There Are Atheists – And Then There Are Atheists

People like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris really bother me. In case you’re not familiar with the names, Dawkins is an espouser of atheism, and has authored a number of books including, “The God Delusion,” and, “The Selfish Gene.”

Richard_Dawkins

He’s an ethologist, an evolutionary biologist, and a professor (probably of both subjects, for all I know). He’s English, and aging.

Harris, on the other hand is relatively young (born 1967). He’s American and studied at Stanford. Dawkins, of course, went to Oxford.

Sam_Harris

Harris also espouses atheism, has written books on the subject (“The End Of Faith”; “The Moral Landscape”) and spends much of his time giving lectures, contributing to various media outlets, and making documentaries.

As someone who would probably be best described as an ‘agnostic with a distinct tendency towards atheism’ (though I HATE pigeon-holes!) why do I find these two men so concerning?

It’s because they’ve elevated themselves to the High Priesthood of Atheism (you’ll note the capital ‘A’). One of the major defects of virtually all religions is the demand they place on their followers to persuade others to their way of thinking. Over the course of centuries it’s frequently led to violence and terrorism. In the case of modern Islam, this has become frighteningly apparent in the early part of the 21st century.

Dawkins and Harris are hell-bent on persuading their followers to disdain other religious groups and proselytize the cause of Atheism. They use their writings, the internet, radio and television, and any other form of media available to them, to achieve this.

By so doing they are empowering themselves as leaders of what could be described as a new ‘religion’. A cult of Atheism. This makes them no better than the High Priests and Mullahs of the very religions they denigrate.

I agree with much, though not all, they believe. Frankly, given the lowly status of our species, compared to the vastness of the Universe and what may lie beyond, I find it the height of arrogance to categorically deny the possible existence of any ‘Super-Intelligence’ (though not in any form worshiped by orthodox religions), just as I find it equally egotistical for a priest of religion to believe himself bestowed with a God-given right to intercede between some divinity and the rest of us.

It might be tolerable if Harris and Dawkins stopped at preaching atheism, but like most who achieve some degree of fame and power in the world, inevitably they come to believe their philosophies are water-tight and we should duly accept anything they utter as absolute truth.

In a recent article (now available on his blog) Harris delivers a rather long, wandering, disquisition, entitled, “Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?”[1] The only conclusion to be drawn from it is that Harris supports the Israeli position because, in his eyes, they’re more civilized. Perhaps if he lived in the rat-hole that is Gaza, with no way out except through Israeli-controlled checkpoints, where basic necessities of life are scarce because everything gets checked by Israelis before being allowed in (and much of it is rejected), where 60% of the populace are unemployed because no company would commit economic suicide by building a factory there, where electricity is only available for a few hours a day, he might better understand why Israel, prosperous and with modern cities, a vibrant economy, supported to the tune of billions of American dollars annually, appears on the surface to be “more civilized”.

Dawkins, these days is generally less vociferous than Harris, but managed to get a page of the BBC News website all to himself this week after tweeting:

“Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse.” He added: “If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”[2]

Not only is Dawkins wrong in his proclamation (Rape is a statutory legal offense) but his arrogance, emblazoned within the final sentence, takes one’s breath away.

It’s a common fault of the human species to assume we are right and others are wrong. It’s this failing that results in much of the violence inflicted in the world today. The tags we use to justify it, whether religious, economic, or otherwise, are merely tags.

In this sense, Harris, Dawkins, and their ilk are just as guilty as those they condemn. The truth is they are equally as capable of being wrong as the rest of us.

There is one atheist for whom I hold the greatest respect. He didn’t preach; he didn’t condemn, or mock others. Sadly, he’s no longer with us, but his vision, poetry, and love for this world, the Universe, and all things in it, I found way more inspiring than the dry, tired, soporific, versions of eternal heavenly bliss trotted out by the be-robed snake oil salesmen who vend their wares under the guise of priest, mullah, or pastor.

Next time you sit in a room with sunlight streaming through the window and notice the minute specks of matter floating in the sunbeam, be reminded of the words of Carl Sagan as he described the view of Planet Earth as seen from Voyager I while six billion miles away. Our planet would have been invisible from that distance, except for a chance sunbeam that happened to illuminate it as a tiny speck of dust.

Carl_Sagan

Sagan’s words are in the right-hand sidebar of Sparrow Chat, together with Voyager I’s image. When Carl Sagan was dying he knew his death would be the end for him. He believed in no heaven; no afterlife. He didn’t need to. The wonders of the Earth and the Universe, that had unfolded before him during his relatively short lifetime, were sufficient.

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” ~ Carl Sagan 1994.

Are Dawkins and Harris in the same league as Sagan? I’ll leave you to be your own judge of that.

But, for me, they are as insignificant as that one speck of dust revealed by a sunbeam.

[1] “Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?” http://www.samharris.org July 27th 2014

[2] “#BBCTrending: Dawkins angers his followers on Twitter” BBC, July 29th 2014

3 Replies to “There Are Atheists – And Then There Are Atheists”

  1. Harris has completely lost me over the past few years. I thought Letter to a Christian Nation eloquently explained some of my personal views, but with each speech he gives, each essay he pens, he falls further and further into a bizarre, hypocritical extremism. Dawkins, for the most part, I still enjoy (as far as his books go), but Twitter has proven to be a major cause of my recent problems with him. Unfortunately, after impulsively tweeting stupid nonsense out, his ego gets in the way and he refuses to backtrack or see the errors in what he said. As far as public scientists who also dabble in speaking on religion, I prefer PZ Myers and, of course, Sagan’s heir, Neil deGrasse Tyson. They preach the beauty of the world without all the seething hate.

  2. Sagan is one of my heroes – he was such a wonderful writer, too.

    Dawkins, Harris …I’ve come to the conclusion that both are beneath contempt – they found “a nice little earner” in their atheism, books, lectures, TV appearances and so on. As always, $$$$$$$$ talks.

    I lean towards atheism, but hope there’s a little more to life than we currently know – though it’s not likely to be connected with God or gods or Allah or any other mythological figure. It’ll be connected with scientific stuff we can’t even begin to imagine, here in 2014.

  3. Jonathan and Twilight – thanks for your comments. I must apologize for the tardy response. Needless to say, I agree with you both. We don’t need another contentious sect, atheistic or otherwise, in the world. Human beings find enough to fight over already.

Comments are closed.