anti-dogmatic dogmatism?

C4 has a post up on the question of whether the so-called New Atheists are really against dogma. He quotes from Benjamin O’Donnell (a Sydney lawyer) who writes:

“It seems that the new atheists’ real problem is with dogma, and specifically with the dogma of religious faith – with the belief that it is acceptable, even admirable, to believe propositions without logically sound reasons based on good evidence. They aren’t really the “new atheists” at all, but the “new anti-dogmatists”.”

They are against the belief that it is admirable even acceptable to believe propositions without logically sound reasons based on good evidence—that is except for that proposition itself, which I would argue is not based necessarily (and certainly in all cases) on sound reasons. I would propose that there are times (many instances) and contexts where dogmatism is indeed pernicious and must be countered, just as there are times when dogmas are neutral, and other times when taking certain things on belief (not necessarily traditionally religious) is positive.

In other words I wouldn’t make being against “dogma” a dogma or an absolute, which is what I too often sense from the “New” Atheists (in this regard not sure how “New” they are).

Worse see in that quotation the main problem–truth is propositional. Religion is treated as if it were a scientific theory—only evangelicals and modernist fundamentalists Christians and atheist scientistic types treat the Bible as if it were a proposition about how say the world actually came into being (as opposed to a theological statement of its meaning and purpose rather than a scientific theory of its causal secondary principles).

This is the crux of my difficulty with their writings. I’m all for people using reason and not referring to dogmas (scientific or religious in nature) but rather investigating with logic, evidence, experience, reflection. It is that the New Atheists don’t aim the reflective light on themselves. Their anti-dogmatism is veering towards itself towards dogmatism. What I would call anti-theism.

You have to be skeptical of your own skepticism, critical of your own criticism–i.e. leave open the possibility of being wrong, having a wider sense of truth (including metaphor)–all of which is missing when everything is reduced to “propositional” logical positivist truth.

The dogmas O’Donnell cites are the possibility of a dogma of an Aryan race (Nazism), a dogma of a God who seeks to enforce one religion on the whole world even violently (militant Salafism), or that to use condoms are a sin (Roman Catholicism)–though he doesn’t name these latter two religions the implications are quite obvious. All of which majorities of sane people, both religious and non, see as abhorrent.

In resposne O’D. says a theist might argue that communist Marxism was evil and destroyed millions of lives (correctly so). His response (which is telling):

But any theist who said that would have to explain the inconvenient fact that some of the most civilised, liberal and prosperous nations in the world are “atheistic”, in the sense that a majority of their populations do not believe in God.

Take Sweden, for example. When polled, more than 80 per cent of Swedes say they don’t believe in God and more than 40 per cent explicitly identify themselves as atheists. Yet Sweden has some of the lowest homicide, poverty, teenaged pregnancy and STD rates in the world. It is a functioning liberal democracy with high levels of wealth, very little social unrest and a near 100 per cent literacy rate.

Of course anyone who argues that without dogmatic religion people will necessarily become immoral and evil would have to explain Sweden. Any theist however would not–particularly intelligent ones who are willing to admit that atheists can be good people as well, even better than religious. And that (shocker!!!) not all religious and atheist people are the same–some good, same bad in both camps.

The difference of course between Sweden and the Soviet dictatorship is precisely that–a dictatorship, i.e. an anti-religious religion (dogma). An atheistic creed. Sweden practices classical liberalism–i.e. one is free to believe or not believe so long as one does not enforce one’s belief on the populace and abides by the civil law in public. [Though even there (Sweden) there is a “religion” if you like of secularism, multiculturalism, hidden currents of racism and suspicion and the possibility for real violence. They also have an extremely low birth rate and may breed themselves out of existence].

It’s not atheism that is the problem–it’s anti-theism. It’s dogmatic militant atheism.

They are exactly right–such militant dogmas are the problem. They aren’t just willing to go the one further step and realize that they have their own tendencies in this direction, some more than others (e.g. Hitchens than say Harris).

The worry with the New Atheists, who are otherwise harmless and not particularly that deep in my book, is that they could veer towards illiberality. Dawkins most especially. Mostly they just come off as adolescent, maybe d–kheads a lot of the time. Which is fine; it’s a free country. They are not promoting communist gulags. They do practice psychological taunting, bordering on (mild) abuse I would say, de-humanizing and arrogant at times (Hitchens and Dawkins I’m thinking of now). Though they receive in truth far worse from so-called religious people, so that’s understandable if still not acceptable in my book.

I’m thinking of Dawkins’ documentary Root of all Evil? (again title any clue?). He goes to this orthodox Rabbi in London, the community keeps their children in their own Jewish schools and are mostly segregated communally, and Dawkins comes to this dude’s house, barely has met the guy and immediately starts in on the poor schlep railing against him for the way he raises his children. I’m thinking, where does this guy get off?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing for ultra-Orthodox Jewish style cultural and religious segregation, but I don’t have such a high view of myself that I would know for sure how this man should be raising his children or helping guide his community. The arrogance of that act is pretty astounding.

If all they do is form little atheist clubs (or brights or whatever term is preferred) and go around trying to convince people to stop being religious or believe in a supernatural divinity, that’s fine. I think there are much more important things to do, but that’s my opinion. They gotta do what they feel called to, but I don’t think they automatically deserve deep special praise like they are martyrs for free thought or anything.

I always ask myself with their writings–what’s the payoff here boys? Dennett at least is clearer on that point–teaching religion as a natural mechanistic evolutionary phenomena in school as a way to subtly (or not so subtly) evangelize masses of people out of religious faith. At least he is clear that he is in violation of the first amendment by trying to sanction a religion-philosophy in public school system under the guise of science, just as Creationists use Intelligent Design as a trojan horse to committ offence against the First Amendment by teaching what is religious doctrine under the guise of science.

With the other Three Horsemen, less clear.

When Dawkins goes around saying that religions are forms of child abuse, then the logical implication of that is the state should start taking children away from parents. If he actually means what he says that is. If there is physical abuse of a child, the state intervenes takes the child away for its protection. Well if all religion all the time is nothing but psychological abuse for the child, how would psychological and emotional trauma be any worse than physical?

Then after having rounded up all these kids, the State will have to raise the children in de-programming tanks, where religion is erased from their minds (sound totalitarian yet?), and well you get the reset of the picture. Of course I don’t actually think Dawkins wants that–I just don’t think he’s thought through the implications of his words, which I often find hyperbolic to the point of being frankly dumb. As with all of this, he’s got a point, they all do, but pushed to the extreme it becomes that which it hates in reverse.

And not even per se them but I could imagine a future in which movements spinning out of control in their name theoretically starting to press for official state-sanctioned atheism. That’s when the violence enters. Though again that seems more like a danger in Western Europe with its history of secularization and secular ideology than say the US with its history of pluralism and non-confessional political structure–huge difference.

What they miss is this–humans want their enslavement. Many humans that is. They want dogmas out of fear and if religion is destroyed then they will create atheists dogmas in order to fill in the gap. In other words, they are highly naive as to the depths of human evil. The evil they see as all outside implanted in us by parasitic religions. The truth often (sadly and more frighteningly) is that humans want and will create if needs be these parasites and inject themselves with them.

The fight against dogmatism is primarily a fight against religions, but rather the dogmatic tendencies we are all born with and inculcuated in whatever our culture or religious (or non-religious) outlook.

That is why the wisest religious scholars and practicioners I know are deeply ambiguous towards religion. They realize it is a necessary human endeavor but one fraught with serious evil realities and dangerous possibilities. They realize it can’t be so cut and dry and simple and easy as it would appear in a New Atheist tract. Something of that depth and recognition would be appreciated from the New Atheist writings and talks, which otherwise give the sense that they really believe deep down that if religion were just extripated, humans would be wonderful and beautiful. It’s a beautiful vision, but it is deeply naive in far too many ways.

Which is not the same as then saying that humans should be controlled, say by a Leviathan or Church-State or Sharia system. It is to live with ambiguity and incompleteness often missing I find from their views.

Published in: on January 29, 2008 at 4:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

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