Weekly Rant: Frank Schaeffer and New Atheist Fundamentalists

Weekly Rant: Frank Schaeffer and New Atheist Fundamentalists November 5, 2009

As far as the religious go, you could say that Frank Schaeffer is one of the good guys. He is the son of one of the first televangelists, Francis Schaeffer, and in his book, Crazy for God, he did a great job explaining how he helped found the Religious Right, and why he now regretted it.

As being somewhat conservative, I wholeheartedly agreed with him when he said after President Obama’s inauguration, “How can anyone who loves our country support the Republicans now?” He went on to say that Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley, and Ronald Reagan created modern conservatism, and that they all would be critical of today’s religiously controlled Republican party.

In his new book, Patience with God, Schaeffer declares the “New Atheists” are just as wrong as Christian fundamentalists. When asked to explain this view in an interview for OldSpeak, he said:

I would go even further and say that the New Atheists are fundamentalists. They have just changed a few words and instead of trying to get everybody to believe in a certain theological idea, they are trying to enforce a kind of philosophical morality on the rest of the country. They actually argue that you are stupid if you believe in God. There is a lot of mockery involved. It is found in the tone of Bill Maher’s documentary film, Religulous. It is also shown in the tone of his TV show. What you are watching is the flip side of Pat Robertson or James Dobson. It is the same kind of intolerance towards diversity and people who disagree with you as you see from the Right. In my book Patience with God, I make the argument that these two movements—religious fundamentalism and the New Atheism—are parallel movements. They come from the same lack of understanding of spirituality which involves celebrating paradox. It lacks mystery. We simply don’t have to answer every question.

Then Schaeffer takes it one step further by saying:

Basically, atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher and others like them are building a movement of atheistic dogma that is every bit as intolerant as that from the right. In Patience with God, I argue that these are really part of the same movement. It is a movement of intolerance that sees the whole country as being in a civil war where your side has to win in order for it to be a better place. And I don’t feel that hopeful. I also don’t feel it’s true because I don’t think that that is how things work.

Frank, Frank, Frank, I could not just disagree with you more. I acknowledge that the new atheists are more outspoken, but unfortunately we are forced to be. The only rule we have changed is the assumption of automatic respect. In America, we have the wonderful right to believe whatever we so choose. However, this freedom has been misinterpreted as a right of respect. If one of my neighbors told me that they saw Bigfoot in their backyard, or that Barack Obama does not have an American birth certificate, I would have no qualms with telling them my opinion. I would also have no problem telling them what type of evidence would have to provided for me to believe these statements. Why is this any different with religious views? Why is it when discussing issues like stem cell research and homosexual equality, reason is trumped and discussion halted when someone throws up the flag of faith?

Frank, I must ask, what the hell is wrong with philosophical morality? Isn’t this the best kind? Shouldn’t all societies filter their morality through philosophical reason? We new atheists are not trying to force our morality on anyone. We simply feel that when someones religious opinions are brought into the public arena, that it should be judged by reason and stand up to the scientific method. If someone doesn’t want this, they should keep their faith beliefs at home.

Of all the people I know, no one enjoys celebrating mystery and nature’s paradoxes like the skeptic and the scientist. It is the scientist who reveals to the world the unfathomable mysteries of our awe-inspiring universe. It is the “New Atheists” who are the first to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. In fact, we know that the more we learn, the more we find new questions. In contrast, it is the religious fundamentalist who claim to have the answers. They say they know how the universe began and how it will end. It is they who know the mind of God, and how he wishes us to live and believe.

Frank, I’ll give you the one about mockery. Perhaps some of us over do it quite a bit. However, sometimes mockery is the most efficient way to invoke change. I personally believe this is true with creationists. The facts and evidence for evolution have been overwhelmingly presented to the world, and those who teach Intelligent Design chose to ignore the truth. All they deserve, is mockery, and I feel it is the best way to change people’s minds.

Come on Frank, surely someone with your background understands what the word dogma actually means? Dogma is a religious belief or doctrine, that must be obeyed without question. It is ridiculous to insinuate that new atheist leaders teach dogma. A perfect example is Bill Maher. He has been relentlessly ridiculed by new atheists because of his anti-vaccination beliefs. Not to long ago, Sam Harris incurred the wrath of many for suggesting we stop using the word “atheist.” Christopher Hitchens pissed off many nonbelievers for his support of the Iraq war. Rest assured, if Dawkins proclaimed that he knew with 100% accuracy which extraterrestrials planted life on Earth (panspermia), he would be forced to very quickly provide evidence. If he could not, we would disown him quicker than Ted Haggard’s church got rid of him.

Frank, while we’re on this subject, I think it’s important to point out that very few atheists claim to know there is no god(s). We simply don’t believe there is evidence to support such beliefs. We acknowledge the fact that no one can know with 100% accuracy what exists outside of space time. It is the religious fundamentalists who claim to know there is a god(s). It is they who believe faith is a virtue. It is they who know the mind of God. Not only that, they know how he (or she) wants us to live our lives.

You’re smarter than this , Frank. I understand you may be trying to live in both worlds, and don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, to use another tired saying you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Brother Richard

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