I remembered a text I wrote two years ago dealing a bit more with the cultural conflict between religion and science, or what I now realize is the war between extreme Christian and Atheist positions. This text deals also with the way that these are handled in the media … to sail safely between this Scylla and Charybdis might open the way for a more balanced view on these matters, at least for me. Here I post the article, with some minor changes.
Religion versus Atheims
On YouTube, I came across a kind of poorly made “documentation” whose main claim (that Jesus did not exist) suffocated in the personal rage of the author who towards the end simply slipped into anti-Christian propaganda. After that I watched the far more interesting television documentary The Root Of All Evil? by popular atheist Richard Dawkins, beautifully photographed and argumented upon with intelligence.
Only one question that matters?
However, with those two anti-religious films I got annoyed about the fact that much of the debate between faith and non-faith always has to end up in the “Evolution vs Creation” question. It is almost morbid how the secular media reduces the argumentation to this one question most Christian communities in the world themselves are strongly divided about. As if nothing else mattered, the question whether you believe in the uncontrolled growth of design or the intelligently designed growth labels you as either a bright 21st century person or the completely mad 12th century crusader. This sort of black and white thinking ironically mirrors the Christian fundamentalists’ world view of “either-or”.
Although I of course understand the significance of the question where this universe, where life, and where we humans did come from, it is far from bringing the ultimate “evidence” against faith. Science has its limits as well as religion has and in the end it gets kind of silly only to focus on the descrepancies between both. Actually, when I read a book by Stephen Hawkings I had the impression that today’s physicists are far more off in some foggy realm of myths and miracles. The evidence for dark matter for instance is as thin as the creation-in-six-days belief, but it’s treated as scientific truth by people who are the high priests of the doctrine.
We feel better with enemies
Of course the media creators seek to simplify contexts they don’t understand themselves too much and polarize in order to make certain points. But by nailing down Christian faith to one question that is rather irrelevant to most Christians’ actual lives they cast a shadow on the rational sanity of people who are all in all not dumber than the others. And they easily outline the disturbing but easy-to-believe-in picture of a lurking enemy.
The simplification of a whole cosmos of various Christian streams and branches which believe all sorts of different things, and not seldomly oppose each other, to a core of right-wing fundamentalist is the biggest flaw of this otherwise well-made documentary. It correctly issues questionable moral views of the Bible which we need to oppose. But it unfairly disgraces a lot of persons out there. It leaves out all those Christians who are working as doctors in hospitals, professors and intellectuals at universities, technical professionals in all kinds of fields… it leaves out those who live an ordinary life as faithful citizens, who teach their children in the freedom and responsibility of the gospel, who give their lives for peaceful relations between religions and peoples, who diligently engage themselves for social justice. Some of them believe in evolution, some don’t.
There are fundamentalists, not only within the evangelical movement but also in others, and they are a threat. What we need here is differentiation, fairness and a cool mind.
Atheism – all positive?
I don’t think Dawkins is so naive as to believe that pure concentration on bullet-proof science is the ground stone for a peaceful society. Of course is he right with his points, that we should think rationally, scientifically, but neither does that guarantee a better society nor has only atheism its claim on science. In a way, he actually declares his thinking as the only truth and all who do not share it as mad mob.
I really wonder where this Western way of either-or thinking derives from. I thought it had its roots in the Christian concepts of good and evil, but it seems to ground deeper in Greek philosophy and Manichaeism. The discrimination of mind and matter. The pure logic of yes and no, I and O. Dawkins is not able to step out of these patterns. That’s why he polarizes. Religion has produced monsters and monstrosities over the course of millennias, of course. But without, we would not have laws, social justice, charity, art, culture in the way we have it today. Faith is not a virus as he states. It can be the most beautiful thing in a human being.
At the same time the rule of ration has brought tremendous advances to Western cultures. Nobody doubts that. But Dawkins would be half blind if he did not see the negative sides of it as well. The atrocities capitalism and socialism have brought out are completely without God. Atheist countries like Stalin’s Russia, the brutality of the French revolution under Robespierre… and science is not innocent either. What Dawkins and other writers such as Sam Harris seem to leave out is that no matter how well you educate a person and no matter how less he believes in “superstitions” you cannot eliminate the evil of his human heart. Not even gene treatment can make us not to be greedy, cruel and selfish. Wickedness is the constant force in our species, that’s why all ideologies finally fail.
The knowledge of imperfection links to responsibility and coolness
And actually this is what the Bible tells, “the human heart is deceitful above everything”, it gives no illusions about the human nature and stresses that the problem is first within ourselves. It is not in religion itself, it is the human himself. Religion ought to be a way to better, to renew ourselves, to control this evil. It gives us guidelines to living together in peace. And guidelines to God, in whom we religious people believe we can find the ultimate good. I believe each religion has this somewhere at its core. It would be much appreciated if tv documentaries also mentioned this center of religious meaning instead of beating around the far-off peripheries of extremists opinions.
I wrote this in 2007 and as I did some update research I was surprised to find American writer Chris Hedges coming to a similar conclusion in his book I Don’t Believe in Atheists which came out 2008. After warning us of the Christian right he tackled with the figureheads of (what he thinks are extremist) New Atheists, such as Sam Harris or Christopher Hidgens, claiming:
“I was stunned at how the very chauvinism and bigotry and intolerance that they condemn in the Christian right they embrace under the guise of Atheism. They also create a kind of binary world view of Us and Them.［…］What they’ve done is to form a belief system – a leap of faith – that says that we are moving forward as a species towards some kind of a human utopia, that society is perfectable once we eradicate religion. They’ve externalized evil into religion itself, something that the Christian right does when they externalize evil into secular humanism. The ideoligical framework for this is no different from the Christian right.”