(Originally Posted March 19, 2007 — recaptured through the wayback machine)
God’s Dupes? Gadzooks!
Seduxisti me, Domine, et seductus sum;
fortior me fuisti et invaluisti.
You duped me, Lord, and I let myself be duped.
– Jeremiah, Chapter 20
I must say, I found Sam Harris’ recent essay, God’s Dupes an enjoyably ironic read. I don’t know if Harris came up with the title, but if he did, I wonder at it. “God’s Dupes?” If you’re arguing against religion and theism why would you begin an essay by acknowledging in your title that there is a (Capital G) God and that he is a Duper who has in his grip a legion of Dupees? If you’re committed to the idea of disavowing the existance of God, any God, particularly the nefariously “Iron Age” God-of-Abraham, who has begot so many troublesome children, dupes, why not call it, “The Dupes of Blather,” or “Gadzooks, these Dupes!”
Harris’ short essay was meant as a secularists hymn of praise celebrating the recent announcement by Rep. Pete Stark (D-California) that he did not believe in God. Not content to simply praise Stark’s willingness to witness, Harris took the opportunity to preach condemnation in the general direction of the religiously-inclined. Permit me to intersperse my own thoughts among his. Since Harris can be bold, I will be italics.
The truth is, there is not a person on Earth who has a good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead or that Muhammad spoke to the angel Gabriel in a cave. And yet billions of people claim to be certain about such things.
Many millions of people are absolutely certain that the world will end in precisely 30 years – and it will all be man’s fault – unless we start buying carbon offsets from Al Gore and David Cameron. Faith is a funny thing. As a Christian I don’t demand that anyone believe as I believe, and yet some religions – largely the secularist ones – insist that I believe as they do.
As a result, Iron Age ideas about everything high and low — sex, cosmology, gender equality, immortal souls, the end of the world, the validity of prophecy, etc. — continue to divide our world and subvert our national discourse. Many of these ideas, by their very nature, hobble science, inflame human conflict and squander scarce resources.
It is a particularly mid-twentieth century conceit that everything that came before that generation was either wrong, outdated or of dubious value, hence any idea dating back from the Iron Age cannot possibly speak to this age. Except the parts about how iron ore may be mined, smelted and made into useful stuff. All other notions from that age should be scrapped, as they’re making us disagree, “hobbling science” and “squandering resources.” Pay no attention to the secularists who are silencing heretical scientists (and the journalists who cover them) if they dare to disagree and dissent from the emerging Dogma, by the way. Those are not real human conflicts, science is not being hobbled by a 21st century secularist refusal to undertake the third step of scientific methodology and prove the doomsdayish hypothesis of man-made Global Warming. And resources are not being squandered by people who fly their private jets to faraway nations in order to gather and piece together the New Commandments and New Scripture which will soon be delivered from on high by…someone unlike that stuttering idiot Moses, to be sure.
…one meets religious moderates and liberals of diverse hues — people who remain supportive of the basic scheme that has balkanized our world into Christians, Muslims and Jews…
One meets postmodern secularists of diverse interests who remain supportive of a basic scheme that is balkanizing our world into environmentalism, anarchism, paganism, pantheism, food-puritanism and other isms, and who have simply embraced a religion outside of monotheism. If you think by abolishing the Abramic Big Three you’re going to abolish religion, well…good luck. Every secular religion I just mentioned comes with its own Liturgies, Rubrics and Rituals, its own Sins, Laws and Saviors.
How…can any thinking person imagine that his experience of sobriety lends credence to the idea that a supreme being is watching over our world and that Jesus is his son?
Until you taste the sinner’s milk and honey yourself, the answer will be elusive. I wish it for you. It’s pretty tasty.
There is no question that many people do good things in the name of their faith — but there are better reasons to help the poor, feed the hungry and defend the weak than the belief that an Imaginary Friend wants you to do it. Compassion is deeper than religion.
Compassion is deeper than religion? Let’s examine that. I’m trying to think of great compassion, detached from religion, and what wonders it has wrought in recent times, but I’m drawing a blank…Angelina Jolie? My mind keeps going to Mark Steyn’s excellent recent piece on William Wilberforce and how that one uptight Christian stood the world on its head and changed its historical thinking on slavery, and how other uptight Christians raised social consciousness about things like child prostitution.
Perhaps “compassion” is “deeper than religion,” but for the most part, when I see “compassionate” folks collecting food and clothing, volunteering to help people learn to read or to construct a resume, working in a soup kitchen, visiting patients in hospital, feeding and educating the poor in Haiti and elsewhere or helping single mothers get on their feet so they can raise their children, I usually see them doing it because they feel called to – thrust forward into serving others by the religious nudge.
I have no doubt that there are spiritual atheists who also perform such good works. My son’s high school collected food for over 700 families last Christmas, and I’m sure at least some of those kids collecting food and filling boxes (and ironically inspired to do so by a date invoking the Name of Christ) are currently calling themselves atheists. But is compassion deeper than religion? The people I meet who make a big noise about Compassion (and its sister virtue, Tolerance) tend to be selective on what (and upon whom) their tender mercies may attend, and they look largely to the Government to address their concerns. It is possible, I suppose, to feel great compassion and express it satisfactorily by petitioning the government to take care of everyone and everything. But inefficient government programs rarely perform to expectations, or deliver the human touch. And there, “compassion” fails. It fails in depth.
It is time that we acknowledge that human beings can be profoundly ethical — and even spiritual — without pretending to know things they do not know.
Hmmm, well, this is one Christian (and I know many others) who has no problem acknowledging that there are ethical and spiritual atheists, but from my perspective they too – in their fervent atheistic belief system – believe (I will not insult them by presuming that they “pretend”) “they know things they do not know.” How can they know – absolutely and with dead certainty – that there is no God, after all?
Everything of value that people get from religion can be had more honestly, without presuming anything on insufficient evidence. The rest is self-deception, set to music.
I always take with a grain of salt those believers who tell me that their honesty is more honest than my honesty. I’m funny that way.
Harris’ essay simply shows me that religion is religion, even if people don’t want to admit it, or if they want to call it something else. Secular Humanism is a religion. So is fervent Atheism. And as religions, they are subject to fundamentalist interpretation, just like every other religion.
So, here in the world of extreme religion there reside religious people who – were they inclined to bumper stickers – would proudly display one that says, “No Government, but GOD.” On the other side, there are non-religious “compassionate” people whose bumpers would proclaim, “No God, but GOVERNMENT.” Both are fanatics, both get their ideas of God and Government completely commingled – they make a balls of the very notion of a separation between church and state and thus leave themselves open to a tyranny they would themselves invite in. And they both accuse the vast majority of politically moderate believers – the sorts who are simply doing their thing and respecting others who wish to do their own – of an unhelpful disinterest in the passionate certainties to which these extremists subscribe. That wayward disinterest, they tell us, is keeping the world from becoming the paradise of contentment and bonhomie it would be, if only everyone would see things their way.
No one could call these extreme folks “lukewarm,” but I still want to vomit them out of my mouth. And I’m not even Christ.
Whirling dervishes. I say let ‘em whirl. Nothing about any of them is new.
Hito wa iza
Kokoro mo shirazu
Hana zo mukashi no
Ka ni nioikeru
The human heart
But in my birthplace
The flowers still smell
The same as always.
– James Kirkup, Return to Japan*
*As quoted by Rumer Godden in her invaluable, must-read classic novel, In This House of Brede.