Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I Don't Believe In Atheists

I Don't Believe In Atheists

Hedges, Chris. I Don't Believe In Atheists. NY: Free Press, 2008.

Reviewed By T. Hatch

Chris Hedges has produced another concise volume dealing with a contemporary moral issue. Hedges who can be described as a left of center philosophical skeptic has attacked head on what he sees as the squalid utopianism of the new or “fundamentalist” atheism of Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins.

It was quite recently that this writer heard the word atheist modified with the adjective fundamentalist. That was one afternoon on NPR and the speaker was coming from a right wing perspective. Perhaps, I thought, the speaker meant any atheist who had the temerity to publish was a fundamentalist. Hedges though is quite specific in defining what he sees as atheistic fundamentalism. “The belief that rational and quantifiable disciplines such as science can be used to perfect human society is no less absurd than a belief in magic, angels and divine intervention.”(p.13)

At no point in the book does Hedges attempt to make an argument that God actually exists. He argues that “Utopian dreams are always psychotic” and the culprits on the secular side of the ledger were Descartes, Hume, Locke, Voltaire, Kant, Diderot, Rousseau, and Thomas Paine. Accordingly, Utopian violence together with industrial and bureaucratic power culminate in totalitarianism. His argument in this respect is a little too direct and the net he casts is a little large. Rousseau is no more responsible for the horrors of Auschwitz than Augustine was for the Inquisition. He specifically cites the Atlantic slave trade as an example of this kind of terror produced by these aforementioned Enlightenment dilettantes. This act of inhumanity was well under way before “the age of reason.”

It is also interesting to note that Hedges repeatedly references Reinhold Niebuhr and contemporary British philosopher John Gray to make his case. There is coherence in this but he also is fond of employing Dostoevsky and Nietzsche to make the same series of points. Talk about a couple of legendary misanthropes!

Despite these inconsistencies, the hang-ups Hedges has with the Jacobins as the first totalitarians (as a technical point and still a stretch why not Napoleon?), his notion that all ethics begin with religion, and his (or my) semantical quibbling with the terms “sin” and “evil,” on balance, it is a solid argument. Indeed Utopian fundamentalists be they religiously or secularly inspired represent the same danger. In fact they can in some instances make common cause and come up with fetching schemes such as the “war on terror.”

A more felicitous title for Hedges' book might have been “Why All Utopians are D#$*%*B@#s (Especially Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins).”

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