Over the last few years, there has been a surge in atheists aggressively promoting their skepticism in the public square. Three atheists have published best-selling books attacking the role of religion: Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation), and Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon). All three of these “evangelical atheists” are spotlighted in a recent article in Wired magazine (Nov. 06).
A key argument in this new wave of militant athesim is the same one that’s been used for ages: Religion has a dismal history of promoting prejudice, hate, and violence in the name of God. These fruits of religion are bad for mankind. Therefore, the world would be so much better off if all religion disappeared.
Alister McGrath, one of Dawkins’ fellow Oxford professors, notes that this call for the elimination of all religion, if implemented, would simply elevate some other imperfect ideal as the next vehicle for human excess. He offers the French Revolution as an historical example, when lofty values of “liberty” and “equality” replaced traditional religion, and the result was widespread butchery.
“Religion” is not the problem, and never has been. The problem is human beings. As one of McGrath’s readers commented, “Remove religion and human beings will simply replace it with something else, and that something else will contain the same distortions and divisions that religion so often does.”
Ironically, this growing militancy among atheists is looking more and more like the strident religionists they so deplore. According to Charles Moore, “Atheism may be acquiring precisely those characteristics that atheists so dislike about religion – intolerance, dogmatism, righteousness, moral contempt for one’s opponents.”
If you’re interested in a more complete response to the core tenet of Dawkins’ book, read this review by Alvin Plantinga in Christianity Today.