The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

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The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby the croc » Fri Sep 23, 2011 4:42 pm

Long as fuck but worth a read

The atheist delusion

'Opposition to religion occupies the high ground, intellectually and morally,' wrote Martin Amis recently. Over the past few years, leading writers and thinkers have published bestselling tracts against God. John Gray on why the 'secular fundamentalists' have got it all wrong.

John Gray
The Guardian, Saturday 15 March 2008

An atmosphere of moral panic surrounds religion. Viewed not so long ago as a relic of superstition whose role in society was steadily declining, it is now demonised as the cause of many of the world's worst evils. As a result, there has been a sudden explosion in the literature of proselytising atheism. A few years ago, it was difficult to persuade commercial publishers even to think of bringing out books on religion. Today, tracts against religion can be enormous money-spinners, with Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great selling in the hundreds of thousands. For the first time in generations, scientists and philosophers, high-profile novelists and journalists are debating whether religion has a future. The intellectual traffic is not all one-way. There have been counterblasts for believers, such as The Dawkins Delusion? by the British theologian Alister McGrath and The Secular Age by the Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor. On the whole, however, the anti-God squad has dominated the sales charts, and it is worth asking why.

The abrupt shift in the perception of religion is only partly explained by terrorism. The 9/11 hijackers saw themselves as martyrs in a religious tradition, and western opinion has accepted their self-image. And there are some who view the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as a danger comparable with the worst that were faced by liberal societies in the 20th century.

For Dawkins and Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Martin Amis, Michel Onfray, Philip Pullman and others, religion in general is a poison that has fuelled violence and oppression throughout history, right up to the present day. The urgency with which they produce their anti-religious polemics suggests that a change has occurred as significant as the rise of terrorism: the tide of secularisation has turned. These writers come from a generation schooled to think of religion as a throwback to an earlier stage of human development, which is bound to dwindle away as knowledge continues to increase. In the 19th century, when the scientific and industrial revolutions were changing society very quickly, this may not have been an unreasonable assumption. Dawkins, Hitchens and the rest may still believe that, over the long run, the advance of science will drive religion to the margins of human life, but this is now an article of faith rather than a theory based on evidence.

Cut............

But the belief that history is a directional process is as faith-based as anything in the Christian catechism. Secular thinkers such as Grayling reject the idea of providence, but they continue to think humankind is moving towards a universal goal - a civilisation based on science that will eventually encompass the entire species. In pre-Christian Europe, human life was understood as a series of cycles; history was seen as tragic or comic rather than redemptive. With the arrival of Christianity, it came to be believed that history had a predetermined goal, which was human salvation. Though they suppress their religious content, secular humanists continue to cling to similar beliefs. One does not want to deny anyone the consolations of a faith, but it is obvious that the idea of progress in history is a myth created by the need for meaning.

The problem with the secular narrative is not that it assumes progress is inevitable (in many versions, it does not). It is the belief that the sort of advance that has been achieved in science can be reproduced in ethics and politics. In fact, while scientific knowledge increases cumulatively, nothing of the kind happens in society. Slavery was abolished in much of the world during the 19th century, but it returned on a vast scale in nazism and communism, and still exists today. Torture was prohibited in international conventions after the second world war, only to be adopted as an instrument of policy by the world's pre-eminent liberal regime at the beginning of the 21st century. Wealth has increased, but it has been repeatedly destroyed in wars and revolutions. People live longer and kill one another in larger numbers. Knowledge grows, but human beings remain much the same.

Belief in progress is a relic of the Christian view of history as a universal narrative, and an intellectually rigorous atheism would start by questioning it. This is what Nietzsche did when he developed his critique of Christianity in the late 19th century, but almost none of today's secular missionaries have followed his example. One need not be a great fan of Nietzsche to wonder why this is so. The reason, no doubt, is that he did not assume any connection between atheism and liberal values - on the contrary, he viewed liberal values as an offspring of Christianity and condemned them partly for that reason. In contrast, evangelical atheists have positioned themselves as defenders of liberal freedoms - rarely inquiring where these freedoms have come from, and never allowing that religion may have had a part in creating them.

Among contemporary anti-religious polemicists, only the French writer Michel Onfray has taken Nietzsche as his point of departure. In some ways, Onfray's In Defence of Atheism is superior to anything English-speaking writers have published on the subject. Refreshingly, Onfray recognises that evangelical atheism is an unwitting imitation of traditional religion: "Many militants of the secular cause look astonishingly like clergy. Worse: like caricatures of clergy." More clearly than his Anglo-Saxon counterparts, Onfray understands the formative influence of religion on secular thinking. Yet he seems not to notice that the liberal values he takes for granted were partly shaped by Christianity and Judaism. The key liberal theorists of toleration are John Locke, who defended religious freedom in explicitly Christian terms, and Benedict Spinoza, a Jewish rationalist who was also a mystic. Yet Onfray has nothing but contempt for the traditions from which these thinkers emerged - particularly Jewish monotheism: "We do not possess an official certificate of birth for worship of one God," he writes. "But the family line is clear: the Jews invented it to endure the coherence, cohesion and existence of their small, threatened people." Here Onfray passes over an important distinction. It may be true that Jews first developed monotheism, but Judaism has never been a missionary faith. In seeking universal conversion, evangelical atheism belongs with Christianity and Islam.

In today's anxiety about religion, it has been forgotten that most of the faith-based violence of the past century was secular in nature. To some extent, this is also true of the current wave of terrorism. Islamism is a patchwork of movements, not all violently jihadist and some strongly opposed to al-Qaida, most of them partly fundamentalist and aiming to recover the lost purity of Islamic traditions, while at the same time taking some of their guiding ideas from radical secular ideology. There is a deal of fashionable talk of Islamo-fascism, and Islamist parties have some features in common with interwar fascist movements, including antisemitism. But Islamists owe as much, if not more, to the far left, and it would be more accurate to describe many of them as Islamo-Leninists.


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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby Red_switch » Fri Sep 23, 2011 4:47 pm

Gray talks a fair bit of shit there. But whatever, good on him etc.
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby hate and wedges » Fri Sep 23, 2011 9:56 pm

tl;dr. logline?
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby PertHJ » Fri Sep 23, 2011 10:00 pm

god's awesome lol
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby jont420 » Sat Sep 24, 2011 12:45 am

drunken fun :baton: :baton:
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby PertHJ » Sat Sep 24, 2011 8:48 am

no it's not
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby Red_switch » Sat Sep 24, 2011 10:46 am

having read the whole thing properly, I reckon he's way off base. Some interesting points nonetheless. We just need post modernists to fuck off already.
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby Livestock » Sat Sep 24, 2011 1:17 pm

Secular fundamentalism is a non-term and a non argument. All you have to do to be an atheist is look at the facts and fairytales and decide that belief in god is completely and utterly irrational and illogical.

What is the manifest of 'secular fundamentalism'?

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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby Skoll » Tue Sep 27, 2011 9:13 am

You can try and abolish religion but there's always going to be the stupidity that fuels it...

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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby steeltoedsneakers » Tue Sep 27, 2011 10:30 am

Livestock wrote:Secular fundamentalism is a non-term and a non argument. All you have to do to be an atheist is look at the facts and fairytales and decide that belief in god is completely and utterly irrational and illogical.

What is the manifest of 'secular fundamentalism'?

To do it without looking at the facts and fairytales, and then militantly impart your opinion that that belief in god is completely and utterly irrational and illogical.

There's atheism and there's atheism, just the same as there's happy clappy fundamentalists as well as moderate/liberal religious who have spent time researching both the theology and science and have come to their own decision.

Fundamentalism in this sense doesn't seem to be "someone who adheres to the literal interpretation", but rather someone who blinkered and unapologetically defends/imparts their belief regardless of available information. (Basically, they don't really understand their position, but they know damn well that they're right)
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby Red_switch » Tue Sep 27, 2011 10:41 am

That's a pretty unscientific position.

dirty post modernism :wink:

Remember that vampire lezbos guy, who'd done a whole lot of research, and decided earth was hollow? You might as well say that people are entitled to believe that they can hit up platform 9-3/4 and catch a train to Hogwarts because the enjoyed the Harry Potter books. And yeah, I guess they can believe that, but fuck.
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby steeltoedsneakers » Tue Sep 27, 2011 10:44 am

Yeah, well that's just like, your opinion, man..
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby Bullion » Tue Sep 27, 2011 11:07 am

steeltoedsneakers wrote:
Livestock wrote:Secular fundamentalism is a non-term and a non argument. All you have to do to be an atheist is look at the facts and fairytales and decide that belief in god is completely and utterly irrational and illogical.

What is the manifest of 'secular fundamentalism'?

To do it without looking at the facts and fairytales, and then militantly impart your opinion that that belief in god is completely and utterly irrational and illogical.

There's atheism and there's atheism, just the same as there's happy clappy fundamentalists as well as moderate/liberal religious who have spent time researching both the theology and science and have come to their own decision.

Fundamentalism in this sense doesn't seem to be "someone who adheres to the literal interpretation", but rather someone who blinkered and unapologetically defends/imparts their belief regardless of available information. (Basically, they don't really understand their position, but they know damn well that they're right)

Well I think the 'new atheism' is trying to get past the idea that religion is sacred and cannot be critiqued, that moderate religious people create an environment that allow fundamentalists to exist and that due to the organisational structure of religious groups they can affect policy such as the teaching of creationism, anti-abortion, gay rights etc.

They are also against dogma, secular or religious.

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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby Red_switch » Tue Sep 27, 2011 11:24 am

^ THIS
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby steeltoedsneakers » Tue Sep 27, 2011 11:44 am

Bullion wrote:They are also against dogma, secular or religious.

Secular dogmatism kind of sums up what I was trying to define secular fundamentalism as.

I'm not incredibly well versed in atheistic literature, but I would have assumed that religion was never held as sacred or beyond critique.. That said, I think you're right in that there is a shift away from "why take/not take x position" to "this is what happens when you take/don't take x position".

The moderates argument is a tricky one, I'm not sure I follow it completely - They do possibly create an environment for fundies to foster in.. But I think outspoken athiesm drives kneejerk reactions from fundies too - and rallies more to their cause. Is the crux of it that fundies on their own = misguided, kind of scary but largely harmless, but fundies+moderates = misguided, pretty scary and now with a platform/percieved social acceptance?
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby Dick Dynamite » Tue Sep 27, 2011 11:57 am

I thought the argument was really just - "We might NOT have outgrown religion as a species yet, because despite all our scientific advancment we're STILL fucking idiots in need of a omnipotent figure to tell us to be nice to one another."

???

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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby steeltoedsneakers » Tue Sep 27, 2011 12:25 pm

Surely that would imply that atheists should just sit quietly and let the masses keep their religions, because somebody's going to get hurt if you take them away?

And therefore the question would be, are we going to do more harm to each other with or without the desire to impress the omnipotent figure?


Just clarifying what I meant by "moderates" before - I'm fast learning that words have pretty solidly accepted meanings in these conversations, and don't always mean what I think they do. I take it that it's read as "believers with watered down versions of fundie beliefs" - in which case thoroughly agree with the argument.

What I meant though, was "believers who hold opposing views to fundamentalists, as they also hold widely accepted scientific views that run counter to the (simplified) theistic beliefs of the fundamentalists - furthermore, they do not believe that these two elements are incompatible, and would argue, quite strongly, that the fundies are fruit loops and ruining it for everyone" - is there a word for those folks?
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby the croc » Tue Sep 27, 2011 6:20 pm

Pretty much what he's saying Dick, although most religions do not invoke an omnipotent figure.
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby Dick Dynamite » Tue Sep 27, 2011 7:45 pm

Yeah, perhaps replace 'omnipotent figure' with 'set of dogmatic guidelines and moral absolutes' - which I guess loads of atheists have ANYWAY...

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Postby Hamtown Dave » Tue Sep 27, 2011 8:11 pm

I remember sitting around a table one summer with a bunch of friends of mixed religious backgrounds... One friend brought about a mixture of laughter and offended indignation by basically suggesting Christianity had a monopoly on morality.

To suggest atheists have a monopoly on reasoned theological debate is equally as laughable/offensive. Me thinks some of you are still upset mummy and daddy made you go to private schools/church.

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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby FC » Tue Sep 27, 2011 8:15 pm

I don't think it would be particularly ridiculous to suggest that christian and muslim thought has a monopoly on discrimination though.
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby akaxo » Tue Sep 27, 2011 8:22 pm

atheists (and maybe agnostics if they ever make up their minds) do have somewhat of a monopoly on not being deluded and believing in millennia old fairy tales though.
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Re:

Postby Red_switch » Tue Sep 27, 2011 8:25 pm

Hamtown Dave wrote:I remember sitting around a table one summer with a bunch of friends of mixed religious backgrounds... One friend brought about a mixture of laughter and offended indignation by basically suggesting Christianity had a monopoly on morality.

To suggest atheists have a monopoly on reasoned theological debate is equally as laughable/offensive. Me thinks some of you are still upset mummy and daddy made you go to private schools/church.


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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby Rude Mike » Wed Sep 28, 2011 1:35 am

I pride myself on getting out of that religious nutcase brigade, and I swear to fuck I'm never going back lol; the way these people thing and reason is seriously disturbing.
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Re: The Atheist Delusion by John Gray

Postby Rude Mike » Wed Sep 28, 2011 1:36 am

*mind you I was forced to go to a private seventh day adventist school, but eventually I just saw past the bullshit and it just went over my head completely thank fuck :lol:
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