The Crusade Against Religion

In a Wired magazine article, The Crusade Against Religion, Gary Wolf talks to some prominent atheist authors, and visits a modern mega-church.

Richard Dawkins is getting a lot of press for his recent book “The God Delusion“. But several reviewers say he hasn’t brought any new ideas to the table.

Dawkins does not merely disagree with religious myths. He disagrees with tolerating them, with cooperating in their colonization of the brains of innocent tykes. “How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents?” Dawkins asks. “It’s one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?”

An even darker worldview comes from Sam Harris, who released a book two years ago called The End of Faith: Religion Terror, and the Future of Reason.

Harris argues that, unless we renounce faith, religious violence will soon bring civilization to an end.
“People used to think,” Harris says, “that slavery was morally acceptable. […] That looks ridiculous to us today. […] At some point, there is going to be enough pressure that it is just going to be too embarrassing to believe in God.”

Daniel C. Dennett, author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, has a more moderate view. He’s more interested in why people hold religious beliefs.

But like the other New Atheists, Dennett gives no quarter to believers who resist subjecting their faith to scientific evaluation. In fact, he argues that neutral, scientifically informed education about every religion in the world should be mandatory in school.

Dennett is an advocate of admitting that we simply don’t have good reasons for some of the things we believe. Although we must guard our defaults, we still have to admit that they may be somewhat arbitrary.
“How else do we protect ourselves?” he asks. “Instead of protecting stability with a brittle set of myths, we can defend a deep resistance to mucking with the boundaries.”

I ask Dennett if there might not be a contradiction in his scheme. On the one hand, he aggressively confronts the faithful, attacking their sacred beliefs. On the other hand, he proposes that our inherited defaults be put outside the limits of dispute. But this would make our defaults into a religion, unimpeachable and implacable gods. And besides, are we not atheists? Sacred prohibitions are anathema to us.

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