Monday, November 24, 2008

The New Cheesy Atheism

Dinesh D'Souza has written an entertaining article about science and atheism. His main point really isn't that new; he argues that the more modern science tells us about the universe, the more evidence we see of a creator. Given that atheists tend to argue exactly the opposite claim, that scientific discovery provides more reason not to believe in God, I'm not sure D'Souza is really getting anywhere with this argument. But personally, I think he's on to something else. From his article:

But of late atheism seems to be losing its scientific confidence. One sign of this is the public advertisements that are appearing in billboards from London to Washington DC. [Outspoken atheist Richard] Dawkins helped pay for a London campaign to put signs on city buses saying, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Humanist groups in America have launched a similar campaign in the nation’s capital. “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake.” And in Colorado atheists are sporting billboards apparently inspired by John Lennon: “Imagine…no religion.”

Stop worrying and enjoy your life? Just be good for goodness sake? religion?

Talk about cheesy. If there's one thing I always found respectable about atheism is that it always tried to be a valiant protest against the establishment, trying to sober up the masses from that great opiate, religion. But these new campaigns make atheism seem remarkably similar to the cheesy, made-for-TV evangelicalism we all seek to avoid, the kind featuring such witty billboards as

"God is dead." -- Nietzsche

"Nietzsche is dead. " -- God

The truth is, I think a lot more of us would be willing to take atheism seriously if it didn't appear to empty the human experience of its real depth. "Stop worrying and enjoy your life." What about the feeling of discontent that drives us to change the world? What about those moments of darkness and depression that cause the deepest parts of our souls to cry out for something better? What about the pain of losing someone we love, that makes us realize how precious each and every human life is? Pain, fear, depression, and a deep hunger in my soul... these things are all quite precious to me, in the sense that without them, I don't think I would ever know what it means for something to be truly good--or what it means to truly be alive.

Would men like William Wilberforce ever have been motivated to fight so long and so hard for justice if it weren't for a nagging feeling of discontent? If we all just stopped worrying, would anyone have ever fought as hard as Martin Luther King, Jr. to end racial divisions? If we just lived for the enjoyment of life, would any of us die for the cause of freedom and justice? Everyone knows there is some sort of goal that's worth fighting for. Everyone knows deep down in their gut that life is not all about just enjoyment. There's something wrong with the world, and the implies that something else must be right. I can't make it any clearer why I think atheism fails to explain what we actually experience in this world.

"Stop worrying and enjoy your life." "Be good for goodness sake." I don't know what it is, but these phrases just leave a taste in my mouth that makes me want to spit.

In my humble opinion, if you're going to argue about religion, then for goodness' sake, don't use a billboard. It really makes me wonder if the new atheism really has anything new to say.

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