Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Is Atheism a Moral Revolt?

I happened to turn on one of the C-Span channels last night and caught the latter part of the D'Souza-Hitchens Debate. Yeah, it's old news, but I had not had the opportunity to see any of it before. If I am able to get hold of a transcript or watch the entire debate (I'd rather have the transcript) I will then comment more completely. From what I did see and was able to read of on the web, I can say that my suspicion that Mr. D'Souza is not an intellectual giant full of well reasoned refutations of atheism (as portrayed by conservative religious apologists and culture warriors) was confirmed beyond any doubt. The poor man could not find his way out of a paper bag.

This does not mean he is necessarily a poor debater, but that doesn't mean much, as formal debates have little to do with discovering truth and a lot to do with the debating skills of the two opponents. I remember back to all those debates "won" by creationist Duane Gish against unprepared supporters of evolution.

At one point D'Souza repeated the old chestnut I first remember reading in C.S. Lewis, that "the gates of hell are locked from inside" and that when we reject salvation "God reluctantly gives us our wish." You would think if the gates are locked from inside they could also be opened from the inside, but free will, the great justification for all the horrors of our world, and the great gift of God, being the foundation of our supposed non-robotic humanity, somehow mysteriously disappears in the afterlife. The damned stay damned and the saved stay saved. Not one person who ends up in hell (according to the D'Souzas of the world) ever decides to open the gates and finally accept God. Just as no inhabitant of heaven ever revolts and ends up in hell, even if they got to heaven by dying in infancy (how positively coincidental that not one of those uncounted millions of souls is lost, and yet we are told that God cannot force salvation on anyone)!

It must further be remembered that Christianity has always taught that even fellow believers in God go to hell if they reject Jesus, no matter how good or moral they might be. Mr. DSouza may not himself believe this, but it was the historic teaching of his church, and of course Catholics and Protestants both condemned each other to damnation for having heretical beliefs.

At one point Mr. Hitchens stated that the afterlife was a case of wishful thinking brought about by our fear of death. D'Souza rebutted this with the assertion that no people would make up hell as well, and asked why anyone would create difficult commandments and religious rules. If they just made it up, why not make it easy and comfortable? Such is the reasoning of Mastermind D'Souza, more a sophist than the sophisticated thinker he and his ardent fans imagine him to be. In fact it is possible for both the wish fulfillment aspect and the threat of punishment to be conceived of by the human mind without any divine revelation. Human society, as it got more complex, offered carrots as well sticks to keep people in line, and there is nothing remotely mysterious about this. By Mr. D'Souza's logic, Islam too must be a true revelation, as the Koran also has its hell and Muslims are faced with many inconvenient duties, not the least of which is praying at specific hours five times a day. But I shall not be waiting expectantly for D'Souza to convert to the religion of Mohammed.

The charge was finally made by Mr. D'Souza that atheism has nothing to do with an intellectual revolt, but is at its root a moral rebellion, atheists not wanting to have to follow all those divine commands. This came up as Mother Teresa was mentioned, the woman who epitomizes self-sacrifice. There is something interesting here that many if not most will miss. I will explain. But first, it is absolute rubbish to state without qualification that people reject gods and religions out of a desire to live lives of libertine excess. This is a slap in the face to all those who have honestly wrestled with these questions and found god-belief wanting. Its a kick in the groin to all those true thinkers who dared to ask questions about religious dogma and then developed well reasoned arguments challenging the truth of revealed religion. But such a charge does allow a "debater" with the limited thinking skills of a D'Souza to do the only thing he can against the powerful force of atheistic argument, dismiss it. Blame it all on the atheist's delight in sin and move on, while listening to the moronic cheers of an audience lost in mystical confusion.

Now, think about this. D'Souza's favorite big lie is to blame atheism for the evils of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. At the same time he states that atheists only want to follow their own rules. Do you see the contradiction? Communist dictatorships were and are based on an ideology of self-sacrifice. The individual must give up his or her autonomy and serve the state or his or her fellow workers, etc. Therefore, by the very words from D'Souza's own mouth, atheism, with its emphasis on the individual and their wants and desires, could never be the cause of totalitarian governments, which really resemble religions and their self sacrificing followers.

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