimate mathematics and physics genius, this “simple” God has enough bandwidth to listen to the prayers of billions of people simultaneously, in all the world’s languages. He hears their confessed sins and decides which would be forgiven. He weighs up which cancer patients shall recover, which earthquake victims shall be spared, even who shall win a tennis match. Or a parking space.
God may be almighty, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, but the one thing He cannot be, if He’s even minimally to meet His job description, is “all-simple”. The statistical argument against the divine designer remains intact and inescapably devastating.
God also presents a temptation to laziness that may define our allegiances.
I am Christian! Well, of course I don’t believe in any of that supernatural stuff, but I was baptized, we go to church at Christmas, and I’m certainly not Jewish or Muslim, so I guess that makes me Christian!
By 2050, the population of Mauritania will be predominantly Muslim. It’s simple demography. Just compare the birthrates of the different communities in Mauritania.That makes the lazy assumption that a child of Muslim parents is defined as a Muslim.
Would you define a child of logical positivist parents as a logical positivist?
Would you define a child as a Keynesian on the basis of her parents’ economic school of thought?
One of the reasons I formed the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science in the United States is to combat America’s legendary religiosity, a form of obstinate backwardness that has serious implications for the rest of the world.
What church do you go to? The question is presumptuous to the point of rudeness, yet informant after informant tells me how often it’s thrown at newcomers to certain neighborhoods in America, as casually and automatically as a comment on the weather. That the newcomer might not attend the place of worship at all simply doesn’t cross the friendly neighborhood mind. It doesn’t cross the mind of a typical American politician, either, which is why they drag God into every speech, why they bend over backwards to appease religious lobbies when taking important decisions on abortion, stem cell research, and the teaching of evolution.
The Reason Rally is the antidote to all this. Today, in Washington, we celebrate science and urge the retreat of superstition. It is people like you, people who have traveled far to be here, who support secular organizations with your time and money, who are courageous enough to make their atheism known, that are the hope for the future.
I’m sorry doctor’s orders stop me from being in Washington today, except by this minor miracle of science, but I hope to see you at the next Reason Rally!
Although we agree with him by and large (of course), we don’t think it’s a very good speech. It is not sufficiently coherent.
The population of Mauritania is right now 100% Muslim. The children of Muslims are defined as Muslim by Muslim tradition and law. If Dawkins wants to say that the child of Muslims does not have to remain a believer in Islam, he should say so, but he doesn’t make the point. In fact from then on his speech rambles.
We like best the part we have emphasized in bold.
Dawkins was apparently kept from making the speech in person by “a small stroke”. We hope the stroke has not permanently impaired his fine brain. While we have always opposed him on political issues, we have read his books on evolution with much pleasure and learnt a lot from them.
The much respected magazine, National Geographic, carries in its latest issue an article on atheism. It is titled: The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion.
The author is Gabe Bullard. He writes:
There have long been predictions that religion would fade from relevancy as the world modernizes, but all the recent surveys are finding that it’s happening startlingly fast. France will have a majority secular population soon. So will the Netherlands and New Zealand. The United Kingdom and Australia will soon lose Christian majorities. Religion is rapidly becoming less important than it’s ever been, even to people who live in countries where faith has affected everything from rulers to borders to architecture.
But nones [those who are affiliated with none of the religions] aren’t inheriting the Earth just yet. In many parts of the world — sub-Saharan Africa in particular — religion is growing so fast that nones’ share of the global population will actually shrink in 25 years as the world turns into what one researcher has described as “the secularizing West and the rapidly growing rest.” (The other highly secular part of the world is China, where the Cultural Revolution tamped down religion for decades, while in some former Communist countries, religion is on the increase.)
Yes. And devout Muslims are pouring into Europe by the million: an extraordinary event that will entirely change the character of Europe, but which Gabe Bullard does not seem to have noticed.
And even in the secularizing West, the rash of “religious freedom bills” — which essentially decriminalize discrimination — are the latest front in a faith-tinged culture war in the United States that shows no signs of abetting anytime soon.
Within the ranks of the unaffiliated, divisions run deep. Some are avowed atheists. Others are agnostic. And many more simply don’t care to state a preference. Organized around skepticism toward organizations and united by a common belief that they do not believe, nones as a group are just as internally complex as many religions. And as with religions, these internal contradictions could keep new followers away.
These are not “divisions”. There never was a solid phalanx of non-believers that could split apart. These are different opinions. That is all.
“Keep followers away”? “Followers” who want a cut-and-dried non-believing ideology that they can accept holus-bolus as the religious accept the doctrines of their faiths? Absurd!
If the world is at a religious precipice, then we’ve been moving slowly toward it for decades. Fifty years ago, Time [magazine] asked in a famous headline, “Is God Dead?” The magazine wondered whether religion was relevant to modern life in the post-atomic age when communism was spreading and science was explaining more about our natural world than ever before.
We’re still asking the same question. But the response isn’t limited to yes or no. A chunk of the population born after the article was printed may respond to the provocative question with, “God who?” In Europe and North America, the unaffiliated tend to be several years younger than the population average. And 11 percent of Americans born after 1970 were raised in secular homes.
Scientific advancement isn’t just making people question God, it’s also connecting those who question. It’s easy to find atheist and agnostic discussion groups online, even if you come from a religious family or community. And anyone who wants the companionship that might otherwise come from church can attend a secular Sunday Assembly or one of a plethora of Meetups for humanists, atheists, agnostics, or skeptics.
The groups behind the web forums and meetings do more than give skeptics witty rejoinders for religious relatives who pressure them to go to church — they let budding agnostics know they aren’t alone.
But it’s not easy to unite people around not believing in something.
It’s also totally unnecessary.
“Organizing atheists is like herding cats,” says Stephanie Guttormson, the operations director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, which is merging with the Center for Inquiry. “But lots of cats have found their way into the ‘meowry’.”
Guttormson says the goal of her group is to organize itself out of existence. They want to normalize atheism to a point where it’s so common that atheists no longer need a group to tell them it’s okay not to believe, or to defend their morals in the face of religious lawmakers.
But it’s not there yet.
Why does anyone need a group to tell them that it’s okay not to believe in something they don’t believe in? But we accept that there are such people, and so agree that the group should “organize itself out of existence”.
The article then goes on to discuss who the atheists are in terms of race (fewer blacks than whites, it says), the sexes (fewer women than men, and the predominance of white men a manifestation of “privilege”).
Of course no one can possibly count the atheists of the world. We get Third World commenters on our Facebook page who tell us that they have to keep their atheism secret for fear of persecution and even death.
Gabe Bullard calls the distribution he alleges a “problem” of “diversity”. His article is right up to date with its fashionable lingo.
To do him justice, he does quote one atheist – Mandisa Thomas, a black woman – saying that “the demographics of nones don’t accurately reflect the number and diversity of nonbelievers; it just shows who is comfortable enough to say they don’t believe out loud.” And: “There are many more people of color, there are many more women who identify as atheist.” And: “There are many people who attend church who are still atheists.”
The cheeriest part of his article is this:
Compared to past campaign seasons, religion is taking a backseat in this year’s U.S. presidential election. Donald Trump is not outwardly religious (and his attraction of evangelical voters has raised questions about the longevity and the motives of the religious right).
But then he goes on:
Hillary Clinton has said “advertising about faith doesn’t come naturally to me”. And Bernie Sanders is “not actively involved” in a religion. … Aside from Ted Cruz, the leading candidates just aren’t up for talking about religion.
Apparently he does not recognize that Leftism is a religion. It is THE secular religion. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are both devotees of it. Bernie Sanders could be fairly called a high priest of it. They are as piously Leftist as Ted Cruz is Dominionist.
Bullard ends on a jocular note:
For all the work secular groups do to promote acceptance of nonbelievers, perhaps nothing will be as effective as apathy plus time. As the secular millennials grow up and have children of their own, the only Sunday morning tradition they may pass down is one everyone in the world can agree on: brunch.
We hope so.
What have atheists said about the article?
Atheist Jerry Coyne writes at his website:
National Geographic publishes article on atheism and secularism, but descends into Authoritarian Leftism and slanders against Harris and Dawkins
Well, it’s time to cancel your subscription to National Geographic — if you still have one. For a while it’s been turning into a religiously-infused tabloid rather than the educational nature/anthropology magazine that I loved of yore. In several posts I’ve documented its increasing tendency to coddle religion … and it’s only going to get worse since the magazine was taken over by Rupert Murdoch.
Now the magazine has hit its lowest point yet, polevaulting the shark in a new piece by journalist Gabe Bullard, The World’s Newest Religion: No Religion. While starting off as a decent bit of reportage about the rise of nonbelief and secularism, it suddenly descends into slander and clickbait, highlighting the “privilege” of nonbelief, the dominance of atheism by white males, and accusations that the “leaders” of atheism (whom they name) are misogynists.
And there is a comment made at Patheos which we like, although we very seldom agree with its Leftist atheists on anything except atheism itself.
The comment is made by Terry Firma. (He goes on, however, to say what he likes about the National Geographic article.)
I wonder if any serious major publication would refer to people who don’t play sports as athletes, but that is essentially what NatGeo is doing here. Atheism is no more a religion than off is a TV channel, than being bald is a hairstyle, and than not-collecting-stamps is a hobby. People who assert that atheism is a religion either haven’t given it much thought or are trying to get a rise out of atheists.
Another Sunday, another cheerful laugh at religion.
From Evil Bible:
Top Ten Signs You’re a Fundamentalist Christian
10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
9 – You feel insulted and “dehumanized” when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the “atrocities” attributed to Allah, but you don’t even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in “Exodus” and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in “Joshua” including women and children, and trees!
6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs — though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most “tolerant” and “loving”.
3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in “tongues” may be all the evidence you need to “prove” Christianity.
2 – You define 0.01% as a “high success rate” when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.
Speaking of heaven and hell, how do Christians explain that souls in heaven are blissfully happy while other souls are in endless unrelenting torment in hell?
If they claim that the Saved feel Christian pity and compassion for the Damned, that would qualify the bliss, surely – bringing it well short of perfection.
So are the Saved Souls in an eternal state of Schadenfreude as they watch or imagine the Damned writhing in perpetual agony?
(Hat-tip for the link to Stephen Sterne)
Here is a Christian conservative‘s statement about atheists:
It’s often remarked that atheism is simply religion by another name (as the officially atheist, now deceased Soviet Union demonstrated). Else why would atheists be so adamant and aggressive about their beliefs? Not only do they choose not to believe in God, or even a god, but they demand that their fellow citizens submit to their ideology and purge all evidence of the (Christian) religion from the public square.
The passage comes from The Devil’s Pleasure Palace by Michael Walsh.*
It may be “often remarked that atheism is simply religion by another name”, but the frequency with which the remark is passed doesn’t make it either true or intelligent. NOT believing is not believing-in-another-way, any more than NOT smoking is smoking-in-another-way.
We would agree that Communism is a kind of religion. We would also agree that the dogma of Communism often excludes belief in a divine being.(Not always.”Liberation theology” is Communism taught by Christian priests who have married St. Paul to Karl Marx.) But it does NOT follow that the non-belief is identical with the Communist faith, or is the essence of it, the vital active ingredient that generated all that was wrong with the Soviet Union.
Though all atheists might be “adamant” about their non-belief (just as all believers are adamant about their belief), very few are aggressive about it. Of the millions of non-believers in the free world, how many “demand that their fellow citizens submit to their ideology”? I’ve never met or heard of one who does. And “submit” to what “ideology”? There are some in America who demand that public displays of Christianity be removed from the public square. And a very silly demand it is too. A small number of silly atheists in America insist that if crosses or Christmas “nativity” scenes are placed on public sites, they should have the right to put some atheist symbol or tableau beside them. A symbol or tableau is then hastily invented, having meaning only for the inventors, none whatever to other atheists.
Because: Atheism is NOT a religion, or an ideology, or a system, or a tradition. It has no symbols or rituals. It has no orthodoxy or heterodoxy.
Atheism is a decision, made by individuals. A private conclusion they draw from thought. It’s a denial of dogmatic claims that they find have never been proved, seem to them unprovable, absurd on their face, and ever more absurd the more they test them against observation, experience, learning, coherence, intuition, taste, and common sense.
*Encounter Books, New York, 2015. Our quotation comes from page 136.
In an article on the suicide of Europe, containing much we agree with, the excellent and erudite Victor Davis Hanson writes at the National Review:
Like atheism, childlessness reflects the assumption that ego-driven rationalism and satisfaction of the appetites are all there is and all that there ever will be.
And it is that point in particular that we want to discuss.
But first – the important points he makes:
Because of what Europe has become, it now has few viable choices in dealing with radical Islamic terrorism. Its dilemma is a warning to Americans that we should turn away from a similar path of national suicide.
After suffering serial terrorist attacks from foreign nationals and immigrants, a normal nation-state would be expected to make extraordinary efforts to close its borders and redefine its foreign policy in order to protect its national interests.
But a France or a Belgium is not quite a sovereign nation any more, and thus does not have complete control over its national destiny or foreign relations. As part of the European Union, France and Belgium have, for all practical purposes, placed their own security in the hands of an obdurate Angela Merkel’s Germany, which is hellbent on allowing without audit millions of disenchanted young Middle Eastern males into its territory, with subsequent rights of passage into any other member of the European Union that they wish. The 21st-century “German problem” is apparently not that of an economic powerhouse and military brute warring on its neighbors, but that of an economic powerhouse that uses its wealth and arrogant sense of social superiority to bully its neighbors into accepting its bankrupt immigration policies and green ideology.
The immigration policies of France and Belgium are unfortunately also de facto those of Greece. And a petulant and poor Greece, licking its wounds over its European Union brawl with northern-European banks, either cannot or will not control entrance into its territory — Europe’s window on the Middle East. No European country can take the security measures necessary for its own national needs, without either violating or ignoring EU mandates. That the latest terrorist murders struck near the very heart of the EU in Brussels is emblematic of the Union’s dilemma.
As far as America is concerned, a fossilized EU should remind us of our original and vanishing system of federalism, in which states were once given some constitutional room to craft laws and protocols to reflect regional needs — and to ensure regional and democratic input with checks and balances on statism through their representatives in Congress. Yet the ever-growing federal government — with its increasingly anti-democratic, politically correct, and mostly unaccountable bureaucracies — threatens to do to Americans exactly what the EU has done to Europeans. We already see how the capricious erosion of federal immigration law has brought chaos to the borderlands of the American Southwest. It is a scary thing for a federal power arbitrarily to render its own inviolable laws null and void — and then watch the concrete consequences of such lawlessness fall on others, who have been deprived of recourse to constitutional protections of their own existential interests.
Europe’s immigration policy is a disaster … Europeans — for a variety of 20th-century historical and cultural reasons — often are either ignorant of who they are or terrified about expressing their identities in any concrete and positive fashion. The result is that Europe cannot impose on a would-be newcomer any notion that consensual government is superior to the anarchy and theocracy of the Middle East, that having individual rights trumps being subjects of a dictator, that personal freedom is a better choice than statist tyranny, that protection of private property is a key to economic growth whereas law by fiat is not, and that independent judiciaries do not run like Sharia courts. It most certainly cannot ask of immigrants upon arrival that they either follow the laws of a society that originally made Europe attractive to them, or return home to live under a system that they apparently rejected.
All good so far. Then:
I omit for obvious reasons that few present-day Europeans believe that Christianity is much different from Islam, and apparently thus assume that terrorists might just as well be Christians.
But he hasn’t omitted it, has he? A bitter regret has stepped quietly into the article and lingers by the door – a regret that Europe has (broadly speaking) abandoned its religion.
He goes on, cogently again:
… In Europe, immigrants are political tools of the Left. The rapid influx of vast numbers of unassimilated, uneducated, poor, and often illegal newcomers may violate every rule of successful immigration policy. Yet the onrush does serve the purposes of the statist, who demagogues for an instantaneous equality of result. Bloc voters, constituents of bigger government, needy recipients of state largesse, and perennial whiners about inequality are all fodder for European multicultural leftists, who always seek arguments for more of themselves. …
Which is the case in America too. As he says:
The same phenomenon is with us in the United States … [where] importing the poor and the uneducated expands the Democratic constituency. …
The Western therapeutic mindset, which maintains that impoverished immigrants should instantly have what their hosts have always had, trumps the tragic view: that it is risky, dangerous, and sometimes unwise to leave one’s home for a completely alien world, in which sacrifice and self-reliance alone can make the gamble worthwhile — usually for a second generation not yet born.
Demography is Europe’s bane. One engine of unchecked immigration has been the need for more bodies to do the sorts of tasks that Europeans feel are no longer becoming of Europeans. …
Again that is also true of America.
But more curious is the reason why Europe is shrinking — the classic and primary symptom of a civilization in rapid decline.
Europeans are not having children for lots of reasons. A static and fossilized economy without much growth gives little hope to a 20-something European that he or she can get a good job, buy a home, have three children, and provide for those offspring lives with unlimited choices. Instead, the young European bides his time, satisfying his appetites, as a perpetual adolescent who lives in his parents’ flat, seeks to milk the system, and waits for someone to die at the tribal government bureau. After a lost decade, one hopes to hook up with some like soul in her or his late thirties.
The last eight years in the U.S. have seen an acceleration of the Europeanization of America’s youth.
Socialism … insidiously takes responsibility away from the individual and transfers it to the anonymous, but well-funded, state. … Why seek children and the honor of raising and protecting them when the state can provide all without the bother and direct expense? Why have a family or invest for the future, when the state promises a pleasant and politically correct old-age home?
Without a Second Amendment or much of a defense budget, Europeans not only divert capital to enervating social programs, but also have sacrificed any confidence in muscular self-protection, individual or collective.
Even postmodern nations remain collections of individuals. A state that will not or cannot protect its own interests is simply a reflection of millions of dead souls that do not believe in risking anything to ensure that they are safe — including their own persons and those of their family. Finally, Europe is Petronius’s Croton. It does not believe in any transcendence as reified by children or religion. If there is nothing but the here and now, then why invest one’s energy in children who live on after one dies? Like atheism, childlessness reflects the assumption that ego-driven rationalism and satisfaction of the appetites are all there is and all that there ever will be.
Europe’s perfect storm is upon us. A shrinking, statist, and agnostic society that does not believe in transcendence, either familial or religious, is now in a war with near neighbors of a very different sort. In the Middle East, the fundamentalists are growing in numbers, and they most certainly do believe that their own lives are nothing in comparison to the Phoenix-like resurrection of their Caliphate and the sensual pleasures in the hereafter that will reward their martial sacrifices in the here and now. Of all the many reasons why immigrants to Europe so often dislike their generous hosts, the simplest may be because they so easily can.
… It would take another St. Jerome (“All were born in captivity and siege, and do not desire the liberty they never knew. Who could believe this?”) to chronicle the Western tragedy.
As a general rule, whatever Europe is now doing, we should do the opposite — for our very survival in an increasingly scary world.
So, an article saying much that needs to be said.
But we come back to this: Europe “does not believe in any transcendence as reified by children or religion. If there is nothing but the here and now, then why invest one’s energy in children who live on after one dies? Like atheism, childlessness reflects the assumption that ego-driven rationalism and satisfaction of the appetites are all there is and all that there ever will be.” And: ” A shrinking, statist, and agnostic society that does not believe in transcendence, either familial or religious, is now in a war with near neighbors of a very different sort.”
His argument is that Europeans now do not think, or feel, or believe that there is any larger purpose to be served than the achievement of their own private personal ambitions and pleasures; no goals beyond their own individual lives worth putting their energies into. Previous generations believed they had a posterity in their children, the continuation of their families; and/or in the immortality of their nation; and/or in a spiritual afterlife.
And that is true. They did.
Then their nations were taken away from them, blended into a monstrous political entity called the European Union. What Frenchman, or Italian, or Englishman will ever say: “Breathes there a man with soul so dead/ Who never to himself has said/ This is mine own, my native … European Union”?
And what of their losing the desire for descendants? That’s harder to explain. In addition to the fading away of marriage, the dread of the expense of children, the shrinking from the emotional risk of entering into the responsibilities of relationships, there is a much larger source of discouragement; what one might call a cosmic despair: our knowledge of global doom. By “global doom” I don’t mean “global warming”, but the certainty that this world in which we exist and act, will one day itself cease to exist. It may be only in about 3 billion years that the final doom will come upon it, but go it will, for sure.
Whether or not those explanations are the right ones – perhaps among many others – it is a fact that Europeans are not having enough children to ensure the survival of their nations, even if they were to take back national sovereignty from the bureaucratic dictatorship of the EU.
This means they are discarding the future, as individuals and as a bridging generation between their nation’s yesterday and tomorrow. And because they have no future to work or build for – what have they to defend? So when another culture, a savage culture that arose and remains in the ignorant Dark Ages and knows nothing of the physical destiny of this planet, invades their continent, and increases with many children, and believes that making war ensures their endless and dominant continuation on earth and immortal happiness after death, there is nothing effective standing in its way. No one to bar the gates. No one to fight back. The imaginary spokesman of the dying European culture with no stake in the future says, “Come in, if you want to. Take what you want. Do as you will. I won’t be around much longer to know or care what happens here.” (“A shrinking, statist, and agnostic society that does not believe in transcendence, either familial or religious, is now in a war with near neighbors of a very different sort.”)
Hanson suggests that the Europeans’ discarding of the future, and consequent abandonment of the greatest civilization the human race has ever attained, is not only tragic – which it is – but also immoral. He implies this by adding to the causes – familial, national – that kept European Man going for centuries, the cause of religion. He plainly considers it a highly desirable thing that human beings should believe that their time on earth is not the whole of their existence. He believes in an afterlife as formulated in Christian doctrine. The quality of that afterlife for each individual may depend on how the individual Christian behaves in his earthly life. Hoping for heaven, he will be good according to the precepts of his faith. (Now that is true of Catholics, whose church allows that good works as well as “the grace of God” can bring one to heaven. But many Protestant sects, most notably Calvinists and Lutherans, teach that only God decides your eternal destination, and he does that even before you are born, so what you do can make not a jot of difference to the iron ruling. The only encouragement such churches offer the faithful is that if you live dutifully, obedient to the commandments of your God, you will be perceived as a person destined for heaven, and thus perceived, you may live in hope.)
One way or another, Christianity – Hanson seems to assume – helped Europeans be strong in defense of their inheritance, prolific in procreation to ensure their posterity, and above all continent in their appetites for the hope of heaven.
And that may very well have been true. But we deny that lack of religious belief now is a cause of the self-inflicted doom of Europe. It seems plain to us that lack of interest in this life – beyond personal attainment and pleasure – is at work.
Atheism does not assume that “ego-driven rationalism and satisfaction of the appetites are all there is and all that there ever will be”. Some atheists might assume it, but there is nothing about atheism that logically involves any such assumption.
Atheists are more likely to strive harder in this life to know, to achieve, to build, to love and hate, defend and attack, as well as to think and enjoy, than those who believe that their final, greater, and possibly happier destiny is in another world. Atheists who learn and build are very likely to want descendants to continue their discoveries, further their achievements, and add to their works, since only those they beget and what they bequeath will survive their death.
By that reasoning, atheism could have been the salvation of Europe. We might propose that far from the loss of Christianity dooming the European nations, it is the legacy of Christianity as self-abasement, non-resistance to evil, the choice of self-sacrifice, and the love of martyrdom that has primed Europeans through their inherited moral culture to let this death happen to them. And if that is so, what we are seeing is the logical end of Christian history in the age of science.
But as the Christian religion peters out in disbelief, its acolytes perish unresisting at the hands of other – passionate – believers.
Now if only Muslims could be persuaded to abandon their faith, their belief that they must conquer and subdue all others and gain an afterlife in paradise … what then? Europeans might still be dying out, but at least not in agony and terror.
This is a revised version of an essay by Jillian Becker first posted on February 6, 2011, under the title A cure for religion:
Is religion one of the most frequent causes of death after heart disease, cancer, and road accidents?
Surely this is a disease that is curable?
We have heard of Muslims who went to a university in the West and there encountered Enlightenment literature. They were stunned by what they read. They became secularist, possibly atheist. The rumor may be untrue, yet it seems highly possible. Even probable.
If the West only took the trouble to teach its values to the peoples who live in darkness – those billions of Others – it might in time achieve what wars have failed to: the subduing of the barbaric hordes, the ending of their persistent onslaught.
During the Cold War, America spoke to the Communist bloc through Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe. The effort was made to tell the enslaved peoples that what their masters would have them believe was not true. Those broadcasts helped to bring the Wall down. Why is no such effort being made to give new ideas to the Muslims? Vast numbers of them are taught nothing but the Koran – or rather, have it beaten into them. For many of them it is in a language (Arabic ) that they don’t understand. And even if they know the language, much of what they learn to recite by heart is incomprehensible. Those suras that are intelligible are full of evil counsel and absurdity: “kill the infidel…”, and a lot of solemn drivel about Djinns. Why doesn’t the secular West give them something better to think about?
Teach them to question ideas rather than dumbly accept them.
Teach them that freedom makes for a happier life, tolerance for a longer one.
It might be argued that many Muslims who live in the West are aware of Western values and ideas and still reject them in favor of Islamic dogma. True. And we may assume that there will always be some who cannot be cured of religion. But the probability is that there are many who can be, if only they were better informed.
Yes, we are urging “proselytizing” and “conversion” on a massive scale: not from one religion to another, but from religion to reason. (To oppose one religion by another – to think of Christianity, for instance, as a cure for Islam – is to misdiagnose the disease.)
It must be worth trying. A start could be made with young Muslims who are already in the West with a positive program of teaching the utility of doubt and moral necessity of critical examination.
No more giving in to Muslim demands for the separation of the sexes, for special facilities in schools and work-places, for courts to take account of their “cultural traditions” such as honor killings and wife-beatings and the sly deceptions involved in “sharia compliant finance”.
We have arrived at our ways for sound reasons, so let’s stick to them. Away with “multicultural” sentimentality and hypocrisy!
We’d like to teach the world to think. We’d like the Western powers to have a shared policy of continually lecturing the billions who live in darkness.
Okay, hectoring them.
Let’s seize them by the ears and say, “Now listen here … !”
But who will do this? Those who are in a position to do it, political leaders, educators, the media, prefer to denigrate Western values. They despise the world-shaping, civilization-advancing achievements of their own culture. Many of them not only scorn their inheritance, but hate it.
They hate and mock the “dead white men” of the great “patriarchy” who bequeathed it to us.
Jillian Becker February 15, 2016
For Valentine’s Day we choose this video, in which Christopher Hitchens comments on Christian “love”.
He also tells a good joke about a Buddhist and a hot-dog vendor.
This is a repeat of an essay by Jillian Becker, first posted on April 29, 2011.
The rise of enthusiasm for Socialism in America, demonstrated by the great numbers of enthusiasts flocking to hear Bernie Sanders, the Democratic candidate for the presidency, preaching it, prompts us to post the essay again.
It is human nature to be selfish. If we weren’t selfish we wouldn’t survive. If we didn’t eat when we were hungry, warm ourselves when we were cold, seek cures for our illnesses, defend ourselves (and our children and our life-sustaining property), we’d die out pretty damn quick. Or rather, we would never have come into existence as a species at all.
We are most of us capable of sympathy with others, and we often willingly give away a thing we own to another person. Some are altruistic. A few will even give up their lives to save the lives of others. Nevertheless, we are all naturally and necessarily selfish.
Christianity and Communism require human nature to change. As it can’t, Christianity’s commandments to love our enemies and forgive those who do us harm turn many a person of good will and high aspiration into a hypocrite if not a corpse. Communist theorists have never settled the question of whether human nature must change so that the Revolution can take place, or whether the Revolution must take place in order for human nature to change. Of course it will never change, but there’s no stopping the collectivist dolts arguing about it.
Capitalism works well because it is in tune with our nature. Adam Smith called it “the natural order of liberty”. Everyone selfishly desires to provide for his needs. To pay for what he wants from others – services and goods – he has to provide something that others will pay him for. Millions do it, and the result is prosperity. Capitalism is an abstract machine most beautiful to behold in the wonder of its workings. When individuals have the incentive to achieve, acquire, and enjoy something for themselves, they’ll go to great lengths to afford it. They’ll compete with each other to provide what others want, toil to make it the better product, and set the price of it lower. The best is made available at the least cost. Everyone is both a taker and a giver, and everyone benefits. True, not everyone’s effort always succeeds, but nothing stops anyone from trying again.
Of course capitalism isn’t a remedy for every ill and discontent. But a capitalist society offers the best chance to an individual to make the best of his condition – being alive – which presents him with a tough challenge – to stay alive for a few score years, and make those years as good as his energy, cunning, and adaptability to conditions outside of his control (plus his statistically likely share of luck), can help them to be.
In a capitalist society no one has a fixed place, whether below, in the middle, or on top. A person can rise, sink, or stay. A truly capitalist society is necessarily a free society in which no one is prevented, by some ruler or ruling clique, from bettering his lot, striving, succeeding, or failing.
Capitalism is the enemy of that God of whom all the children in the British Empire used to sing at morning prayers in school assemblies before the Second World War:
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small;
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them high and lowly,
He ordered their estate.
The children were being taught to be content with everything as it was, trusting that God the ruler up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable had ordained how everyone had his fixed place and should stay in it, and because He had ordained it, it must be perfect. The recognition that such a God was an indefensible authoritarian, a whim-driven cosmic dictator, an unjust and arrogant tyrant, came – perhaps unconsciously – to the choosers of Anglican hymns only after a few of the earth’s dictators had been trounced in a prolonged and terrible blood-letting.
But then Socialists took over from God. They decided what was best for humanity. They established the Welfare State. No rich men in castles, no poor men at gates. The State would provide every citizen with depressing accommodation, dull food, health care if he were judged worthy of being kept alive, indoctrination in schools. Though the Socialist State is a slave society, the citizens are not called slaves but Social Security Recipients, National Health Patients, Students, Workers. The belief of their rulers is that they’ll be content because the State provides them with “everything”; they’ll be grateful for the food however poor, the unit in the tower block however depressing, the bed in the hospital however filthy, the indoctrination however boring. The great thing about it, to the collectivist mind, is they won’t have to strive to keep alive. And no one will have cause to pity or envy anyone else, since no one will have less or worse, or more or better – except of course the rulers up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable who ordain that everyone else has his fixed place. They reserve plenty, choice, comfort, luxury, information, and power to themselves.
The recognition that such a State is counter to the human instinct for freedom – call it “selfishness “ if you will – should have come to every sane adult the world over when the Soviet Empire crashed. The idea of Socialism should have died then. But if it did, it was only for a short time. Like the Christian God, it rose again, and lives now in the White House, an administration indefensibly authoritarian, whim-driven, unjust, and arrogant.
Selfish human nature with its instinct for liberty, its impelling desire to possess what is good for it materially and mentally, is the force that can and must defeat it.
Today in our Pages section (see the top of our margin), we post a review by Jillian Becker of How Jesus Became God by Bart D. Ehrman.
Here is part of it.
Bart D. Ehrman’s book How Jesus Became God is a formidable challenge to Christian belief. It stands to his credit that he pursued his researches to the point where he changed from a believing Christian into an “agnostic”. (I put the word in quotation marks because I think the word as applied to religious belief is a cop-out, an intellectual bromide. If you do not believe there is a god, whether your unbelief is weak or strong, you are an atheist.)
An enormous amount of what he says fits with what is known and makes good sense. But in one vital area he goes wrong. He goes wrong because his perspective is Christian – even though he no longer thought of himself as a Christian when he came to write the book. He was not able to free himself sufficiently from the Christian viewpoint because he could not totally shrug off his Christian indoctrination.
Where is it that he goes wrong? ? He traces the vital beginning of the process of Jesus becoming God to the first, Jewish, followers of Jesus. That is the core of his thesis. And, interesting as his book is, generally well-researched as it is, it fails to make its case; because the author has not understood who the earliest followers of Jesus were and what they believed about him.
There is convincing evidence that the man whose Greek biographers called by the name Jesus (and we must call him that for want of knowing what his birth name was) did exist in the province of Judea between the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, and that he was a rabbi with a burning (fanatical, even insanely fanatical) desire to bring about a new Kingdom of God, like the one he and his nation believed had been the free and glorious kingdom of David and Solomon. He prophesied that the “Son of Man” – or the Messiah, the Annointed One – would come and effect this wonder, and he even came to believe that he was that “Son of Man”, that Messiah, himself.
Now let’s look at more of the probable story from a non-Christian (and unbelieving) standpoint.
Jesus’s gesture of attacking some Roman soldiers, along with a couple of his followers armed with two swords – one of them used to slice off a Roman’s ear – did not bring the result he expected. He had convinced himself such a move on his part would be the signal to God to start the series of earth-transforming miracles that would destroy the Roman Empire and bring back the freedom and glory of the Jewish people. The Romans arrested him, brought him to a cursory trial, and condemned him to death by crucifixion – the punishment prescribed for insurrection by Roman law. The punishment was duly carried out. (As Ehrman says, the body was probably flung on the ground somewhere to be devoured by birds and worms and scavenging beasts.)
His little circle of close followers, shocked, terrified, and grieving, fled from Jerusalem to save their own lives, but returned after a while and were to be found among the numerous sects and factions of perfectly orthodox Jews who lived there and carried out their obligations under the law in and to the Temple. They could not bear to give up their idea that Jesus was the Messiah. And as he had not succeeded in doing what a Messiah had to do, they trusted that he would soon return and complete his task. They even sent out missionaries to preach to dispersed communities of Jews and their hangers-on of “God fearers” that Jesus was the risen Messiah and he would return in glory to save the Jewish nation.
Now we come to the tricky bit. Did they then believe that Jesus had come back to life after his execution? Yes. So to them he was still alive? Yes. Did they believe that he had suspired not just in spirit, but in his body? Seems very likely that they did. And this would not have been strange among the Jews of the time. Every sect and party, every faction and movement, religious and political, except one – the Sadducees, the party of the royal priests – believed in the bodily resurrection of the dead. The general resurrection (the dogma ran) would occur at the end of days. But Jesus’s resurrection, his disciples believed, would be sooner than that – very soon. And they might well have pictured him returning in clouds of glory, descending from the sky and instantly causing the political liberation and resultant spiritual renewal of Israel.
Did they then believe that he was, or became after his death, or perhaps had always been God, or a god, or “the [unique] Son of God” – no. If they had believed any of that they would no longer have been Jews. But doesn’t the idea of his return in clouds of glory and descending from the sky imply divinity? Yes. And Ehrman argues well that there was precedent in the Jewish religious annals for an orthodox belief that (a) there were beings other than God himself in the divine sphere who were thus themselves divine – angels, seraphim, cherubim; and (b) that men had been raised to the sphere of divinity and – it could be argued – shared in the aura of the divine. It is even true that the Hebrew word for God – Elohim – is a plural. And that Psalm 82 speaks of creatures on earth being “gods”. He cites the (apocryphal) books of Enoch and The Wisdom of Solomon for the strongest evidence to support his contention that, while Jehovah was believed by the Jews to be the chief God, there were many lesser gods in Jewish scriptures.
Fine. But now we come back to what the followers of Jesus believed. First of all, who were they? At one point Ehrman calls them “illiterate peasants”. Well there he is probably wrong. For one thing, Jewish boys (most if not absolutely all) were taught to read so that they could read aloud a portion of the law when they turned thirteen. Secondly, there is nothing to say that either Jesus or his followers were uneducated men or even poor men. (The Christian tradition that Jesus was a carpenter and the apparent son of a carpenter has no basis in any discoverable historical fact. The family could have been well-to-do. There were means to support him as a rabbi – a voluntary teacher of the law – in his last year or two.) The disciple Matthew (not to be confused with the name attached to one of the gospels) was certainly literate, being a tax collector.
If Ehrman is right that they were mostly illiterate peasants, then the chance that they would have known anything of the apocryphal books of Enoch are remote, and virtually nil that they could have known of The Wisdom of Solomon – written in Greek – or the works of their contemporary Philo of Alexandria in Egypt.
And even if they were literate, as they almost certainly were, they were not scholars or theologians. There is no way they would have been able to argue for the existence of lesser gods, even if they knew Psalm 82 off by heart. They would have been taught that “God is One” – the central tenet of Judaism. So Ehrman’s sophisticated arguments from esoteric and academic sources for the possibility that they could believe Jesus was or became a god, are inapplicable to them. …
Ted Cruz answers a questioner who, after introducing himself as an atheist, asks the presidential candidate why he should vote for him.