I've been thinking about a conversation I had last summer. Some friends and I were discussing Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, with Rupert. As always, Rupert's ideas are well thought out and always seem to come out of left field - at least to me. This got me thinking... There are people everywhere that quietly practice their religion and seem very happy and truly believe. Then there are others that are discontent unless they are spreading the word to others. I don't mean "spreading the word" in a benevolent sense but in a militant sense. When I was an undergraduate, these were the guys that ranted all day long at the student center about how we were all going to hell. It seemed that unless we accepted their point of view, we were condemned for all time to fire and brimstone.
Of course, there is a problem with this approach to converting others. First, there is no one point of view in any religion. In Christianity, there are literally hundreds of differing denominations and theologies. The same is true in Hinduism, Islam, and every other world religion. Even though each of the world's major religions has a book (or set of books) as its theological source, there is usually no universal agreement on what the truth is.
Some call this a crisis of faith since believers are unsure what to believe. Out of this crisis has arisen a very literal approach to interpreting The Bible, The Koran, The Vedas, etc. As if a literal approach is even possible in books written thousands of years ago chock full of allusions and metaphors. Nevertheless, this simple-minded approach has taken hold. I can't say I understand it completely but I guess in a world of chaos and shifting sand, it's comforting to try and find some immovable cornerstone anchored to truth. At the very least, it's one less thing you have to worry about.
However, as Newton warned us in his 3rd Law, to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This opposite reaction has emerged in the West as a response to radical Christianity and radical Islam … radical atheism. Working hard to further a political agenda just as bizarre as creationists, the true believers of radical atheism are just as dedicated to obscuring reality. Composed of Nobel Prize winners and scientists from all walks of life, Richard Dawkins leads at the vanguard. This ideology has already taken deep root. This is especially true in American, where this is an opposite reaction to radical Christianity.
The idea that religion is the root of all evil is not new. Religion has certainly be used for evil things, then again so has science. Religion did not give us the atomic bomb, tomahawk missiles, or machine guns. In The God Delusion, Dawkins has somehow overlooked these points. Science is not always right - not always good. Of course, this this is not the first time very smart people have tried to use science to further a political agenda. I'm reminded of a conversation that Freud had with Jung:
"Once he said to me: we have to turn the theory of the unconscious into a dogma, to make it immovable. Why a dogma, I replied, since sooner or later truth will have to win out? Freud explained: We need a dam against the black tide of mud of occultism." (from C.G. Jung Speaking, ed. by William McGuire, and R.F.C. Hull, 1978)
I doubt Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennet would be proud to have Freud as their movement's ideological ancestor, but Freud's comments about occultism mirror exactly the views of today's atheists. I can sympathize, too. When I read news about another American school teaching "Intelligent Design" I feel that "black tide of mud" rising. What Dawkins is fighting for is rationality and free thinking. It's hard to argue with that. His approach is making as many enemies as converts though. People sign up on his web site proclaiming their new found atheism in the same way that people come forward at church to be baptized.
I agree with Rupert, this extreme view is an equal and opposite reaction in world without critical thinking, full of irrationality. Any extreme view of reality is always wrong. I can’t decide which extreme view is worse – uneducated, religious nuts jobs or scientific, sociopathic nuts jobs. Of course, in the end, neither view will win. Just as Hegel always predicted, a new view composed of the two will emerge. Who knows what that synthesis will be?