Religion haters

The Washington Post profiles what it calls, with a typical postmodern touch of irony, an "atheist evangelist", Sam Harris.

There are really just two possibilities for Sam Harris. Either he is right and millions of Christians, Muslims and Jews are wrong. Or Sam Harris is wrong and he is so going to hell.

This seems obvious whenever Harris opens what he calls "my big mouth," and it is glaringly clear one recent evening at the New York Public Library, where he is debating a former priest before a packed auditorium. In less than an hour, Harris condemns the God of the Old Testament for a host of sins, including support for slavery. He drop—kicks the New Testament, likening the story of Jesus to a fairy tale. He savages the Koran, calling it "a manifesto for religious divisiveness."

Nobody has ever accused the man of being subtle. Harris is straight out of the stun grenade school of public rhetoric.

There's nothing really new here. Religion haters, often pretending to be smarter and more sophisticated than their backward neighbors, have been around a long time. The village atheist was a role featured in many small towns of the early 20th century. Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis, author of Main Street (and a neighbor of my grandmother in Saulk Centre, MN, the real Gopher Prairie at which "Red" Lewis sneered, and left behind a lot of angry former friends) penned Elmer Gantry, his second most—famous book, on the subject. (Only after he was dead, and so were the people identifiable as characters in Main Street, did Saulk Centre forgive Red, and errect the Sinclair Lewis Museum, right by the interchange on Interstate 94.)

Although the Post article by David Segal does attempt to be fair, there is a faint aroma of condescension wafting through asides like this:

...Evel Knievel of ideas, a daredevil of the mind. You listen to him and think, "Well, that is going to land him in the hospital."

Instead, it has landed him on the bestseller list. His first book, "The End of Faith," won the 2005 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction and sold more than 270,000 copies, making Harris a very high—profile voice of the godless. Now there is a follow—up, "Letter to a Christian Nation," a 96—page shiv inspired by the reaction to his first book, which apparently included a heap of hate mail.

The article is well worth reading, because outright hatred of religion seems to be quite on the rise in the United States. You hear it in comparisons of evangelical Christianity with Wahhabism, quite a commonplace on the left. I sometimes even sense a bit of it in ostensible clergy of a leftist bent who affirm that religion is about "believeing something" without going any further in specifying what exactly they have in mind. There's nothing the cloak of protective coloration by denaturing religion into a pious call for a belief in something, no matter what that is. Not exactly atheism, but not exactly belief in God either.

In a way, Harris is quite refreshing. Nothing is cloaked about his hatred. But this is just a revival of atheism as a cult a tradition of sorts since at least the French Revolution.

Hat tip: Ed Lasky

Thomas Lifson   10 26 06

The Washington Post profiles what it calls, with a typical postmodern touch of irony, an "atheist evangelist", Sam Harris.

There are really just two possibilities for Sam Harris. Either he is right and millions of Christians, Muslims and Jews are wrong. Or Sam Harris is wrong and he is so going to hell.

This seems obvious whenever Harris opens what he calls "my big mouth," and it is glaringly clear one recent evening at the New York Public Library, where he is debating a former priest before a packed auditorium. In less than an hour, Harris condemns the God of the Old Testament for a host of sins, including support for slavery. He drop—kicks the New Testament, likening the story of Jesus to a fairy tale. He savages the Koran, calling it "a manifesto for religious divisiveness."

Nobody has ever accused the man of being subtle. Harris is straight out of the stun grenade school of public rhetoric.

There's nothing really new here. Religion haters, often pretending to be smarter and more sophisticated than their backward neighbors, have been around a long time. The village atheist was a role featured in many small towns of the early 20th century. Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis, author of Main Street (and a neighbor of my grandmother in Saulk Centre, MN, the real Gopher Prairie at which "Red" Lewis sneered, and left behind a lot of angry former friends) penned Elmer Gantry, his second most—famous book, on the subject. (Only after he was dead, and so were the people identifiable as characters in Main Street, did Saulk Centre forgive Red, and errect the Sinclair Lewis Museum, right by the interchange on Interstate 94.)

Although the Post article by David Segal does attempt to be fair, there is a faint aroma of condescension wafting through asides like this:

...Evel Knievel of ideas, a daredevil of the mind. You listen to him and think, "Well, that is going to land him in the hospital."

Instead, it has landed him on the bestseller list. His first book, "The End of Faith," won the 2005 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction and sold more than 270,000 copies, making Harris a very high—profile voice of the godless. Now there is a follow—up, "Letter to a Christian Nation," a 96—page shiv inspired by the reaction to his first book, which apparently included a heap of hate mail.

The article is well worth reading, because outright hatred of religion seems to be quite on the rise in the United States. You hear it in comparisons of evangelical Christianity with Wahhabism, quite a commonplace on the left. I sometimes even sense a bit of it in ostensible clergy of a leftist bent who affirm that religion is about "believeing something" without going any further in specifying what exactly they have in mind. There's nothing the cloak of protective coloration by denaturing religion into a pious call for a belief in something, no matter what that is. Not exactly atheism, but not exactly belief in God either.

In a way, Harris is quite refreshing. Nothing is cloaked about his hatred. But this is just a revival of atheism as a cult a tradition of sorts since at least the French Revolution.

Hat tip: Ed Lasky

Thomas Lifson   10 26 06