Thursday, January 16, 2014

An end to arrogant atheism?

It might be worth your while to read the post in HuffPo by Richard Speckhardt, the executive director of the American Humanist Association, before you go on with this.

I truly respect the points that Speckhardt is trying to make in this post. It's not that, in making them, he occasionally makes patronizing comments ("While Dawkins certainly has a valid point regarding mainstream religion's frequent opposition to critical thinking and empiricism ...." No, he doesn't!). It's not that, in making them, he falls prey to the same smug, unsubstantiated assumptions that clog the brains of many New Atheists and set religious apologists' teeth on edge ("Yet again, Dawkins has a valid point — that the anti-science mentality of many religions has limited its adherents from learning about science and working in the scientific field ..." GA-AAA-AH!). In the main, his point is as valid for the religious as it is for the non-religious: as the old saying goes, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." I just wish he'd use less vinegar while asking for more honey.

No, my only objection is that arrogant atheism will only end the same day arrogant theism ends — when Christ comes again and all things are made new. Or, if you prefer, when the last human being quotes the Iliad and dies.


Arrogance is part of the human condition; it's not something endowed by a cosmological viewpoint or a revelation or a set of irreformable dogmata. You don't have to believe in the Fall to know that men are fallible; you don't need to believe there are gods to anger to understand what hubris is. It's precisely the belief that, by holding a particular cosmological view, Person A is superior to Person B (who holds a contrary view) that makes one religiously or philosophically arrogant. If Christians are more blameable, if I may paraphrase G.K. Chesterton (whom I know I quote way too much), it's not because we're positively worse but because it's our religious duty to do better.

"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall" (Prv 16:18). Arrogance comes from pride, and it's pride that, I'm convinced, will wreck the world and set the doom of humanity in motion. For we're a stiff-necked lot, constantly ignoring warning signals, stupidly assuming we know more than we really do, placing confidence where it isn't merited and ignoring authority when it tells us what we don't want to hear. To ascribe any of these traits more to one party than to the other is to deny the other party a full share in our humanity; "to err is human," the poet wrote, and it has become such a dreary commonplace that we forget — the most salient fact about truisms is that they are true.

So yeah, I'd like to see more humility among atheists. I'd like to see more humility among believers, too. For that matter, I'd like to be more humble myself. For I believe that it's only when we approach each other in true humility that we find true equality and fraternity. It's the difference between "I'm as good as you" and "I too am a sinner, a flawed and failing mortal."