This past weekend, the Washington Post published two pieces: one by Michael Gerson titled "What Atheists Can't Answer" and a response by Christopher Hitchens. Gerson poses the question of what would happen if the idea of God were removed from moral questions; where would our guiding principles come from? Hitchens response is indirect, choosing to challenge the idea that religious teachings throughout history are morally ambiguous at best and horrifically immoral in general.
I find it interesting and telling that atheists, specifically Hitchens in this case, tend to source human failings to God when discussing the immorality of religion. In this way, God is blamed for all manner of evil acts. What is more reasonable (and expectable, given the naturally imperfect state of man) is that those who use religion to perpetrate evil are not religious at all, but rather use the faith of others as a means to power.
Ironically, whereas a religious believer can readily state that God is beyond human knowledge, the atheists apply the attributes of God to man - notably to the atheists themselves. They seem unable to consciously detach what God is from what they know man is. In this way and through their arguments, they raise man to God-like levels of thought and perfection and simultaneously downgrade the idea of God (which they reject anyway) to a somewhat human level. This equivocation of beings that are different in kind muddles the argument so as to result in comparing apples and airplanes, thinking both are the same. The inability to see a difference in kind between the mortal and the divine irrecoverably clouds Hitchens' argument.
In the end, I think that history has shown again and again what happens when people reject, en masse, the idea of God. Like perversions of the idea of God (which Hitchens eagerly puts forward as examples), rejection leads to totalitarianism and inhumanity toward theist and atheist alike.
Bob Myer blogs at http://www.mindofflapjack.blogspot.com/.
Update: Velnirtist adds:
It was odd to find in an otherwise finely reasoned article the sentence “a religious believer can readily state that God is beyond human knowledge” – for how does it account for the phenomenon of “True Believers,” bent on advancing their “True Faith,” and instituting all sorts of Inquisitions and Talibans in the process? A God of a “True Believer” is beyond his knowledge? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?
I would argue that the malady of “rais[ing] man to God-like levels of thought and perfection and simultaneously downgrade[ing] the idea of God … to a somewhat human level” as Mr. Myer well put it, is precisely what is behind the present-day manifestation of religious violence, jihadism – which is not exactly an atheistic phenomenon…