Thursday, April 21, 2011

The poverty of New Atheism

Slogans such as 'Religion is the root of all evil' seem to be gaining widespread popularity. There is a growing group of people who see in religion the source of all evil, the reason for 9/11, the inspiration for the crusades, backwardness in much of the Islamic world, war, and so on. In short, religion can be used for blaming anything you dislike about our current (and past) world.
The prophets of this movement are well-known, Hitchens and Dawkins being the most prominent. They've made astonishing careers by publishing books in which they enlighten us by arguing very convincingly that fairy-tales aren't real. What's next, a book in which they argue our planet is round and revolves around the sun? Or perhaps invent a machine driven by steam-power?

So we've established that the god hypothesis is invalid, now what? Enlighten the religious and convert them to non-religiousness? Pointless, anyone who's ever tried that knows it's about as efficient as attempting to assassinate Fidel Castro. Who else? Atheists perhaps? Seems useless, considering they've already refuted the hypothesis.
The mother who comforts herself by believing she will be reunited with her dying child eventually? Yes, let's deliver her solemn lectures on the falsity of her beliefs. Surely that'll make the world a better place.
If these are the intended audiences, the effort is simply a waste of time and energy better spent on trying to improve the conditions in which religion may flourish.

Such conditions are well known and documented, as a bearded German guy had once said: 'Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of a soulless situation. It is the opium of the people'. In other words, when people are suffering, atomized by modern society and turned into mere cogs and wheels of an (post)industrial system lacking social bonds and any real meaning, it should not come as a surprise that they resort to fiction. They imagine a place in which they are free and careless, where people do not starve to death despite an overwhelming availability of food, where they can live peacefully with their fellow man instead of hating and fearing him. It is no coincidence indeed: the more miserable the conditions of a country, the more religious its citizens tend to be.
However, wealth alone doesn't abolish religiosity as the Scandinavian countries (among others) demonstrate, though it does seem to significantly reduce it. Putting aside for a moment the very plausible hypothesis that human beings are inherently 'spiritual' and have a tendency to glorify items with symbolic value such as books, stones, pillars, temples, crosses, flags and so on, and focusing on the environmental factors.

I believe that if one is serious in his attempts of reducing religion, it would make sense to combat the origin of it. Although economic misery can not be the sole factor explaining it's existence, it is without a doubt a very important one. If a man genuinely wishes to abolish religion in order to increase the overall well-being of humanity, he would logically have to spent a great deal of his time as an activist helping poor suffering people in need of help. This rather simple formula seems have escaped the attention of the ''New Atheist'' movement. It seems to me they are more interested in attacking and ridiculing people with religion, while propagating themselves as the rational and enlightened ones. It is questionable indeed whether they intend to improve the well-being of the religious, or are merely interested in self-glorification.

As has been said, it's the opium of the people, their painkiller. To take away their painkiller while they are in pain is nothing short of inhumane cruelty. It doesn't add to their happiness or well-being, neither does it help society in general. Does this mean they should be supplied with painkillers indefinitely? The answer is a resolute no. While opium can help ease the pain, it is in no way a cure. The goal is to cure them of that which is causing the pain so that they will not need painkillers.

Opium however, has a demonic side-effect, while it relieves people of their pain, it also distorts their awareness. A drugged person can easily be misled into doing all sorts of wrongs and it needs no argument that this is exactly what religion has been used for time and time again, and it will remain to be so 'til Kingdom cometh.

The atheists wish to relieve them of their blur and offer them clarity, but this also means having to face an often painful and brutal reality. The religious wish to ease their pain by sedating them, making them pay for it with their clarity.
It seems there are less and less people left to combat the cause of it all.