Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fr Oakes, Atheism and Violence

A hat tip to Amy Wellborn for referencing the On the Square article by Edward T. Oakes, S.J. over at First Things. The article is entitled, "Atheism and Violence." Here are a couple of excerpts to whet your whistle. Then go read the article.
One would think that, given their insistence that faith and violence are inextricably linked, these authors would be a bit more circumspect about their own rhetoric. As it happens, one does not have to read too far into these books to see an underlying advocacy of violence animating their venom, an advocacy made most explicit in Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, which openly avows: “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. . . . There is, in fact, no talking to some people. … We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.” To which I can only respond with one of Blaise Pascal’s more mordant observations, “Thinking too little about things or thinking too much both make us obstinate and fanatical.” Pascal called civil war the worst of all evils and openly admitted that no evil is greater than that committed under the guise of religion. If he were living today, I am sure his response to Harris would be: yes, Mr. Harris, you’re right, and the reason atheism brings so much violence in its wake is because it is its own kind of religion—and that’s your problem: your atheism is too religious.
Such are the contradictions of atheism. With hope in progress gone, with the lessons of the twentieth century still unlearned in the twenty-first, with technology progressing, in Adorno’s words, from the slingshot to the atom bomb (a remark cited in Spe Salvi), with a resurgence of religiously motivated violence filling the headlines, all that the new atheists can manage is to hearken back to an Enlightenment-based critique of religion. But they find their way blocked, not so much by Nietzsche (whom, as we saw, they largely ignore) but by the ineluctable realities he so ruthlessly exposed. Not Nietzsche, but the history of the twentieth century has shown that godless culture is incapable of making men happier. All Nietzsche did was to point out that no civilization, however “progressive,” can dispel the terrifying character of nature; and once progress is called into question, the human condition appears in all its forsaken nakedness.

Find the article here.

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