I found a link on Google+ to an article titled:
I read a comment on the article before reading the article and my opinion is that the comment was perhaps more insightful than the article itself. The Spectator feature was written by Jonathan Sacks who is – I believe – Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Sounds important. And of course it goes without saying that I don’t believe that any kind religion is going to defeat anything, ‘the new barbarians’ especially.
The article itself is, while reasonably well written, definitely heavily coloured by religion tinted glasses. To be fair, some passages are pretty good but on the whole I feel it falls far short from reflecting reality. It did get me thinking though, since a couple of the points the (presumably) good Rabbi makes about atheism and secularism rings true to me. Some of his other points seem to indicate that he’s managed to form an opinion on ‘new atheism’ and ‘new atheists’ without actually having read any Harris or Dennett to name a couple. My intension was to write about atheism but I feel compelled to at least make an attempt to temper the Rabbi’s article with a little reality and reason.
The article can be found at: http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8932301/atheism-has-failed-only-religion-can-fight-the-barbarians/
Early in Mr. Sacks’ piece he states, speaking of modern “serious atheists”:
Where is there the remotest sense that they have grappled with the real issues, which have nothing to do with science and the literal meaning of scripture and everything to do with the meaningfulness or otherwise of human life, the existence or non-existence of an objective moral order, the truth or falsity of the idea of human freedom, and the ability or inability of society to survive without the rituals, narratives and shared practices that create and sustain the social bond?
Clearly, that was not one of the better passages. Perhaps the fact that he doesn’t participate in atheist and secular discussion is the reason he’s unaware of the godawful amount of debate between atheists and Christians around objective morality. It might be the same reason he’s unaware about Harris’ writing and debates on free will. Maybe he just doesn’t know about Alain de Botton’s writing and lectures and proposals around secular rituals, narratives and shared practices…
…because religion has social, cultural and political consequences, and you cannot expect the foundations of western civilisation to crumble and leave the rest of the building intact. That is what the greatest of all atheists, Nietzsche, understood with terrifying clarity and what his -latter-day successors fail to grasp at all.
Time and again in his later writings he tells us that losing Christian faith will mean abandoning Christian morality. No more ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’; instead the will to power.
I’m guessing I need not point out that it’s again not one of the good passages. Christian morality? I get the feeling the man’s head is located very close or indeed in the immediate vicinity of his rear end, to put it nicely. Christianity – and its cousin Islam – along with its lauded morality is responsible for a tragic amount of death, suffering and horror. I’d like to point out that ‘love your neighbour’ only goes as far as a Christian’s literal neighbour who more than likely is also a Christian. A generalisation perhaps but close enough I think. If Christians were to actually pay attention to the ‘morality’ they are taught and claim to follow – and this is just a guess – the divorce rate would be somewhat lower than it is now among other things. Contrary to the Rabbi’s statements and a majority of American’s opinions, Christian morality is not what holds Western civilisation together, it is secular laws and secular justice, hard-fought and won against non-secular opposition every step of the way.
Lose the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life and there will be nothing to contain the evil men do when given the chance and the provocation.
Somehow the Jewish Rabbi manages to forget the Catholic church’s lack of opposition if not necessarily outright support of one Mr. Adolf Hitler. He seems to forget the soldiers in the SS, at the time of executing what is possibly the worst thing humanity has ever done, wore belt buckles claiming “Got mit uns”. Good Christians soldiers one might say.
But if asked where we get our morality from, if not from science or religion, the new atheists start to stammer
Unless one could call the following quote from Richard Dawkins stammering, that previous statement is probably also wrong:
I think I want a morality that is thought-out, reasoned, argued, discussed—based upon, almost say—intelligent design. Can we not design our society which has the sort of morality, the sort of society we want to live in?
The article goes on to make a vast number of unsubstantiated claims, factual errors and delivers some pretty biased opinion but I’ve digressed terribly.
The first point he makes that I find interesting is:
In one respect the new atheists are right. The threat to western freedom in the 21st century is not from fascism or communism but from a religious fundamentalism combining hatred of the other, the pursuit of power and contempt for human rights. But the idea that this can be defeated by individualism and relativism is naive almost beyond belief.
Humanity has been here before.
These were two great civilisations on the brink of decline. Having lost their faith, they were no match for what Bertrand Russell calls ‘nations less civilised than themselves but not so destitute of social cohesion’. The barbarians win. They always do.
A third is:
But Durant’s point is the challenge of our time. I have not yet found a secular ethic capable of sustaining in the long run a society of strong communities and families on the one hand, altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust on the other.
Keeping those three points in mind, the comment that I read and liked is:
Bertrand Russell is right, unfortunately. Religion is tribalism and may the most cohesive tribe win. Atheism is the way of the individual to escape the mental prison of the tribe. But even if you live among idiots, you do not have to be one. John 15:19.
The comment makes a startlingly good point in my opinion. Religion is tribalism. Atheism is… nothing except a lack of belief in a deity no matter how much some people want atheism to be more. I used to subscribe to that way of thinking but I’ve been painfully disabused of that notion by a particular conglomeration of so-called atheists and skeptics. No, atheism is not a uniting anything; it is nothing more than a lack of belief in a deity. Religion is tribalism. And the most cohesive tribe wins. Atheism is – besides for being an acceptance of reality – a way for the individual to escape the mental prison of the tribe. It has most definitely been my experience and that of a great many other atheists that atheists are highly individualistic. It has been said more than once that organising atheists is like herding cats. Atheism+ and the mixing of extreme and delusional feminism with atheism and the schism it has caused in the loose online community of atheists being a prime example of how the ‘atheist movement’ is far from cohesive and exhibits a number of the least productive aspects of a religion.
The biggest threat to Western freedom in the 21st century comes from religious fundamentalism. Not just from Islam but mostly from Islam in my opinion. Not the religion itself but the views it breeds in its adherents, particularly in the fundamentalists: contempt for human rights, contempt for freedom, a warped and barbaric sense of justice and xenophobia.
I don’t necessarily agree that a ‘loss of faith’ is what caused the demise of any nation let alone a great one but I use the word necessarily since I do believe that a loss of social cohesion might be a contributing – or more – factor. If in reality a ‘loss of faith’ translates to a loss of social cohesion – and I can’t say for sure either way – then that comment might not be far off the mark. What I do agree with is that a socially cohesive barbarian horde is more powerful and more likely to succeed than a civilised, highly individualistic society that lacks cohesion.
Atheism alone is not something that is ever going create social cohesion. I was once hopeful for that but reality has dispassionately proved otherwise. The third passage that I highlighted that reads “I have not yet found a secular ethic capable of sustaining in the long run a society of strong communities and families on the one hand, altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust on the other” is not entirely wrong either in my opinion. Make no mistake, I would love to be proved wrong. Nothing would make me happier but so far I haven’t seen any secular ethic that comes even close to inspiring and maintaining the kind of tribalistic social cohesion found in every religion. I find that both disturbing and disheartening.
Western culture will inevitably become more secular. The prevalence of science, our reliance on technology and the free access to knowledge that technology gives us ensures a path towards a secular society. The inherent qualities of fundamentalist Islam and Christianity that precludes integration, that in most cases actively fights against integration, modern scientific knowledge and modern morals and justice is secular society’s biggest threat.
We must find secular social cohesion or run the risk of being overrun by the barbarians.
Before anybody even tries to make the absolute horse shit claim of ‘Islamophobia’ let me be candid. I do not fear all Muslims most especially not irrationally. Let me help you out:
pho·bi·a: Noun: An extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something
You do not get to claim my opinion of Islam is a ‘phobia’ while we know and have seen the actions and results of people who actually believe what they say they believe and those beliefs include lovely and peaceful things like: God promises to “cast terror into the hearts of those who are bent on denying the truth; strike, then, their necks!” (Koran 8.12). God instructs his Muslim followers to kill unbelievers, to capture them, to ambush them (Koran 9.5). Everything contributes to advancing the holy goal: “Strike terror into God’s enemies, and your enemies”
Who are you to say that fundamentalist Muslims do not actually believe these things? Their actions cannot be denied.
Sharia law is disturbing take on barbaric justice, the treatment of women in Islamic countries is detestable and Islamic abuse of basic human rights is unconscionable and unacceptable.
Any fear inspired by Islam is well founded. Something else I’d love to be proven wrong on but I’m not holding my breath.