Thursday, February 18, 2010

Religion Is Not Essentially Evil

(Thank you Gary Larson - one of the most creative cartoonists ever...)

Dinesh D'Souza is such a solid thinker and excellent writer. When he takes on the New Atheists he makes them look like simpletons (which, philosophically, Dawkins and Hitchens are, but not of course Dennett). Yet Dennett appears the simpleton when he makes a statement like "the belief in a reward in heaven can sometimes motivate acts of monstrous evil." (In D'Souza, Life After Death, 196)

Maybe, but if so only for a very few. If there are a few who do monstrous acts of evil for the sake of gaining a reward in heaven, this does not logically impliy that all of religion is intrinsically evil. D'Souza pointed this out in What's So Great About Christianity, and makes the point again in Life After Death. D'Souza scores points against this facile atheistic claim in the following ways.

  • Studies have shown that even radical Muslims don't launch suicide attacks in quest of heaven. Typically they are driven by more mundane motives. For example, "they are corrupting our culture," or "they stole our land."
  • "The vast majority of people in the world believe in life after death, and yet hardly any of them launch suicide strikes in the hope of hastening their journey to heavenly bliss." (Life After Death, 187) Indeed. I believe in life after death, but confess to have never even entertained the thought of becoming a suicide bomber, though I have had some anger issues.
  • "So the atheist attempt to indict all religion for the crimes of the radical Muslims fails." (Ib.)
  • "In the last hundred years [atheist] regimes, led by people like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Nicolae Ceausescu, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro, Kim Jong -Il, and others, have murdered more than  100 million people." (Ib., 189)
  • Dawkins protests against this kind of reasoning, seeking to minimize the crimes of atheist regimes by arguing that "individual atheists may do evil things but they don't do evil things in the name of atheism." (Quoted in Ib.) D'Souza responds by accusing Dawkins of historical ignorance. For example, "atheism is not incidental to the Communist scheme; it is absolutely central. The whole idea is to create a new man and a new utopia free of the shackles of traditional religion and traditional morality." (Ib.)
Finally, D'Souza goes on to show  not only that religion is not toxic and bad for society, it is good for society. He supports this with points like these.

  • The great artistic achievements of the West are fueled by the sense of the transcendent. This sense "animates, even if implicitly, our sense of the good, the true, and the beautiful." (Ib., 189)
  • "Several of the greatest ideas and institutions of Western civilization were shaped by a similar vision of transcendence." (Ib., 190) For example, the cofre idea of Western liberalism, the idea of the separation between state and society, finds its roots not in ancient Greek culture, but in Augustine's City of God. D'Souza spends several pages in this. D'Souza is especially qualified to speak on this issue.
  • The ideas of human dignity and human rights not only find their roots in a religion such as Christian theism, but are better explained on Christian theism than on atheism. For example, the first organized campaigns against slavery in America, early in the 18th century, were led by Quakers and evangelical Christians who were motivated by a biblical teaching: viz., "the simple idea that we are all equal i the eyes of God." (Ib., 198) As before, D'Souza spends many pages establishing this point.
For anyone captivated by the current atheistic pop-idea that religion is essentially evil and non-beneficial to society, D'Souza's analysis reveals that idea's simple-mindedness. As New Atheist Christopher Hitchens says on the back of the book jacket: "Never one to be daunted by attempting the impossible, Dinesh D'Souza here shows again the argumentative skills that make him such a formidable opponent."