Sunday, 29 September 2013

Fundamentalism and the New Atheism - a Marriage Made in Heaven

Although I am a Christian I have no problem whatsoever with atheists. Why should I have? In any tolerant society people are free to believe, or not believe, whatever they choose.

One cannot impose religious belief down the barrel of a gun. Neither can one do so by mocking and denigrating the sincerely-held opinions of those who believe differently. At best, all one can do is to argue one’s case and hope to plant a seed from which something in time will grow.

Atheists are just as capable of thinking good thoughts, and of doing good deeds, as people of faith. Indeed some atheists would argue that they are more capable of so doing because they do not require the promise of posthumous reward in order to do the right thing by their fellow human beings. Such an argument misunderstands some of the basic tenets of Christian belief, but if I may I shall bank that one for another day.

What I do find depressing is what appears to me to have been the recent emergence of a New Atheism, defined not so much by the fact that the practitioner does not believe in God as by the insistence that I mustn’t either. Without any hint of irony the New Atheist lambasts Christianity, along with other faiths, with charges of intolerance and bigotry.

Despite the apparent lack of a belief in God, the New Atheist seems to spend the largest part of his or her waking time thinking, speaking and writing of nothing else. Indeed it is both to their shame and to mine that God seems to feature more in the thoughts of New Atheists than at times He does in mine.

Now although I call myself a Christian there is a type of Christian that I don’t care very much for. We’ve all met them – the pious belief that they know something you don’t, the unwavering confidence they have in the rightness of their own lifestyle and in the error, by implication, of everybody else’s. Their propensity to view their own take on the meaning of life as though it were The Undeniable Truth and the lack of provision that follows from such a mindset for opinions others may have which may digress, even in some minor fleeting detail, from their own.

Consider the approach to the debate adopted by the New Atheist and tell me how it differs, in any significant way, from that of the closed-mind Christian fundamentalist, or indeed the fundamentalist of any religion. The arrogant smugness and inanely-grinning, head-wobbling, self-satisfied superiority of Those Who Know What’s Best For Us mirrors so perfectly the tiresome, unrelenting persistence of the fundamentalist in pursuing the belief system that he or she knows is the one and only true belief system, which casts the lie upon all others.

To paraphrase a poster much seen on the buses and the London Underground – some people are Christians, get over it. And for those who profess to be guided by the Bible, don’t be so impertinent as to assume that your interpretation of its teachings is any more valid than mine, or your understanding of them any greater.

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