Print Edition: March 8, 2015
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BY Father Thomas D. Williams, LC
Unless you’ve spent the last few years in a mountain
hermitage, you have almost certainly run into the latest rash of anti-God
And a rash it is, since the very mention of a Supreme Being
makes these professional atheists break out in hives. But they are scratching
all the way to the bank, as several of these recent diatribes have become
best-sellers, showing once again that religion-bashing never truly goes out of
In the wake of The Da Vinci Code, a series of books have
jumped on the lucrative religion-debunking bandwagon.
It started with The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, and
has been followed by Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, Daniel C.
Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and more
recently by Christopher Hitchens’ 2007 work God Is not Great: How Religion
These best-sellers are accompanied by reams of lesser works,
attesting to the power of atheism as the newest cottage industry.
Though varying slightly in tone and emphasis, these books
bear a remarkable resemblance to one another.
First, they all latch onto the worst historical errors of
religious people and extrapolate them to apply to all believers everywhere.
Thus the meekest Buddhist monk off in Nepal is guilty by
association of the crimes of the most fanatical Islamic suicide bomber, and
Francis of Assisi and Billy Graham are tarred with the same brush as Osama Bin
Laden and the Ayatollah Khomeini. All religions (and believers) are thrown
together into the same pot as if they were interchangeable. No attempt is made
to distinguish between religious fanaticism and religious belief.
The authors jump to the conclusion that the root of any
problem isn’t the radical strain of religion in question, but belief in God
Second, all of these authors toss impartiality out the
window in their passionate campaign against God.
One of the more irritating aspects of these books is the
studious avoidance of arguments and examples that would contradict their
preconceived thesis. The selection of data is so thoroughly biased that one
often has the sensation of reading cheap propaganda.
From their biblical citations to their historical examples,
the neo-atheists pick and choose their information with barely a veneer of
One example that illustrates this well is the authors’
silence concerning the many marked benefits of religion to humanity. The
atheists deliberately ignore the mountain of evidence available — empirical
evidence — that ties charity to religious and specifically Christian belief.
The founding of schools, hospitals, orphanages, universities, hospices and
general aid to the poor has marked Christianity from the outset, yet finds no acknowledgement
in these works. Whenever they are forced to acknowledge some good action of a
religious person, they are quick to say that such benevolence was done in spite
of their religion rather than because of it.
Third, despite the facade of novelty presented by these
authors, there is really nothing new in the arguments they raise.
They seem to be only now discovering Sigmund Freud or
Friedrich Nietzsche or Charles Darwin and presenting their findings as if they
had unearthed the Holy Grail, when, in fact, these arguments have been mulled
over and often surpassed in the intervening 150-odd years since these thinkers
had their heyday. The result is that they present their warmed-over criticisms
with the flourish of a comic fencer confidently declaring touché at every turn,
while never really striking his opponent.
The fact is that, try as I might, I could not find in these
books one pro-atheist argument that hadn’t already been better expounded by
Voltaire or Comte or Feuerbach or Marx or Russell or Freud himself — all of
which had already received ample attention, and thoroughly compelling
This is especially important for those who wonder whether
these new atheists have discovered a fatal flaw in Christianity and in religion
in general that could topple religious belief. In reality, it’s just the new,
K-Mart version of the same old song and dance.
In the following weeks, I will address some of the recurring
criticisms against God and religion found in the neo-atheist tracts.
This series bears the title A Theologian Answers the
Atheists About God. Though I am answering the objections of atheists, these
essays are not written especially for them. I am writing rather for Catholics
who may feel threatened by these books, and who are looking for answers to
share with their friends or others who may challenge them on these points.
Many Catholics instinctively know the criticisms raised in
these books are specious, but lack ready answers to reply to those who come at
them with such protests.
I hope to supply them with the answers they seek, and in
this way to respond to the call of the great apostle Peter, who urged
Christians: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from
you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and
reverence” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
Legionary Father Thomas Williams is the Vatican analyst for CBS News, and author of Greater Than You Think: A Theologian Answers the Atheists
About God (New York: Hachette, forthcoming, June 2007) email@example.com.
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