Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was a Dominican monk who fled from his monastery in Naples at the age of thirty-six, wandered through Italy and France, lived for a few years in England – and having repudiated Christianity, embraced the Epicureanism of classical Greece.
The Epicureans, who taught that life was to be enjoyed, were essentially atheist, but were careful not to deny that gods exist in case some intolerant authority punished them for holding and expressing such an opinion. They dared to assert that yes, there were gods of course, but they lived very far away from the human world, occupied themselves with nothing but their own pleasure, and took no notice whatsoever of what humans did, thought, felt, or believed.
When Giordano Bruno was fifty-two, and foolishly chose to express his opinions where the long arm of the Inquisition could reach him, the intolerant Catholic Church burnt him to death for doing so.
This is from The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt*:
[Giordano Bruno] found it thrilling to realize that the world has no limits in either space or time, that the grandest things are made of the smallest, that atoms, the building blocks of all that exists, link the one and the infinite. “The world is fine as it is,” he wrote, sweeping away as if they were so many cobwebs innumerable sermons on anguish, guilt, and repentance. … And his philosophical cheerfulness extended to his everyday life. He was, a Florentine contemporary observed, “a delightful companion at the table, much given to the Epicurean life.” …
Bruno found the militant Protestantism he encountered in England and elsewhere as bigoted and narrow-minded as the Counter-Reformation Catholicism from which he had fled. … What he prized was the courage to stand up for the truth against the belligerent idiots who were always prepared to shout down what they could not understand. That courage he found preeminently in the astronomer Copernicus …
Copernicus’s assertion that the earth was not the fixed point at the center of the universe [as all the Christian churches maintained it was] but a planet in orbit round the sun was still, when Bruno championed it, a scandalous idea, anathema both to the Church and to the academic establishment. And Bruno managed to push the scandal of Copernicanism still further: there was no center to the universe at all, he argued, neither earth nor sun. Instead, he wrote, quoting [the Epicurean poet] Lucretius, there were multiple worlds, where the seeds of things, in their infinite numbers, would certainly combine to form other races of men, other creatures. Each of the fixed stars observed in the sky is a sun, scattered through limitless space. Many of these are accompanied by satellites that revolve around them as the earth revolves around the sun. The universe is not all about us, about our behavior and our destiny; we are only a tiny piece of something inconceivably larger. …
These were extremely dangerous views, every one of them. …
Bruno, however, could not remain silent. “By the light of his senses and reason,” he wrote about himself, “he opened those cloisters of truth which it is possible for us to open with the key of most diligent inquiry, he laid bare covered and veiled nature, gave eyes to the moles and light to the blind . . . he loosed the tongues of the dumb who could not and dared not express their entangled opinions.” …
[I]n 1591 he made a fateful decision to return to Italy, to what seemed to him the safety of famously independent Padua and Venice. The safety proved illusory: denounced by his patron to the Inquisition, Bruno was arrested in Venice and then extradited to Rome, where he was imprisoned in a cell of the Holy Office near St. Peter’s Basilica.
Bruno’s interrogation and trial lasted for eight years, much of his time spent endlessly replying to charges of heresy, reiterating his philosophical vision, rebutting wild accusations, and drawing on his prodigious memory to delineate his precise beliefs again and again. Finally threatened with torture, he denied the right of the inquisitors to dictate what was heresy and what was orthodox belief. That challenge was the last straw. The Holy Office acknowledged no limits to its supreme jurisdiction – no limits of territory, and, apart form the pope and the cardinals, no limits of person. It claimed the right to judge, and, if necessary, persecute anyone, anywhere. It was the final arbiter of orthodoxy.
And its orthodoxy was, by its own definition, the truth.
Before an audience of spectators, Bruno was forced to his knees and sentenced as “an impenitent, pernicious and obstinate heretic”. …
On February 17, 1600, the defrocked Dominican, his head shaved, was mounted on a donkey and led out to the stake that had been erected in the Campo dei Fiori. He had steadfastly refused to repent during the innumerable hours in which he had been harangued by teams of friars, and he refused to repent or simply to fall silent now at the end. His words are unrecorded, but they must have unnerved the authorities, since the ordered his tongue be bridled. They meant it literally: according to one account, a pin was driven into his cheek, through his tongue, and out the other side; another pin sealed his lips., forming a cross. When a crucifix was held up to his face, he turned his head away. The fire was lit and did its work. After he was burned alive, his remaining bones were broke into pieces and his ashes – the tiny particles that would, he believed, reenter the great, joyous, eternal circulation of matter – were scattered.
Thus did the religion of love.
As far as the Catholic Church was concerned, the science of the universe was settled.
*The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt, W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2011. Our quotations come from pages 233, 237-241.
This essay, repeated here almost in full, was first posted on June 11, 2011.
In the new Alternative Right there are many religious believers. The argument for conservatism without religion is the same for the Alternative Right now as it was for the old right then.
(Also see our post, Religion is the problem, April 5, 2016.)
Most (American) conservative writers take it for granted that those who share their political opinions also share their religiousness, and are surprised, even shocked, that some conservatives are atheist.
We look at the matter the other way round. It is a perpetual puzzle to us why so many persons who are clear-sighted and rational enough to be conservatives yet believe in the supernatural.
Writing in the American Thinker, Lloyd Marcus opines:
Without beating around the bush, I believe the battle being fought in America today goes beyond politics; right vs. left. It is a spiritual battle; good vs evil.
We agree that the battle is between good and evil. We think the Left and Islam – in alliance with each other at present – are evil.
But what do the religious mean when they use the word “spiritual”? We understand “spirit” to be adverbial: one does this or that in such and such a spirit. They believe that spirit is a noun, identical with the “soul”. And what is the soul? It’s the ghost inside “you” which will continue to live when “you” die. Christians believe that it will live forever in “heaven” if it was good on earth, and will suffer forever in “hell” if it was naughty.
As if to strengthen his argument, Marcus quotes a passage from the Epistle to the Ephesians, ascribed to St. Paul, but of disputed authorship. Whoever wrote the epistle put into it one of the most egregiously Gnostic passages in the New Testament, and that’s the one Lloyd Marcus quotes:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. – Ephesians 6:12*
In Gnostic systems there were layers of heavens between the ascending spirit of the Gnostic and the highest sphere of the good God. In them dwelt powers called Aeons (heavenly beings and ages in time) and principalities (Archons). A low-dwelling, evil god, identical to Jehovah the god of the Jews, created this world and ruled it with his own set of Aeons and Archons.
That is not orthodoxy to any Christian sect. Christians are hard put to interpret the passage in their terms, which is probably why some argue that St Paul didn’t write it.
But Marcus means that flesh and blood Democrats are the “powers and principalities” he and his fellow Christians are wrestling against, and the Senate and the White House are his “high places”. In other words his battle is within the realm of politics. He just vaguely supposes that good and evil are terms that belong only to religion, so quotations from his scriptures leap to his mind:
The mindset of the American left is a spirit of Antichrist which is man making himself God.
Before writing me off as a Bible nut, please hear me out. Understanding this reality will explain much of the left’s behavior. Because they believe man is God, in their insane arrogance, the left think they can fix everything; legislate equal outcomes and even save or destroy the planet.
Now we agree with him that lefties arrogantly “think they can legislate equal outcomes and even save or destroy the planet”. And we know they cannot. Not because they lack divine power, but because equal outcomes cannot be legislated, and because the human beings who “infest” the planet (as H. L. Mencken once put it), cannot affect the thing to any significant extent.
What the religious right cannot or will not see, is that you can believe in the market economy, small government, low taxes, strong defense, individual liberty under the law – all the important conservative ideas – without believing that they issue from, or are sanctioned by, a supernatural source.
Marcus defends Sarah Palin:
Make no mistake about it folks, we are in a spiritual battle. Ask yourself. Specifically, what about Sarah Palin inspires such visceral hatred from the left? The word is “wholesome.”
We agree that she is wholesome. We like her wholesomeness. We like her decency and probity and patriotism and moral strength. We like what we have gathered are her favored policies. We agree with Marcus that the Left hates her for the very things we admire in her. And we are willing to disregard her religious views, as we have to disregard the religious views of all possible presidential candidates because the time has not come when a self-confessed atheist will stand a chance of being elected to the White House. (We suspect, however, that many a presidential candidate is a secret atheist – and perhaps a few presidents have been too.)
Our point is, good values make good sense and don’t require the sanction of a Nobodaddy-in the-sky. All moral ideas, all ideas proceed from the minds of human beings. A person who knows this to be the case is not one who “thinks he is God”; “God” is superfluous to him or her.
Marcus holds that without God to tell us what to think, none of us would ever get it right.
Because liberal elitists think man is God, they assume moral authority to confiscate as much control over our lives as we simple-minded god-fearing peons will allow them, including procreation. I picked up a government-funded brochure at my local library which basically said birthing babies is an irresponsible abuse of the planet.
Folks, this is leftist control-freak hogwash!
Yes it is.
The seven billion people who live on the planet could fit in Texas enjoying about the same amount of living space as residents of New York.
True. But he adds:
God said be fruitful and multiply. But then, what the heck does God know?
Sarcasm of course. But what the heck does “God” know? If there is a being who knows more than man, how can man know that he does?
The rest of the article (see it here) rambles on about this and that – “Christianity only religion not respected, Jesus is divine, true Christians trust God, zz-zzzz” – the points being tied together only by the buzz in his head that they all represent aspects of wrong guidance by “the Antichrist”.
Like an episode of Star Trek, the left believes universal peace can be achieved via America apologizing and admitting to the world that we suck, surrendering our power, signing treaties and singing a few verses of Kumbaya. They believe the greatest source of evil in the world is warmongering Christian white guys like George Bush. If only Bush had “Given peace a chance.” Liberals always cater to man’s lowest base instincts. They hate standards for behavior, labeling all rebuke of bad behavior as being intolerant and judgmental.
We don’t argue with that. But this follows:
And yet, they believe without divine influence, man is capable of someday achieving universal peace. Totally absurd.
Has he not noticed that a great many wars have been fought over religious issues? What has “divine influence” ever done for peace?
Christians believe that though we strive to do the right thing, the heart of man is critically flawed which is why we were in need of a savior, Jesus Christ.
And just when will his “savior” remove the flaws in the human heart?
*From this quotation, the title “The Darkness of This World” was taken for 3 sets of essays under Pages in our margin.
In his recently published #43 of a series of podcasts with the overall title of Waking Up, Sam Harris talks about the ISIS magazine Dabiq and reads chilling extracts from it.
All religions, he emphasizes, are bad, dangerous. Religiousness as such has done great harm to humankind. But one religion is worse, more dangerous than any other, and that religion is Islam.
It needs to be fought. ISIS needs to be destroyed in a real all-out war.
The whole lecture is good except for one statement that we find incongruous and even rather absurd in its improbability: that it would be best if “Muslim armies” were to fight “this death cult” of jihadism. Up to that point he has made it brilliantly clear that jihadism is what Islam is all about!
It is long, but thoroughly worth hearing all the way through.
In the year 1857, at the summer assizes of the county of Cornwall, an unfortunate man, said to be of unexceptionable conduct in all relations of life, was sentenced to twenty-one months’ imprisonment, for uttering, and writing on a gate, some offensive words concerning Christianity.
Today offensive words against Islam is a crime in Britain and most of the countries of the European Union.
Within a month of the same time, at the Old Bailey, two persons, on two separate occasions, were rejected as jurymen, and one of them grossly insulted by the judge and by one of the counsel, because they honestly declared that they had no theological belief; and a third, a foreigner, for the same reason, was denied justice against a thief.
This refusal of redress took place in virtue of the legal doctrine, that no person can be allowed to give evidence in a court of justice, who does not profess belief in a God (any god is sufficient) and in a future state ,,,
Meaning an afterlife in a Christian heaven or hell …
… which is equivalent to declaring such persons to be outlaws, excluded from the protection of the tribunals; who may not only be robbed or assaulted with impunity, if no one but themselves, or persons of similar opinions, be present, but any one else may be robbed or assaulted with impunity, if the proof of the fact depends on their evidence.
The assumption on which this is grounded, is that the oath is worthless, of a person who does not believe in a future state; a proposition which betokens much ignorance of history in those who assent to it (since it is historically true that a large proportion of infidels in all ages have been persons of distinguished integrity and honor); and would be maintained by no one who had the smallest conception how many of the persons in greatest repute with the world, both for virtues and for attainments, are well known, at least to their intimates, to be unbelievers.
The rule, besides, is suicidal, and cuts away its own foundation. Under pretense that atheists must be liars, it admits the testimony of all atheists who are willing to lie, and rejects only those who brave the obloquy of publicly confessing a detested creed rather than affirm a falsehood.
A rule thus self-convicted of absurdity so far as regards its professed purpose, can be kept in force only as a badge of hatred, a relic of persecution; a persecution, too, having the peculiarity, that the qualification for undergoing it, is the being clearly proved not to deserve it. The rule, and the theory it implies, are hardly less insulting to believers than to infidels. For if he who does not believe in a future state, necessarily lies, it follows that they who do believe are only prevented from lying, if prevented they are, by the fear of hell.
The quotation comes from John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, first published in 1869.
New curbs on free speech (see the post immediately below) are taking the people of the West in the 21st century back to the 19th century.
Will the unaccountable passion among Western rulers and legislators for protecting the appalling ideology of Islam from criticism, take us all the way back to the time of Calvin’s Geneva and the Catholic Inquisition?
The answer has to be “all too possibly”.
Although we are atheists, we’re happy to bring our readers John Cleese’s persuasive recruiting ad for his new Christian church, because we are also capitalists:
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.