Most atheists were raised in religious families. And they paid attention. The evidence indicates atheists know more than believers about religion. And they are often the most questioning of and curious about the ‘holy’ texts. So it is no surprise that Isaac Asimov said: “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”
But this doesn’t stop Anthony Destefano, a so-called Christian author, from describing atheists as the “the most ... ignorant ... people on earth”. This is typical of the believers who have no use for facts when they contradict their faith.
He expresses this opinion — as well as many others — in his new book “Inside the Atheist Mind: Unmasking the Religion of Those Who Say There is No God".
First, let’s look at the sub-title of Destefano’s screed — specifically his claim that atheism is a religion. Codswallop! That is like describing ‘not skiing’ as a sport — or ‘off’ as a TV channel.
Atheism also fails the ‘squabble test’ of religion — the constant to and fro among religious types about the right way to worship God.
Christians align into the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Churches. Muslims split mainly between Sunni and Shia. Jews divide into Ultra-orthodox, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. And within these major divisions are subdivisions and without there are groups like Mormons.
Where are the similar controversies among atheists? The fact is there are no disputes over the correct way not to believe in God.
Bearing that in mind let’s have a look at a Fox News op-ed piece by the author that distills the book to its essence: “Today's atheists are bullies -- and they are doing their best to intimidate the rest of us into silence”.
Immediately we discover ‘projection’ — “atheists are bullies”. Here the author commits the sin of accusing others of that which he is guilty. The vast majority of Americans are Christian - as are over 90% of our elected officials. There has never been an avowed atheist as President. State governments are teeing up hundreds of bills protecting ‘religious freedom’ and chipping away at individual rights based on ‘religious’ justification.
The rallying cry for these bigots is the lie that America was founded as a ‘Judeo-Christian’ nation. The Constitution clearly dispels this nonsense — as do the letters of the Founders. So let’s ask: who are the bullies?
Destafano didn’t stop at ignorance. Here’s his complete characterization: “Atheists today are the most arrogant, ignorant and dangerous people on earth”. Let’s look at ‘arrogant’. Ask any atheist if there were anything that would make him a believer. The answer is invariably: ‘proof’.
The believer can offer no proof. Indeed he insists he doesn’t need to because he has faith. Tell me how that isn’t arrogant.
As for ‘dangerous’, that’s just plain silly. Muslims who reject Islam are subject to the death penalty. It isn’t atheists killing Christians in the Middle-East. Both Gandhi and Yitzhak Rabin were assassinated by co-religionists who thought their victims were too accommodating to other religions. And white supremacists swathe themselves in Christian iconography.
Invective is a symptom of a losing argument, and Destafano isn’t done. He goes on to call atheists ‘pompous prigs’ and ‘loud, nasty, unapologetic and in-your-face’.
But what is his argument? He places great stock in numbers. He is particularly impressed that the “vast majority of human beings from all periods of time and all places on the Earth” have been religious. That is silly. Truth is not the product of democracy. If 99 people out of 100 believe the earth is flat, that doesn’t make it flat.
Destefano then proposes that “the greatest contributions to civilization have been made, not by atheists, but by believers”. I assume he’s talking about the Renaissance with its religiously themed art and the history of cathedral and church building. It’s hardly surprising. Artists have to earn a living, and the Church had a lot of money.
So let’s ask: were Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci believers — or did they just go where the cash was?
Destefano also ignores the contributions of Eastern societies rooted in Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Shinto. All religions that were either non-theistic or whose Gods were abstract.
Closer to home are the contributions of the ancient Greeks. They didn’t look to their Gods for philosophy or morality. For them, those things were educed by logic. Their political and ethical ideas were a product of the ancients’ study of their world and not found in some old, supposedly divinely-written, book.
Destefano then argues that lots of scientists were believers. But his list begins with Aristotle and Leonardo da Vinci, who weren’t. He then mentions Francis Bacon, who was a devout Anglican — but who ironically warned against ‘idola tribus’ or the tendency of humans to make false assumptions and cling to them. And then he throws in some more names.
But what about today? Has four centuries of modern science had any impact on the religious beliefs of scientists? Of course it has. In any given population scientists are less likely to believe in God (except Hong Kong — I don’t know why). And scientists who are considered the ‘elite’ — based on how many papers they have published — are even less likely to believe.
Destefano now throws out the Hitler/Stalin/Mao/Pol Pot argument, which goes as follows. These men were atheists, and a lot of people died because they were in charge. So atheism is deadly.
Let’s examine that. As a young man, Hilter was a proud Christian. As the Nazi leader, he promoted ‘positive Christianity’ — a stripped down version of the faith. The average German was religious. The SS incorporated Christian symbolism into their uniforms. The church was complicit in many of the atrocities. And in the Third Reich, the Fuehrer was God on Earth.
The average Russian was also superstitious. Stalin himself was educated in a Russian Orthodox seminary from 15 to 20. After his anti-religious campaigns of the 1930s, he ultimately turned to the Church as an ally of the state. In any event, the religious populations of Germany and Russia were willing participants in the slaughter.
We have a comparison in today’s America. Donald Trump does not go to church. There is no evidence he’s a believer. But religious Americans are his base. And they are not promoting a Christian agenda.
As for the Far East, the line between religion and atheism is not clear cut. When the local religion is non-theistic, anti-theistic has no meaning.
Destefano’s closing argument is an old favorite. “Atheists don’t believe in God, so they don’t believe in any transcendent, objective moral law.” That’s complete nonsense. Believers bear poor witness to religion’s moral benefits. States with higher rates of church attendance have higher rates of both violent and property crime.
On the other hand, the atheists’ transcendent, objective moral law is this: If it hurts someone it’s immoral.
That’s why atheists don’t rip families apart at the border, deny marriage to adults based on an inherent trait, or hate other people because of their religion, skin color or place of birth. (Most of them anyway.)