Friday, January 08, 2010

atheist delusions. part 1. the myths of new atheism

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies is an erudite response to new atheism. The aim is not advocacy (for Hart “there are numerous forms of Christian belief and practice for which I would be hard pressed to muster a kind word” (x)). Rather, the aim is accuracy, to call attention to peculiar and radical nature of Christian faith in first four or five centuries, the liberation it offered and dignity it gave the human person.

The book is written given that for Hart: “new atheism” lacks historical insight and intellectual honesty, and comes as “attitudes masquerading as ideas, emotional commitments disguised as intellectual honesty.” (19)!!

Hart names, and then dissects, the myths of new atheism.

Myth: religion is violent

  1. But to be honest, the reality is that wars, bigotry and religious persecution are peculiar to humanity, not simply to monotheistic faiths.
  2. Christianity actually forbids violence. Should incorrect practice of a faith by it’s followers mean the faith is at fault.
  3. What evidence is there that secular, atheistic society would be less violent than religious societies, especially given the track record of social eugenics movement, including the Nazi movement as it’s offspring?

Myth: religion is baseless.

  1. Reality, for a “baseless” religion, Christianity has had an ENORMOUS impact on making world a more humane, charitable and compassionate place.
  2. Intellectual honesty demands that a religion be assessed on it’s actual particularities, rather than pushed into a category called ‘religion.’
  3. Just because the reasons for faith do not impress a skeptic does not make them irrational. “More to the point, it is bizarre for anyone to think he or she can judge the nature and credibility of another’s experiences from the outside.” (11)

Myth: that humanity has emerged from the dark ages (an age of faith) into a new age of enlightenment (an age of reason)

  1. Isn’t calling something the “Dark Ages” in fact an act of bigotry in it’s assumption that our times are more enlightened than other times (and other cultures?)
  2. In reality, the Middle Ages were marked by dynamism in many fields, like the plow, armor, horse shoe, waterwheels, wrought iron, practical inventions driven by developing scientific theory.

Myth: A golden age of Hellenistic science was killed by Christianity

  1. Copernicus was heir to an extended tradition of Christian scholarship.
  2. Science – its methods, controls and guiding principles – were birthed “within Christendom, and under the hands of believing Christians.” (63) due in large degree to the development known as the medieval Christian university.
  3. Galileo was supported by Archbishops and Cardinals, but refused to acknowledge that his model had flaws and was simply a hypothesis.
  4. Galileo appealed to Augustine and church fathers, who always saw the Bible as not providing scientific descriptions of reality.

Myth: cruelty of religious intolerance (Crusades, inquisitions, witch hunts) in Christendom

  1. In times of witch hunts, the church played a key role by introducing courts to channel mob hysteria.
  2. “[I]n lands where the authority of the church and its inquisitions were strong – especially during the high tide of witch-hunting – convictions were extremely rare.” (80) Eg. Only two convictions went to trial in Spain in all of 13th and 14th centuries.
  3. The fascination with witchcraft was part of a society freeing itself from authority of the church, and thus a manifestation (a fruit?) of the dawn of modernity.
  4. Spanish Inquisition was an office of the state, not the church. It was driven by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who needed an instrument to enforce national unity. As such, the Inquisition serves an object lesson in “the inherence violence of the state.” (85).
  5. History shows us not a decline in church violence as the secular state gained power, but that “violence increased in proportion to the degree of sovereignty claimed by the state.” (86)

Myth: “wars of religion”

  1. Are in reality the first wars of the modern nation-state, with the role of establishing power of state over church.
  2. The crusades began as indignant response to the tales of brutality against Christian pilgrims.
  3. “They certainly had no basis in any Christian tradition of holy war. They [became] the last gaudy flourish of Western barbarian culture, embellished by the winsome ceremonies of chivalry.” (89)
  4. The wars of Christendom pale into insignificance when laid alongside the wars of the 20th century.

Part 2 here

Posted by steve at 04:31 PM


  1. On the ‘dark ages’, ‘crusades’ and ‘golden age of hellenistic science’ myths I would highly recommend Rodnay Stark’s “God’s Battalions” which puts alot of those 18th century myths about the past to bed.

    Comment by phil_style — January 11, 2010 @ 11:56 pm

  2. “[The Crusades] certainly had no basis in any Christian tradition of holy war. They [became] the last gaudy flourish of Western barbarian culture, embellished by the winsome ceremonies of chivalry.”

    The excellent book Must Christianity Be Violent? (Chase and Jacobs, eds.) offers a chapter treatment on the Crusades. The chapter engages the writing of an anonymous knight who fought in the Crusades. Sadly, this knight does use the holy war texts of the Old Testament to justify his participation.

    Comment by Josh Rowley — January 14, 2010 @ 2:54 pm

  3. thanks Josh. I’ve found Lois Barrett’s book, The God who fights, fascinating, trying to read Old Testament within the world of the OT, rather than our world. I wonder if Chase and Jacobs pay the same courtesy to this anonymous knight?


    Comment by steve — January 14, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

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