I must admit I was befuddled that Christopher Hitchen's book - God is Not Great - was found in the religion section on a recent jaunt to the local community college's (Golden West College) bookstore. Surely this had to be a misnomer (it wasn't; and don't call me surely). What were these bookstore employees thinking? Don't they have a new atheist section? At least they had C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity right next to it; indeed a brilliant corrective. And though I'll never be sure if this was intentional or not, the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that this is exactly the right place for this book, unlike the Dawkins books in the science section below.
You see, many atheists (at least the so-called new atheists, a.k.a. the four horsemen) spend a ginormous amount of time fighting Christians (among other religions, to be fair, but none as much as Christianity it seems) whom they think are less intelligent, more foolish and incredibly dull. They even dub themselves the "brights". Maybe that's why they are so hell-bent atheistic evangelism: deep down they think they are better than everyone else who is religious in any way. They proselytize; they believe in things; they have faith in things; they have ideology, philosophical presuppositions and assumptions; standards of objective truth (whether they admit it or not). Are you getting the point yet? Atheism is not the lack of religion. It may very well be an ideology, a philosophy, a way of life, etc. that claims not to believe in god; but that's simply not true. Atheism is the opposite in fact; it is thoroughly religious and many of its adherents are just as fanatic as your stereo-typical Bible-thumping fundegelical.
In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton observes the same dogmatism in the strict materialist and makes a few helpful remarks about miracles along the way:
I am forced to it by a conspiracy of facts:the fact that the men who encounter elves or angels are not the mystics and the morbid dreamers, but fishermen, farmers, and all men at once coarse and cautious; the fact that we all know men who testify to spiritualistic incidents are not spiritualists, the fact that science itself admits such things more and more every day. Science will even admit the Ascension if you call it levitation, and will very likely admit the Resurrection when it has thought of another word for it. I suggest the Regalvisation. But the strongest of all is the dilemma above mentioned, that these supernatural things are never denied except on the basis of anti-democracy or of materialist dogmatism - I may say materialist mysticism. The sceptic always takes one of two positions; either an ordinary man need not be believed, oran extraordinary event must not be believed...
...The greatest disaster of the nineteenth century was this: that men began to use the word "spiritual" as the same as the word good. They thought that to grow in refinement and uncorporeality was to grow in virture. When scientific evolution was announced, some feared that it would encourage mere spirituality. It taught men to think that so long as they were passing from the ape they were going to the angel. But you can pass from the ape and go to the devil (Orthodoxy, 161-162).
Chesterton is right - on several accounts here. Atheism is every bit as dogmatic and full of fundamentalists. The difference is found, ultimately, in the playbook. The god of atheism is the god of self. You see, there is no such thing as atheism. We all have gods. Our minds are perfect little idol-factories, pumping out custom made deities faster than a Ford in its heyday. The question is which, if any of these gods, is true? What evidence is there for the claims your god makes? In the case of Jesus Crucified and Risen and the New Testament, the evidence is overwhelming. See my last post, the Bible on Trial, for a brief introduction. This is a regular topic around here at E-nklings. And if you're looking for more books to read about the historicity of Christianity, the trustworthiness of the New Testament documents, or good reads on apologetics, send me a message and I'll give you a few tips. Perhaps an annotated bibliography is in order. That will have to go in the cue for another day.
That's why Hitchens' book is in the perfect section - religion. No matter what you call it - Materialism, Naturalism, Secularism, Humanism, Atheism - it doesn't matter. We are our own favorite gods. We love to worship ourselves, our reason, our scientific methods, our assumptions. The only question that really matters is: is it true? How does the evidence stack up, historically - not theoretically, not millions and gazillions of years ago - but in history where events, no matter how bizarre they sound must be checked out by rigorous historical methods. The same ones used for identifying whether or not Alexander conquered Tyre around 332 B.C. or that Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865. Are there supernatural, metaphysical ramifications to the kind of historical inquiry into the life of Jesus and the New Testament documents? You bet. So be it. The other side has metaphysical consequences too.
By the way, there's a delightful parody on this whole "bright" and "dull" moniker in a recent book entitled The Loser Letters. It's like Screwtape Letters meets snarky atheism; everything is flipped on its head. And it's wonderful. Stay tuned for the book review.