A remarkably 19th-century Manichaean view of religion has enjoyed rather a lot of favor in our press and among the manufacturers of culture since Sept. 11, 2001.
Theologically illiterate to the bone and proudly hostile to the bent knee, the new atheists appear to have learned nothing either from the actual teaching of the various religious traditions they ignorantly denounce, nor from the experience of the 20th century.
Their method is really quite simple: If it’s evil, it comes from religion, and vice versa. If it’s good, then claim credit for it as a triumph of atheism over superstition.
Christopher Hitchens, for example, sees human history as a progression from theology to philosophy, as though the two have not coexisted since the dawn of time. Ignorant of the theological foundations of Western science, the new atheists routinely speak as though science has no faith foundations (a falsehood that can be shown up with the simple demand: “Prove, from reason, the Law of Non-Contradiction upon which all scientific inquiry depends.”)
Beyond this bit of trickery or amnesia (take your pick) are ever-so-many shell games, the most popular of which is: If you’ve seen one Abrahamic religion you’ve seen ’em all. That way, every time some Islamic savage beheads an innocent child or threatens to horsewhip some kindly teacher for calling a teddy bear “Mohammed,” we get a bulletin from some chin-pulling nitwit who says, “Look at all the Christianists denouncing Philip Pullman’s innocent little story for children!”
Prescinding from the fact that Pullman boasts his intention is to write a book for kids that celebrate “killing God,” it is also worth noting that, for sane people, there is a difference between saying, “I don’t like this The Golden Compass” and trying to horsewhip an innocent woman or behead a little kid.
Such sterile theological disputations are, however, too subtle for those shouting, “There is no God and I am his prophet!” That is why an allegedly educated English reader of the London Times can laugh off the threatened murder of a British Muslim woman who converted to Christianity this way, “It amazes me that anyone can give up one set of Bronze Age mythology, only to take up a different one. If she believes in Jesus and heaven what’s the problem? Her family just want her to get there (heaven) ahead of schedule.”
It is also why the new atheists can look right at the mountain range of human corpses left behind by the great atheist totalitarian systems of the past hundred years and pretend they were victims of “religion.”
In theological terms, this is known as “sin darkening the intellect.” For sin has the power to take the glittering gifts of the proud intellect and reduce them to dust.
One example of this is Hitchens’ charge that religion is “child abuse.” Sam Harris also longs for the day when “the practice of raising our children to believe that they are Christian, Muslim or Jewish be widely recognized as the ludicrous obscenity that it is.”
Likewise, Richard Dawkins kvetches that “Our society, including the nonreligious sector, has accepted the preposterous idea that it is normal and right to indoctrinate tiny children in the religion of their parents, and to slap religious labels on them — ‘Catholic child,’ ‘Protestant child,’ ‘Jewish child,’ ‘Muslim child,’ etc.” Dawkins says this is “always a form of child abuse.”
And so, Dawkins concludes his ruminations on “religion as child abuse” on this ominous note: “Maybe some children need to be protected from indoctrination by their own parents.”
“Some”? Who are these “some”? Since, for Dawkins, religious instruction is “always” a form of child abuse, his public policy suggestion, if enacted, means “all children of religious parents.” And who is to do this “protecting”?
Well, the only candidate we have is Caesar. So in Dawkins’ perfect world, any child whose parents are believers should be seized by the state and instead subjected to … what?
Dawkins thinks that religious education is “indoctrination.” That’s because he is not capable of understanding what education really is.
Since he cannot imagine a parent who actually believes what he teaches his children, he has to speak the language of the conditioner — because that’s what he thinks all education is. He wants to condition children to accept his ideology rather than the faith of their parents.
He wants the state to manipulate them into being useful drones for the secular technocratic “republic of heaven” men like he and Pullman dream of. He prefers that to parents who pass along their lives to their children (which is what parenthood means).
An omnipotent state in which children are ripped from their parents to be conditioned to think as Caesar desires. This, Dawkins and his ilk think, will deliver children from slavery?
Mark Shea is senior content editor for CatholicExchange.com.