Saturday, November 10, 2007

Totally Uninspiring

Dinesh D'Souza talks about his recent debate with atheist Christopher Hitchens at his web site. Among other interesting morsels he offers this:

One of the most interesting questions in the debate was posed to Hitchens by a man from Tonga. Before the Christians came to Tonga, he said, the place was a mess. Even cannibalism was widespread. The Christians stopped this practice and brought to Tonga the notion that each person has a soul and God loves everyone equally. The man from Tonga asked Hitchens, "So what do you have to offer us?" Hitchens was taken aback, and responded with a learned disquisition on cannibalism in various cultures. But he clearly missed the intellectual and moral force of the man's question. The man was asking why the Tongans, who had gained so much from Christianity, should reject it in favor of atheism.

In my response, I noted that when the missionaries came to India, they sometimes converted people by force. Even so, many Indians rushed on their own to embrace the faith of the foreigners. And why? Because they were born into the low caste of the Hindus. As long as they remained Hindus, there was no escape; even their descendants were condemned to the lowest rungs of humanity. By fleeing into the arms of the missionaries, the low-caste Hindus found themselves welcomed as Christian brothers. They discovered the ideal of equal dignity in the eyes of God.

If we look at the history of Western civilization, we find that Christianity has illuminated the greatest achievements of the culture. Read the new atheist books and make a list of the institutions and values that Hitchens and Dawkins and the others cherish the most. They value the idea of the individual, and the right to dissent, and science as an autonomous enterprise, and representative democracy, and human rights, and equal rights for women and racial minorities, and the movement to end slavery, and compassion as a social virtue. But when you examine history you find that all of these values came into the world because of Christianity. If Christianity did not exist, these values would not exist in the form they do now. So there is indeed something great about Christianity, and the honest atheist should be willing to admit this.

By contrast, does it make any sense to say, as Hitchens does in his book's subtitle, that "religion poisons everything"? Religion didn't poison Dante or Milton or Donne or Michelangelo or Raphael or Titian or Bach! Religon didn't poison those unnamed architectural geniuses who built the great Gothic cathedrals. Religion didn't poison the American founders who were for the most part not Deist but Christian. Religion didn't poison the anti-slavery campaigns of William Lloyd Garrison or William Wilberforce, or the civil rights activism of the Reverend Martin Luther King. The real question to ask is, what does atheism offer humanity? In Tonga, as in America, the answer appears to be: Nothing.

Indeed. Atheism offers nothing to society except perhaps "gangsta" rap and art that consists of crucifixes immersed in urine. Atheism has inspired no charities, no hospitals, no feats of moral greatness, no great art or music. It inspires nothing because it is essentially nihilistic. It denies the existence of meaning, purpose, and hope in the world. It tells us that human beings are nothing but cattle, that we have no dignity or worth, that morality is an illusion. All of this leads to ugliness and despair. It's certainly not very inspiring.

On the other hand, it does inspire one question: Why, given the bleakness and sterility of the atheistic worldview, does anyone embrace it? I suspect that at least part of the answer for at least some atheists is that the denial of God enables one to reject certain moral constraints placed upon our sexuality. A recurrent theme in the biographies and writings of atheists from Bertrand Russell to Michael Onfray is the sexual liberation they desire and which atheism facilitates.

Like a man in the grip of homosexual lust who is willing to risk contracting HIV if only he can gratify his need in some anonymous bathhouse encounter, some are willing to embrace a meaningless, hopeless existence as long as they can have sexual pleasure. It's the same sort of bargain Dr. Faustus made with Mephistophilis and which proved his undoing. It's a bargain that has been destroying lives ever since the dawn of civilization.


Re: Boys Adrift

We've received a lot of feedback on the post Boys Adrift, most of it from young women, interestingly, but some from young men. Most of the people who responded to that post said they knew people who fit exactly the description of the guy who experiences "Failure to Launch." Some of the responders asked what the author suggests parents can do about it. I urge anyone interested in the problem to read Sax's prognosis and prescriptions. It's one of the most important books published in the last couple of decades, in my opinion, and anyone who is a parent, teacher, or who works in any capacity with young men or hopes to someday be one of these should definitely spend time with it.

It's titled Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax and it can be ordered by phone or e-mail at Hearts and Minds Bookstore. It'd make a great Christmas gift.