some of you might be familiar with books like Richard Dawkin's the god delusion, or perhaps Sam Harris' book the end of faith. Both of these writers, along with Christopher Hitchens, have come to represent a new form of virulent anti-theism**. atheism would just be simple denial of god, where as in my coinage, anti-theism is a type of hyperbolic religious warfare against christian believers. there has been a renewal of late of this type of bully pulpit philosophizing. the essential thrust of these of arguments is that religious belief is by its very nature, logically incoherent, empirically unverifiable and psychologically aberrant and consequently dangerous to the public good. accordingly their respective positions ride a heady wave of sound reason, empirical fortitude and common sense. it seems to me that most christians have one of several responses to this sort of argument, it is either to descend into similar hyperbole and condemn the rhetoric of harris, et al or it is to treat it with a kind of smug self righteousness shown here by Ralph Reed, the third option is to simply retreat from the debate in total. a fourth possible option is laid out here by martin marty in an interesting article in the christian century.
i remember saying to some of my friends in the immediate months following 9-11 that we should watch out for a new kind of attack against christianity in which islamic extremism and christian fundamentalism would be lumped together. harris in his book, The End of Faith, essentially does this very thing. However, he takes it a step further by widening his argument to include christian evangelicals among the community of the dangerous.
The very conflation of Islamic terrorism and Christian political movements (I am uncomfortable with many, if not all, Christian political movements by the way – perhaps another post is due on this subject) shows the disingenuity, not to mention the overall sloppiness, of Harris’ project. He continually lumps things together and condemns them in total without bothering to dissect each piece. The problem is that he ends up with this all- encompassing, anti-religious, anti-theistic stance that confuses and obfuscates the very thing which he proposes to illuminate. He seemingly has no understanding of the historical role in which Christianity has helped shape western culture, nor does he seem to have any ability to distinguish the various threads of Christian practice and fundamentalist Islamic extremism. Anyone who wished could clearly see the difference between these two, yet somehow he fails. No other conclusion can be drawn but that he does not wish to see the difference because it would not allow him to promote his agenda.
I think it would be easy for Christians to look at the arguments put forth by Harris, et al. as merely specious misrepresentations of what we believe and move on. But the fact of the matter is that he has raised the stakes in the debate. And perhaps now, more than ever, a true believer should realize the very consequence of what we believe. Namely, that our belief is not morally or spiritually neutral and there are those who are bent on the destruction of our faith and practice. It is not enough to turn our heads, or to bury them in the sand, and laugh off the mischaracterization an answer to everyone who asks you to of our faith. At the very least we ought to be challenged to understand our faith more, and be ready, at any moment, as Peter commanded us “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have...”
*a quote from jacques berlinerblau
**i thought that perhaps i was the using anti-theism for the first time, but it turns out that this very term is used by the individuals listed above. so much for originality.