This particular question has been coming up fairly often of late and has even been treated on my forum (www.sntjohnny.com/smf) and in an audio debate (hosted somewhere on this domain). When the question is carefully phrased we are helped greatly in answering it because there are some senses in which we could agree that yes, religion is dangerous, but disagree with the implicit charge that this fact is bad on its face. In the course of a single conversation you can usually expect definitions of ‘danger’ to change on you (logical fallacy of equivocation) over and over again.
For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to just take the one straight forward view that there are elements within religion that make it ‘dangerous,’ meaning that to act on the principles may result in consequences that some would find undesirable- and these may include other religious people as well. It is on the basis of there being truth to this that more and more atheists have taken to snidely ridiculing and dismissing religions everywhere, and of course Christianity included. It is here that I find myself scratching my head because as atheists marshal their examples the whole exercise appears disjointed.
The argument usually begins with the easy one- Islam. The dangerous ideology of Islam is considered exposed by events like 9-11 and many other bombings, beheadings, beatings, etc.Â I can get behind the notion that Islam is dangerous. From there the atheists take an interesting turn, lumping Christianity in with Islam as though the ‘dangers’ are comparative and equal on their face. Richard Dawkins’s “God Delusion” is a wonderful case in point as he moves from recounting Islamic atrocities to recounting Christian… uh… atrocities… like, for example, some Christians in Dover, PA, that used their rightfully earned positions as members of the school board to make a curriculum decision in support of Intelligent Design.
You can find a similar type of contrast in a more condensed space of time in this interview by Christopher Hitchens, quoted here:
Do you think we will win the War on Terror and defeat radical Islam?
No, no. None of these wars ever get won, but we’re not going to lose the war against Islamic jihad, which is what it really is. I don’t know how we will define our victory, but they will lose. It will do terrible damage, but where it succeeds is where it fails. When the Taliban had taken over Afghanistan that was the end of it. Because once they try to run a society out of a Holy Book, they will fail.
Just as, for example, I say this about people who are frightened by the Christian Right, which a lot of people in this country are, that the last time they won a victory was in the 1920s. They had two victories then: they banned the sale of alcohol, and they won the argument over the teaching of evolution”at least in Tennessee. Well, their victory was completely discredited, and they never got over the ridicule they suffered from winning.
If they won, if they elected a president or member of Congress to ban abortion, impose school prayer as mandatory, or instill the teaching of Creationism, that would be the end of it. They would regret their victory forever because it would lead to colossal failure and discredit them. It wouldn’t last very long and would, I hope, lead to civil war, which they will lose, but for which it would be a great pleasure to take part. But they’re so stupid, they don’t think about these things. Likewise, any society conquered by the jihadist will destroy itself.
Here we see the close connection in the mind of today’s out spoken atheists of the types of dangers in Islam and the dangers in Christianity. Islam’s credentials on the matter do not need recounting but listen to Christianity’s ‘dangerous’ deeds: 1. They used the constitutional process to successfully generate a supermajority banning alchohol and 2. They fought against the theory of evolution. Hitchens includes some more potential examples of Christianity’s ‘dangers’ pointing again to Creationism (in the minds of most atheists, Intelligent Design is identical with Creationism), a banning of abortion, and an imposition of school prayer.
Yes, you’re reading that right. In the mind of today’s atheists like Dawkins, Harris, Dennet, Hitchens, etc, religion is dangerous and categorically speaking, Muslims strapping bombs to their chests and blowing themselves up on school buses is the same as legitimately elected school board members in Dover trying to give Intelligent Design a hearing. I’d understand the abortion thing if he was afraid that Christianity was trying to force abortions the way that atheistic China is doing, but its hard to see how preventing the destruction of human life (FINE. Potential human life) is a danger in the same way as suicide bombings and flying planes into buildings. The last I checked, women bringing their unborn to term is a fairly normal and natural occurrence. Even in the natural order animals don’t kill their young until their born. Only humans make the exception and only atheists would consider insisting banning such a practice as dangerous as blowing up buildings.
Since the evidence that Islam is categorically in a different class even among the religions is so overwhelming both Harris and Hitchens have had to come out and treat the issue separately Indeed, in the interview quoted from above Hitchens grudgingly allows that in some religions the ‘danger’ is more of an intellectual sort, using as his example the dangerous position that the Amish occupy in terms of non-violence- a point I would agree with- while ignoring the fact that of the Christian church the Amish are at most .000001 percent of the Christian population. Hardly representative.
If I know my atheists, given the opportunity Hitchens would soon point to Christian acknowledgments that sometimes violence is necessary as evidence it is dangerous. So whether Christianity abhors violence or advocates for it Hitchens will denounce it as ‘dangerous.’ That is the atheistic mind at work: you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.
I happen to think that if we are allowed to castigate religions as dangerous even because *gasp* they may oppose in some details the materialistic worldview of today’s scientific community, we should be able to castigate the non-religious atheists like Hitchens as being dangerous. After all, if you can’t tell the difference between flying planes into buildings and trying to work through the legislative process allegedly open to all, then you are a dangerous person. Dangerous to yourself and probably to society if such muddleheaded reasoning is allowed to blossom. We’ll soon have atheists denouncing the rights of Christians even to vote in our elections, right? Isn’t that the appropriate action if you consider things like prohibition and passing legislation regarding abortion or whatever as ‘dangerous’?
That would be quite silly of the atheists, I think. Most people with half a brain and an ounce of common sense would see the disparity quickly enough. Even most atheists wouldn’t go that far, but isn’t it funny that while it suits them these ‘dangers’ of Christianity serve as the excuse du jour for why religion, and Christianity in particular, should be rejected? But if it ever came to them putting their money where their mouth is, we’d find that even they didn’t believe their rhetoric.
I think we’re really better off chalking this argument up to greed and ego. After all, these chaps are making some good money by writing on the issue in this fashion and as they all know, they are brilliant. Fortunately, reason is truly democratic: there is no reason why the rest of us should buy the nonsensical rhetoric of the self-designated ‘free thinkers.’ At least not yet- they aren’t in power, are they? From a quick scan of recent world history does anyone really think a regime with atheism as a core tenet will be any less dangerous then other ‘religious’ regimes have been?