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I Believe in Stupidity
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I thumbed through Chris Hedges' book I Don't Believe in Atheists in the library, and saw enough in there that was just flat out silly that I knew it would be golden blogging material.

If you're not familiar with the book, you might initially think that it's a reaction by a Christian to the recent spate of atheist books. Actually, Hedges is a career journalist, and his intent is to praise the middle road and denigrate what he sees as fundamentalism at both ends of the spectrum ranging from hard-core religious believers to militant atheists.

It's a short book, but I could barely make it through the first twenty pages or so, and I'm just not going to be able to go further. But Hedges does say plenty of stupid things even in such a short span.

Here are some examples:

We live in an age of faith. We are assured we are advancing as a species toward a world that will be made perfect by reason, technology, science or the second coming of Jesus Christ.

This is the opening sentence of the first chapter, and the rest of the book is just a variation on the theme of lumping together secular and religious concepts and treating them the same.

Those who insist we are morally advancing as a species are deluding themselves. There is little in science or history to support this idea.

Of course, he doesn't develop this argument or give examples...just more rhetoric. But what an amazingly stupid thing to say. In our own history, if America has not advanced morally, then what he's saying is that our laws are as moral and just now as they were when slavery was legal, women couldn't vote, and there were no child labor laws. This is just a morally different state of things, not a morally better state of things. Anybody willing to go along with Hedges on that one?

His early categorization of the new atheism is one that rejects god by blaming everything bad that happens in the world on religion, and alternately for promising impossible utopian fantasies based on science and technology. I would slightly agree that the new atheist books give religion too much blame and too little credit when it comes to their impact. Religion undeniably leads people to acts of compassion and is also an undeniable source of comfort and happiness to billions. It is justifiable to harp on the harm done in the name of religion, but it is disingenuous to do so while excluding the good it has also done.

That's why the utilitarian argument holds little stock with me. I think the best reason not to believe in supernatural gods is because such beliefs are unjustified by standards of common sense and the available facts.

Even though authors like Harris and Dawkins obviously make these points as well, Hedges brushes them aside. Here's the most laughable section in the opening chapter:

The question is not whether God exists. It is whether we contemplate or are utterly indifferent to the transcendent, that which cannot be measured or quantified, that which lies beyond the reach of rational deduction.

He then goes on to talk about how god is just a metaphor for all the things beyond the reach of science and reason, and how atheists are missing the whole point of religion by attacking it the way they do.


That argument might hold water if we lived in a world where every religious adherent adopted the mild, metaphorical concept of god that Hedges is talking about. But we don't live in that world, and the question is very much whether god exists. If the god of the Bible truly, actually exists, then that has serious ramifications for the world, for me personally, and for everyone I know. Likewise if he doesn't. And likewise if the gods of Hinduism or Greek mythology really exist. The world, how it works, and why we are here...all those issues are drastically different depending on whether and which gods exist. To pretend otherwise is grossly, horribly, malignantly stupid.

And so, while I don't believe in any gods, I do believe in stupidity. I come across ample evidence all the time.

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