Rightness

The hard-core atheists set very exacting standards about who will be allowed into the society of genuine unbelief. They insisted that every serious atheist must think out fully what atheism logically entails, even if they did not succeed in doing so themselves. The new soft-core atheists doii't even try. They agree with their hard-core cousins that God docs not exist. Rut where logical rigor would require that they also acknowledge that there is no timeless heaven to determine what is good and what is not, their ideas go limp instead, Our new atheists remain as committed unconditionally to traditional values as the rest of us. They do so most openly in every claim they make that religious faith is bad, and diat for the sake of true values moral people must rid themselves of it as soon as they can!

All three of our soft-core atlieists are absolutely certain that the creeds, ideals, and practices of religion are essentia]ly evil. In fact, a distinguishing mark of the new atheism is that it leaves no room for a sense of moral ambiguity in anything that smacks of faith. There is no allowance that religion might have at least one or two redeeming features. No such waffling is permitted. I heir hatred of religious faith is so palpable that the pages of their books fairly quiver in our hands. Such outrage, however, can arise only from a sense of being deeply grounded in an unmovable realm of "tightness." The fervor in the new atheists' outrage against faith, and especially belief in God, is as resolute as any evangelist could marshal. To know with such certitude that religion is evil, one must first have already surrendered ones heart and mind to what is uncondition ally good. But in making this surrender our critics must not be very far from exemplifying the theological understanding of faith that I sketched at the end of chapter 1.

The books by Dawkins, Harris* and Hitch ens are not mild treatises like those that trickle tentatively, and often un readably from departments of philosophy. They are works of passion, and I suspect that most philosophers would be embarrassed by their intemperate style of presentation, So I do not expect that philosophers will recommend these writings to their own students either, although the books might usefully serve as case studies for classes in critical thinking. At their most tender point, that of justifying the values that lie behind their moral evaluation of religion, logical coherence abandons each of the new atheists.

With the hard-core atheists one has to ask this newer breed: What is the basis of your mo rnl rectitude? How, in other words, if there is no eternal ground of values, can your own strict standards be anything other than arbitrary, conventional, historically limited human concoctions? But you take them as absolute!v binding. And if you arc a Darwinian, how can your moral values ultimately be anything more than blind contrivances of evolutionary selection? But;again, in yourcondem-nation ot the evils of religion, you must be assuming a Standard of goodness so timeless and absolute as to be God-given. Of course, no one objects to your making moral judgments. But it you, your tribe, or mindless Mother Nature are the ultimate ground of your values, why does your sense of rightness function with such assuredness in your moral indictment of all people of faith? Can your own frail lives and easily impressionable minds—since you are human just like the resr of us—be the source ot something so adamantine as your own sense of right-ness? "Excuse us for being so direct," my students would ask, "but if you are going to fall back now on evolutionary biology, how can random events and blind natural selection account for the absoluteness that you in tact attribute to the values that justify your intolerance of faith? Or, if you do not want Darwin to give the whole answer, can the historic all y varying winds ot human culture account fully for the rocklike solidity of your righteousness?"

Dawkins declares that the biblical God is a monster; Harris, that God is evil; Hitch ens, that God is not great. But without some fixed sense of tightness, how can one distinguish what is monstrous, evil, or hlnot great'1 from its opposite? In order to make such value judgments, one must assume, as the hard-core atheists are honest enough to acknowledge, that there exists somewhere, in some mode ot being, a realm of tightness that does not owe its existence completely to human invention, Darwinian selection, or social construction. If we allow the hard-core atheists into our discussion wre can draw this conclusion: If absolute values exist, then God exists. But if God does not exist, then neither do absolute values, and one should not issue moral judgments as if they do.

Belief in God or the practice ot religion, as I shall emphasize later, is not necessary in order for people to be highly moral beings. We can agree with our soft-core atheists on this point. But the real question, which comes not from me but from the hard-core atheists, is: Can you rationally justify your unconditional adherence to timeless values without implicitly invoking the existence of God? The hard-core atheists say 'no/1 We return to this question in chapter 6.

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