From the New York Times bestselling author of American Fascists and the NBCC finalist for War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning comes this timely and compelling work about new atheists: those who attack religion to advance the worst of global capitalism, intolerance and imperial projects.
Chris Hedges, who graduated from seminary at Harvard Divinity School, has long been a courageous voice in a world where there are too few. He observes that there are two radical, polarized and dangerous sides to the debate on faith and religion in America: the fundamentalists who see religious faith as their prerogative, and the new atheists who brand all religious belief as irrational and dangerous. Both sides use faith to promote a radical agenda, while the religious majority, those with a commitment to tolerance and compassion as well as to their faith, are caught in the middle.
The new atheists, led by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, do not make moral arguments about religion. Rather, they have created a new form of fundamentalism that attempts to permeate society with ideas about our own moral superiority and the omnipotence of human reason.
I Don’t Believe in Atheists critiques the radical mindset that rages against religion and faith. Hedges identifies the pillars of the new atheist belief system, revealing that the stringent rules and rigid traditions in place are as strict as those of any religious practice.
Hedges claims that those who have placed blind faith in the morally neutral disciplines of reason and science create idols in their own image — a sin for either side of the spectrum. He makes an impassioned, intelligent case against religious and secular fundamentalism, which seeks to divide the world into those worthy of moral and intellectual consideration and those who should be condemned, silenced and eradicated. Hedges shatters the new atheists’ assault against religion in America, and in doing so, makes way for new, moderate voices to join the debate. This is a book that must be read to understand the state of the battle about faith.
User Ratings and Reviews
4 Stars Thought Provoking.
He makes a persuasive argument that the battle happening in America is NOT between religion and science; it is between religious and secular fundamentalists.
1 Star ———————I Don’t Believe In Chris Hedges
————–On Page 14 of the BOOK “I Don’t Believe In Atheists” By Chris Hedges
Chris Hedges says: “We discard the wisdom of sin at our peril. Sin reminds us that all human beings are flawed—”
I say: This is the type methodology used to convince innocent children and fools
they are “inferior beings”, thus infusing them with an ‘Inferiority Complex’ that
can only be ameliorated by receiving forgiveness from some agent of a
mythological entity one must kneel down to, or put one’s face in dirt while
pleading forgiveness for being alive!
“Faith” is for fools”!
“Secularists” sometimes called ‘Atheists” are ‘rational’ people who do not believe
in “Santa Klaus” or the “Tooth Fairy” or any other ‘fairytale’ “Ghostly Apparitions”!
“Faith” is not required to ‘Dis-Believe’ something!
“Faith” is a tool of charlatans and thieves!
I question the motivation or, sanity of those who promote “Religious belief” in a Mythological Entity!
4 Stars A closet atheist doesn’t believe in himself
I liked this book because Hedges’ liberal “religion” inspires a concept of atheism that combines rational and non-rational.
Hedges doesn’t actually have anything against atheism as such; he likes some atheists like Bertrand Russell. He doesn’t make a connection between atheism and his idea of “original sin”, which is to believe in the possibility of a better world in the future. But he thinks the New Atheists think this way and rationalize atrocities in the name of this possibility.
Hedges seems to be an atheist himself. He doesn’t seem to have any magical beliefs. His idea of faith is that reason doesn’t do everything for you, that the non-rational is different from the irrational. He sees value in religious teachings that people are limited and essentially flawed, and probably rightly sees atheism as a temptation to hubris. He grew up as a Presbyterian and seems to have kept some love for religion; and perhaps that’s the main difference between him and people who call themselves atheists. To be a Christian, someone must at least believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and that this resurrected being offers eternal life. You have to believe weird things to be a Christian! Hedges isn’t a Christian, since he’s not even sure that Jesus existed.
Sam Harris, a New Atheist who Hedges criticizes, explores the non-rational through meditation. Sam Harris does understand the problem with scientism, the belief that science is the only important pursuit.
Scientism bothers me; many atheists I’ve encountered seem to be scientism-ists borrowing the prestige of scientists.
A crazy visionary artist, even if they didn’t have magical beliefs, would not feel welcome among the atheists I’ve known. Someone who defines themself as spiritual without being religious would also not feel welcome. That would be considered a tiresome, meaningless cliche’.
The poet Blake, who saw angels in the trees as a child, would today be medicated with antipsychotic drugs for his entire childhood, unless he had the good fortune to be born to Scientologists or religious fanatics.
And that’s a problem. Madness is the flip side of religion. The roots of religion are madpeople who succeed at madness. Religion is respected as a way of knowing the unknowable, but madpeople are not even trusted to know if they’re sick or have an ulcer. The religious try to push their reality on everyone else, and madpeople are disbelieved so much they can’t speak and be heard. The New Atheists say they want religious belief to be considered ridiculous, but madpeople are already ridiculed.
So I’m afraid the New Atheism signals the rule of the technocrats, where religious vision is “cured” by drugs.
The best thing is not to make religious belief ridiculous, but that it should become one of the arts. Religion tries to be a science, a way of knowing. As the New Atheists extensively point out, it’s terrible science! But it might work as an art, enacted in people’s own personalities, a creation that illuminates our lives and may give ethical or spiritual inspiration. Originality would good rather than bad in religion. Following an organized religion would be considered plagiarism. A person’s religion would be seen as one of their ugly or beautiful attributes, like blue eyes; and not as an aggressive reality-virus.
Hedges does seem to practice faith as an art; something that the person takes part in creating. As a personal creation, choosing the parts of the Bible that you pay attention to isn’t some kind of contradiction, as some atheists think it is. Faith not as belief without evidence, but rather a choice to live as if something were true. We all make such choices. I have a faith that truth is better than delusion, both in immediate ways and in some ultimate way. And it really is a faith, I know it could quite well be wrong.
Hedges gave me a sense of what a very liberal interpretation of religion might be.
Hedges thinks the New Atheists believe in a possible utopia. I’ve never heard a New Atheist claiming that human beings are perfectable, and he doesn’t quote any atheist saying this. It would be obvious nonsense to believe this, since our genetic makeup hasn’t changed.
In a way, people ARE improvable. We wouldn’t any longer be entertained, or stand for, someone being crucified or burned at the stake in front of us. This happened often in the past. And I think that’s because people’s lives are better now. Life is less violent to us, because of technology. It’s far less common for people’s children to die; that was a horrible thing that used to routinely happen to people. I think when people routinely have to put up with horrendous things, they feel gratified to see someone else tormented. So you CAN improve how humans act by making life kinder to people. Hedges realizes this, but for some reason he finds it meaningless. And then, he suggests that we could have avoided much hate in the Arab world by being less aggressive after 9/11. He does understand that kindness helps, but somehow being kind with technology doesn’t count???
He regards human evil as a mystery and something we can’t do anything about. Actually we do understand a lot about how evil happens. Psychology and the social sciences, surely, understand a lot about this. I think a lot of evil comes from wanting to bury the knowledge of death. And from people not wanting to face their buried pain. Political science investigates how to manage human evil. Is it helpful for Hedges to cast this veil of mystification around evil? Or is it just like the obscure mumblings of a priest?
Hedges is rife with contradictions. At one point he characterizes people who were pacifist during the Nazi regime as guilty of his version of original sin – believing in a perfect world. According to him, it was the right thing to kill at that time, it was a “hard choice” that had to be made. And then he has the gall to condemn Sam Harris for his own “hard choices”, suggesting that maybe we have to become violent or unethical to prevent terrible harm from Islamic terrorists. Sam Harris is rightly appalled at the possibility of Islamic extremists with mindsets from the Middle Ages or whenever, getting hold of nuclear weapons. Isn’t it unfair for Hedges to look at Nazism in hindsight and say it had to be resisted and the pacifists were out of touch with reality – and then condemn Sam Harris for not being pacifist towards Islamic terrorists? And then Hedges calls Jesus a pacifist. Jesus lived under the rule of the Roman Empire. The Romans seem to have been just as bad as the Nazis. Terrorizing their subjects by crucifying a religious leader, and making a spectacle out of his horrible death, is exactly how the Nazis acted – they hung people in public in the concentration camps and left them there as a spectacle to terrorize others. So was Jesus “sinful” by Hedges’ definition? Was Judas a better person than Jesus because he believed in armed resistance to the Romans? Hedges says at the end of his book, “Utopian dreamers, lifting up impossible ideals, plunge us into depravity and violence”. Isn’t this as good a condemnation of Christianity as Christopher Hitchens could dream up? Actually, one of Hitchens’ main complaints about Jesus is that his ideals are impossible, his morality inhuman. Maybe Christian atrocities actually have some relation to that? Hedges doesn’t address these questions, but is he actually as severe a critic of Christianity as he is of atheism?
I actually agree with Hedges. I don’t think you can judge an action by its consequences, because consequences are too subtle for the human mind to judge. People are deeper than they know. For example, the atomic bombings by the US, which Hedges calls morally indefensible, had foreseeable consequences like spurring nuclear proliferation, and subtler consequences: how does it distort our thinking in the US to rationalize a thing like that; how much does it damage humanity’s faith in itself? One has to act by principles like “Don’t kill” and “People are an end in themselves, not a means”, just because we don’t know ourselves and the future that well. The best we can do to counter Islamic terrorism is to try to treat Islamic people well. I joked with someone that we should really give the Jewish people a state of their own – like Texas – and tell them to can the idea of locating Israel in the Middle East, since this has apparently been so violent and cruel a process, and a root cause of terrorism. Or maybe New York City could be re-named New Israel and turned into an independent Jewish nation; and rather than supporting Israel, the United States could support New Israel.
If atheism somehow isn’t consistent with principles and all an atheist can do is to try to judge consequences, I’d have to agree with the theists that religion is the source of morality. But people like Hitchens and Hedges seem to disprove that.
These very liberal “religious” people who don’t actually have any supernatural beliefs act like closet atheists. They bash atheism, and the real purpose may be to distance themselves from a despised identity, just like a repressed gay man trying to prove they aren’t that terrible thing, a homosexual. After all, the upbringing of a religious person would usually involved much indoctrination on how bad it is not to be religious.
It’s too bad they can’t just call themselves atheists, because they would have a lot to contribute to atheist circles, coming from their religious tradition. They could change the things they dislike about atheism from the inside; challenge whatever hubris they see in atheists, etc.
Anyway Hedges seems to live in cognitive dissonance.
You can see why I call this book thought provoking!
Hedges associates atheism with denial of the severe crises humanity is running into, the belief that technology will fix everything. This was startling to me, because I know someone who’s an atheist and thinks terrible things are going to happen soon. He’s a survivalist, he tries to prepare for the coming collapse of civilization. And he went away disgusted from a local atheist group because he said nobody was interested in the coming crises, all they wanted to do was to have silly anti-religious discussions! Is this because they trust at bottom that the System (science, technology) will take care of them – they have steady jobs and they figure as long as they keep working at their jobs, everything will be OK? Or simply that they’re recovering from religious childhoods, and it feels good to snipe at religion?
One of the debates that caused Hedges to write this book is a debate with Sam Harris on Youtube, called “Religion, Politics and the End of the World”. It’s worth watching, unlike a lot of debates! What Hedges said in that debate to explain Islamic terrorism rang true to me. The atheists blaming terrorism on religion can be a conservative tactic to deny the social conditions of oppressed people. Both are partly right I think, but Hedges has useful education to offer.
Hedges ignores many things about the New Atheism. One huge point that the New Atheists make is that irrational religious beliefs are often damaging. They agree with Hedges in this; he wrote in another book about the dangers of the religious right.
The New Atheists also are a kind of civil rights movement for nonbelievers, encouraging us to stop kowtowing to religious belief, to openly regard silly and irrational religious beliefs as silly and irrational, publicly and in interaction with religious believers. For me, the New Atheism was one of those rare times when a public movement felt personally relevant. I used to have friendships (of a sort) with evangelical Christians – and I remembered how I’d rendered respect to their delusional beliefs about God arranging for checks to arrive just in time; and how inferior I’d felt that they were “saved” and I wasn’t – because I was sensible enough not to believe fish-stories about Jesus doing miracles and coming back from the dead! I felt wrong for being the sane one! It wasn’t that simple – their beliefs really did do something for them emotionally – but later on I found fellowship with other people based not on shared delusions but on truth. The New Atheists gave clarity to my thoughts: made me realize that the idea of a universe haunted by an omnipotent quasi-human being is very – bizarre – and that seeing patterns in random events borders on psychotic thinking.
So I hope people don’t take Hedges’ book as an accurate or complete picture of the New Atheism. It’s neither, but his perspective is worth reading.
3 Stars When Atheism Becomes Religion
In When Atheism Becomes Religion, Chris Hedges claims that the New Atheists are mistaken in thinking that human nature is perfectible and that a utopian future is possible in which rationality and science can replace religious thought. He says that we should acknowledge that human nature is intrinsically flawed and can never be perfected. He claims that the New Atheists are blaming religion for the problems in the world and that this can lead to a belief that to rid the world of its problems, and achieve a utopian future, we must rid the world of religion. This way of thinking, he says, has dangerous precedents.
Hedges believes that there is place for religious thought in helping us understand the non-rational aspects of existence; that not everything can be explained by science; that the meaning of human existence is ambiguous and ultimately unknowable.
I’m an atheist and I agree with him. Unfortunately, to make this important point, I think he’s attributed opinions to people – Dawkins, Harris, Dennet, Hitchens – that they don’t necessarily have. There are parts of the book that appear to be non-sequitur arguments. However, I still think this book is well worth reading. It’s the third book of his that I’ve read; the other two are Empire of Illusion and American Fascists, which I think are both worth five stars.
3 Stars Some Good Points but Flawed
Hedges makes many good points about how the New Athiests such as Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris are wrong in blaming religion as the source of all the worlds problems the danger that their condemnations of Islam, especially Hitchens attacks on Islam, could be used to justify Western imperialism in the Muslim World, just like the Neocons used claims of spreading democracy to justify the invasion of Iraq. Hedges treatment of the enlightenment, especially the French Revolution seems very harsh. Far from being totalitarian, the French Revolution was a great democratic advance, which greatly benefitic Europe and the World and succeeded in destroying a very corrupt government. I don’t know why Hedges would condemn the Czarist revolutionaries for using violence when Czarist Russia was a tyrannical regime that supressed all posibilites for peacefult dissent. Mark Twain himself said about the government of the Czars,” If Such a Government cannot be overthrown otherwise than by dynamite,then thank God for dynamite!” its also ridiculous to equate Nazism and Communism. The numbers Hedges quotes about the number of deaths under Stalin such as 60 million are completely ridiculous and have no evidence to support them.