Laura Miller of Salon tries mightily, in her ingenious twin review of The Twilight of Atheism by Alister McGrath and The End of Faith by Sam Harris, to adopt the enlightened tone of one who sees past two extremes.
Miller criticizes McGrath’s book as “a masterpiece of condescension masquerading as sober consideration, lucid in a magnanimous, Olympian sort of way, and so ensconced in its authority that it positively reeks of Oxford, where, sure enough, McGrath is a professor of historical theology.”
She does not spare Harris entirely:
Harris, by contrast, is fiery, a polemicist raging against the “life destroying gibberish” he maintains is threatening humanity’s very survival. He can’t resist studding the pages of “The End of Faith” with seemingly every withering zinger that’s occurred to him in the shower or during bouts of insomnia, from deploring “religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone and unicorns” to asking us to “imagine a future in which millions of our descendants murder each other over rival interpretations of ‘Star Wars’ or Windows 98.”
Still, In writing on behalf of “the thinking agnostic,” Miller lets slip a few of her own whoppers of condescension. Miller’s most withering remarks are aimed at those “fundamentalist Christians” with whom McGrath associates himself merely by writing a book like The Twilight of Atheism.
She writes of McGrath, “Although perfectly happy to accuse Freud of misogyny and [Madalyn Murray] O’Hair of homophobia, he manages to entirely skirt the fact that, in this country, fundamentalist Christians have tried to elevate such prejudices to the status of law.” Miller doesn’t cite specific examples, of course. Apparently Salon editors consider such connections painfully self-evident to anyone other than a fundamentalist Christian.
Her strongest venom, however, is reserved for a paragraph that follows McGrath’s praise for Pentecostals:
There’s something comical about McGrath’s donnish nod to the snake handlers (what’s next, Anglican hip-hop?), but it isn’t nearly as absurd as his efforts to show that postmodernism has ridden to the rescue of religion by dismantling atheism’s insistence that there is “only one, correct, rational way of looking at the world.” Postmodernist philosophy, he writes, defies atheism’s “emphasis upon uniformity and control” and its demands for “the suppression of differences and diversity.” This assault on hierarchies makes postmodernism the natural ally of — what, the faith that brought us the Inquisition and the Moral Majority?
Amazing. Did you know that Pentecostals routinely handle snakes? Somebody really ought to inform the Assemblies of God about this, as its website offers no tips on the proper care and feeding of serpents. And since when has the Inquisition become synonymous with any threat posed by the long-ago disbanded Moral Majority Inc.? (Finally, a factual note: Anglican hip-hop already has premiered in all its goofy splendor. Miller needs to dream up some other oxymoronic joke.)