Annoyed apparently by the recent thrashing Christianity has gotten in the popular bookstore these days, and no doubt havng learned well from his colleague-in-dissembling Ann Coulter on smelling an opportunity to sell books to the credulous masses, Dinesh D'Souza announces the release of his new Book: What's So Great About Christianity?" Here's his opening salvo, as he urges Christians to get out there and defend the faith:
"My new book What’s So Great About Christianity starts hitting the stores this week. It’s the first comprehensive answer to the atheist books out there, such as Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great...
Today’s Christians know that they do not, as their ancestors did, live in a society where God’s presence was unavoidable. No longer does Christianity form the moral basis of society. Many of us now reside in secular communities, where arguments drawn from the Bible or Christian revelation carry no weight, and where we hear different language from that spoken in church.
Instead of engaging this secular world, most Christians have taken the easy way out. They have retreated into a Christian subculture where they engage Christian concerns. Then they step back into secular society, where their Christianity is kept out of sight until the next church service. Without realizing it Christians have become postmodernists of a sort: they live by the gospel of the two truths. There is religious truth, reserved for Sundays and days of worship, and there is secular truth, which applies the rest of the time."
Indeed Dinesh has a moment of unusual clarity here. Many Christians have indeed withdrawn into a bubble of sorts, with Fox News on the TV delivering "the truth", conservative websites delivering the desired "facts" on a daily basis, and talk radio gurus like Rush and Michael Savage reminding them how evil everyone who disagrees with them is. They then go to church on Sunday, with all their carefully culled friends, and spend great times in comfort patting each other on the back and echoing their sentiments on all the issues of the day.
Of course, once they enter the secular world where we all have to get things done, they discard their bubble of banality to get the job done. Loving Jesus might get you by on Sunday, but when you get into the lab, the factory, or the board meeting, no one cares what Jesus thinks of you or vice versa. They care (mostly anyway) about what you are able to do in the real world. The irony here is rich, for it seems to pass over the heads of those like D'Souza as to why this would be? Simple: Christianity, stripped of it's secular components (like laws against murder and theft), is irrelevant to modern life. He can't admit this of course, and instead tries the laughable persecuted-Christians gambit, with an appeal to Gould's Nonoverlapping Magisteria concept:
"Many Christians have ... sought a workable, comfortable modus vivendi in which they agree to leave the secular world alone if the secular world agrees to leave them alone. Biologist Stephen Jay Gould proposed the terms for the treaty in his book Rocks of Ages when he said that secular society relies on reason and decides matters of fact, while religious people rely on faith and decide questions about values. Many Christians seized upon this distinction with relief. This way they could stay in their subculture and be nice to everyone. "
The problem with this, as has been pointed out many times with regard to NOMA, is that Christians do not stay within the values realm. They want their dated view of the world enforced at the point of a gun on everyone else by the government. They conveniently skip over Jesus' admonishment to "give to Caeser what is Caeser and give to God what is God's", and instead try to enforce their values of what constitutes a person (abortion, cloning, stem-cell research), and what constitutes science (creationism, global warming denial), on the rest of us. Thus:
"But a group of prominent atheists—many of them evolutionary biologists—has launched a powerful public attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular; they have no interest in being nice. A new set of antireligious books—The God Delusion, The End of Faith, God Is Not Great, and so on—now shapes public debate."
As it should. Atheists, and the much larger group of nonreligious people who think there is more science to be found in the peer-reviewed journals than in the Bible, have been silent far too long. Religion should have to defend itself as any other subject should: in the public arena, with evidence and logic, not faith and tradition. This of coursed disturbs people like D'Souza, because they have been used to a favorable double standard for so long, one that placed religious claims beyond reproach, that just asking for a fair fight seems to them like playing dirty.
Speaking of playing dirty, note D'Souza's comment on the atheists that "many of them [are] evolutionary biologists". Of Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, ony Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist. So why would D'Souza make such a claim? It's simple manipulation: Dawkins is the most incendiary of the bunch (though nowhere in the same league as the most incendiary of the Christians), so D'Souza would no doubt like the entirety of the New Atheism to be associated with Dawkins, in the same way global warming deniers would like the issue of global warming to be associated with Al Gore. Don't be too hard on D'Souza, for he can't win this battle with evidence and logic, so he has to stoop to such rhetorical tricks.
To his credit D'Souza rejects NOMA along with the rest of us, and sees that there is no middle ground on many of these factual issues:
"The atheists have a point: there are not two truths or multiple truths; there is one truth. Either the universe is a completely closed system and miracles are impossible, or the universe is not a closed system and there is the possibility of divine intervention in it. Either the Big Bang was the product of supernatural creation or it had a purely natural cause. In a larger sense, either the secular view of reality is correct or the religious view is correct. (Or both are wrong.) So far the atheists have been hammering the Christians and the Christians have been running for cover. It’s like one hand clapping."
More like a dog that has been beaten for hundreds of years finally raising up and fighting back. The atheists are simply saying that Christians cannot hide behind their religiousity if they are going to make material claims about the world, and attempt to enforce the implications of those claims via the ballot box (or military might). Atheists are simply demanding Christian views be subject to the very same scrutiny any other view is subjected to. But again, having had things their way for so long, people like D'Souza see this as some sort of special pleading:
"The atheists no longer want to be tolerated. They want to monopolize the public square and to expel Christians from it. They want political questions like abortion to be divorced from religious and moral claims. They want to control the school curricula, so that they can promote a secular ideology and undermine Christianity. "
I will be interested to see if D'Souza backs up these outlandish claims with any sort of evidence. Where is the evidence that atheists want to monopolize anything? Who has said Christians cannot have their say? Where is a secular ideology promoted in schools, and where have prominent atheists supported such a thing? This just looks like Coulteristic fiction weaving: when the facts don't support you, simply make them up. Atheists don't want abortion laws, or any other, to be divorced from moral claims. We just don't believe Christian morals deserve more consideration than anyone else's. Atheists, and most thinking Christians as well, want the best science we have taught to school children. That means cosmology and evolution, among many other subjects. If the findings of science undermine Christianity, then Christianity has a problem, not science.
"They want to discredit the factual claims of religion, and they want to convince the rest of society that Christianity is not only mistaken but also evil. They blame religion for the crimes of history and for the ongoing conflicts in the world today. In short, they want to make religion—and especially the Christian religion—disappear from the face of the earth."
We would love to see Christianity disappear from its privledged position in the public sphere. What people believe about the gods or their eternal resting place matters about as little to us otherwise as do their views on astrology, aliens near Alpha Centauri, or how the Cowboys will do this year. If Christianity is going to used in the public sphere, then yes, it's factual claims will be challenged. If D'Souza finds it troublesome to defend a 6,000 year old earth, animals poofing into existence, talking burning bushes, virgin births, and three-days-dead people coming back to life, perhaps he should get more particular about his sources of truth.
And earth to D'Souza: the bulk of the conflict in the world today revolves around religion, as the aforementioned authors have chronicled all-too-well. Without religion, there would be no civil war in Iraq, no 9/11, and no fighting in Northern Ireland. Is religion responsible for all the ills of the world? Of course not. But denying it is responsible for a lot of them is good old ostrich thinking. It's simple really: once you can get people to buy all that magical nonsense I listed above, getting them to believe the world would be a better place after you've killed all the Jews/Americans/Hindus/Muslims/yourselves, is a piece of cake. It is not religion per se, that is dangerous. It is faith: believing without evidence, that is, and that more than anything is what the New Atheists are bringing to the forefront of the discussion. We are simply tired of being asked to do, or not do, certain things, without being given a reason beyond "that's what I believe by faith". Not good enough.
"Christians must confront the challenge of modern atheism and secularism. This book provides a kind of tool kit to meet this challenge. The Christianity that is defended here is not “fundamentalism” but rather traditional Christianity, what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity,” the common ground of beliefs between Protestants and Catholics. This Christianity is the real target of the secular assault."
Ah, the big tent approach so favored by the Intelligent Design crew. I'm shocked. I wonder if Dinesh is going to forbid discussion of the age of the earth, or the nature of God, as they do. He says he has written to book for seekers and believers, but also for atheists.
"This is also a book for atheists, or at least for those atheists who welcome a challenge. Precisely because the Christians usually duck and run, the atheists have had it too easy. Their arguments have gone largely unanswered. They have been flogging the carcass of “fundamentalism” without having to encounter the horse-kick of a vigorous traditional Christianity. I think that if atheists are genuine rationalists they should welcome this book. It is an effort to meet the atheist argument on its own terms."
I for one do Dinesh. Let's see a rational defense of Christianity. Let's see you discuss atheism fairly, without the fictional characitures that are so prevalent among your writing mates. Let's see this "vigorous" Christianity so balyhooed in defenses about the New Atheist writings, but so absent in actual discourse.
"My modus operandi is one of skepticism, to view the claims of religion in the same open-minded way that we view claims of any other sort...
Taking as my foil the anti-religious arguments of prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and the others, this book will show the following—1) Christianity is the main foundation of Western civilization, the root of our most cherished values. 2) The latest discoveries of modern science support the Christian claim that there is a divine being who created the universe. 3) Darwin’s theory of evolution, far from undermining the evidence for supernatural design, actually strengthens it. 4) There is nothing in science that makes miracles impossible. 5) It is reasonable to have faith. 6) Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the mass murders of history. 7) Atheism is often motivated not by reason but by a kind of cowardly moral escapism. I end this book by showing what is unique about Christianity and how our lives change if we become Christians. "
Well, I can't say I'm impressed. Claiming science supports the existence of a divine being, and supports the notion of supernatural design of living things, is a screaming red flag that ignorance is coming. But who knows, maybe Dinesh will suprise us and explain why a divine designer would give us and chimps the same broken vitamin C gene, why it would wire our eyes backwards, but an octopus eye rightways, and why it decided to fuse two chimp genes in humans. Anyone want to take bets that he quotes Michael Behe and William Dembski approvingly in his book?
And how in the world does lack of believe in Thor cause mass murders? Of all the claims of apologists, that one is the most absurd, but I suspect will be representative of the arguments D'Souza presents.