A semi-refreshing multi-book review of current atheist attacks on religion: the New Yorker considers some of the many shortcomings of books by Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. It’s “semi-refreshing” because one doesn’t expect much on the Christian religion from the New Yorker—their article on Benedict XVI in April was downright disgraceful from a number of perspectives, basic fact-checking not being the least of these. But here one gets an article that criticizes the extremist non-arguments of these authors, but, as one would expect, does not jump to defend “religion” in any real way.
Particularly embarrassing, I would think, to someone who claims to be a serious intellectual, are the logical impossibilities attendant upon classifying all systems of supernatural belief, regardless of their actual teachings, regardless of their mutual incompatibility, as one monolithic, evil entity called “religion.” The New Yorker author rightly comments:
From the perspective of the new atheists, religion is all one entity; those who would apologize for any of its forms—Harris and Dawkins, in particular, insist on this point—are helping to sustain the whole. But, though the vague belief in a “life force” may be misguided, it’s hard to make the case that it’s dangerous. And there’s a dreamy incoherence in their conviction that moderate forms of religion somehow enable fundamentalist zeal and violence to survive. Are we really going to tame the fervor of an extremist imam’s mosque in Waziristan by weakening the plush-toy creed of a nondenominational church in Chappaqua?
Not to mention the fact that, to my knowledge, none of the authors consider any form of religion other than the traditional-theistic—what about the belief in science, pursuit of financial gain, rationalism, or self-reliance as religions? People, even if they don’t recognize an omnipotent other-worldly being, will elevate something to transcendental status, be it even their own selves. If “religion” is to be taken as an undifferentiated and pernicious phenomenon, then these attacks on it by Dawkins, Harris, et al. are omitting an essential segment of their investigation. To include it would implicate themselves in the horrific project called “religion” that they want so badly to distance themselves from.
I know these books only through a great many reviews, so I apologize if I’m mischaracterizing them.