One of my favorite shows, PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, had a nice piece on the New Atheists, who seem to be getting a lot of press these days. You can listen to the show or read the transcript. Interesting quotes excerpted below.
From the interview with Harvey Cox
- Atheism grows when religious hubris rises: Atheism comes and goes in human history. It always makes a comeback, I
think, when religious people get too arrogant, when they begin to look
as though or speak as though they know it all, when they begin to
impose themselves in ways that are unwelcome to other people in the
society. Then atheism is a kind of, for me, welcome critique of this
arrogance. Religion has always had a terrible temptation to become
arrogant, to claim to know more than it knows, and I think atheism is
kind of a purging, cleansing necessity for religion. It comes and goes.
Now, given the fact that we have so much overstatement and hyperbole by
many religious figures, and religion is riding high in some places,
naturally you are going to have this kind of response. I think it’s a
healthy thing. I think the dialectic that works here is an excellent
one, so I don’t decry it. I think it’s a welcome development.
- Dawkins, the Falwell of Atheism: I met [Richard Dawkins] when he spoke at Harvard last year. I think of
Richard Dawkins as the kind of Jerry Falwell of the atheists. In a way,
he’s a kind of fundamentalist. I will explain why. He takes the most
narrow and the most legalistic side of religion and makes that
religion, and then he’s against it, whereas Jerry Fallwell takes the
most legal and literalistic side, and he supports it. But in a way
curiously they agree with each other.
- Dawkins an Embarrassment to Harvard and Atheists: The fact is that when [Dawkins] was here [at Harvard] he was a bit of
an embarrassment. I think it was the secular humanist students who
brought him here. He was so unsophisticated in a way, so wooden and,
yes, literalistic. Let me say it this way, and all due respect to him:
I wish we had a higher quality of atheistic writing.
- Student Trends Towards Faith, Not Atheism: I haven’t noticed [a trend toward atheism.] Students now are enormously
more interested in religion, in studying religion, asking religious
questions, taking courses, participating in religious institutions
[than when I first came to Harvard]. The only trend I see is the other
way. But obviously there are people out there buying these books, so I
- Arrogance in Atheism and Religion: An atheist seems to me a person who has searched out
and thought about all the options and insists there isn’t any God or
anything like God, and I know that and no further evidence is going to
change my mind. That seems to be leaning toward the same kind of
arrogance that some religious people have, and I’m troubled by that.
- Let’s not forget history – arrogant atheism and totalitarianism: We do have to remember that within the memory of
some of us there was a whole country, an empire, built on an atheist
premise, namely the Soviet Union, which was really trying to get rid of
all religion, and they were certainly as capable of cruelty and
oppression as any religious regime. I’m afraid that kind of capacity in
human beings is equal-opportunity depravity, which atheists and
religious people and others have demonstrated that they can share as
well. I wouldn’t want my kids taught by a radical fundamentalist
either, but also not by an arrogant atheist.
- Healthy doubt in faith:
An element of doubt has to be part of any healthy faith. Otherwise,
it’s credulity, it’s not faith. Throughout the Bible there are people
who question. Think about Job, but other people as well, throughout the
Old and New Testament who are questioning and doubting and pondering
things. I think it’s a necessary element in any healthy faith.
From the interview with Sam Harris:
- The Myth of Private Faith: I think there’s a myth in our society that belief is private. Belief is
only private if it’s not really believed and it’s not making a point of
contact with the world. But if your beliefs are about the world on any
level, they are engines of behavior and emotion, so then it really
matters what people believe is going on. If they believe the creator of
the universe wants all human beings to live in a certain way, their
beliefs are going to find a way into the public sphere, and no
amendment to our Constitution is good enough to keep it out.
I didn’t include any more from Harris’ interview, but he is well spoken, maddeningly patronizing in spots, and blissfully ignorant of the experience of regeneration and Christian transformation and sanctification – he can’t see beyond the limits of science, and as with most atheists, has no desire to differentiate between faiths with supernatural claims, because he rejects them all.
However, his involvement in Buddhist meditation sounds very much like what I have done, though he views it as an entirely non-religious tool.
I’ve spent a lot of time practicing meditation,
mostly in an Eastern context, a Buddhist context. I’ve probably spent
two years on silent meditation retreats where you don’t read, you don’t
write, you don’t talk to people. You just practice meditation. The one
thing that has come out of that is I have no doubt about the fact that
you can use your attention in various ways that really transforms your
experience very much for the better.