How many time have you heard the comparison that atheists are as fundamental in their ‘belief’ as any religious extremist? Frank Schaeffer has written a stupendously ignorant article over at Alternet that maligns Dawkins and Hitchens as equally pathological in their certainty as the evangelical fundamentalists Robertson and Haggard.
I know a deranged faith-based personality cult when I see one, he states.
In comparison, he uses Dennett as the kind of atheist he likes, a calm and quiet voice of reason. He explains
One reason I find Dennett so appealing is his decency. His humility, wit, and empathy speak volumes to me and lends a solid gravity to his wisdom.
Wisdom like the theme of Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell, the thesis described by Schaeffer as
humans are like ants whose brains have been infected by a parasite.
According to Schaeffer, religious belief to Dennet is like a parasitic infection, which is oh so compassionate compared to the fundamentalist certainty offered to us by Dawkins that describes religious belief as merely a delusion. The thought probably never occurred to Scheaffer to recall the title of the Dennett’s book, that religion holds a great many people in something akin to a spell that needs to be broken. But I expect too much of the perspicacious Schaeffer. His insight is too great to pick up on that title. A spell is not the same thing as an infection, except we would do well to remember that Schaeffer doesn’t seem to use – or be able to utilize – the same dictionary as the rest of us writers of English. Nor does he give bother to credit Dawkins with Dennett’s reliance on the idea of religion as a meme. Schaeffer couldn’t possibly do that to the terrible Dawkins who coined the term to describe how cultural ideas and practices can be transmitted between people.
Like his inability to grasp the importance of a title, Schaeffer fails to appreciate any motivation Dawkins may have had beyond the creation of a cult to address the effects of religious belief. It’s just a little something, I will grant you, but he tramples on Dawkins reputation as an evolutionary biologist by omitting what that motivation might be – a motivation slightly greater than selling trinkets perhaps. I doubt Schaeffer is even capable of considering the fact that Dawkins is responding to a concerted attack by a very powerful group of religious proponents against the fundamental principle that informs all of biology, namely, the theory of evolution. Dawkins takes that misinformation campaign against his discipline very seriously and perhaps can be forgiven if he sometimes reveals his passion for evolution’s truth claims when back by lots and lots of evidence.
If Dennett, by comparison, had philosophy purposefully undermined at every step of his professional career, including a highly financed campaign to replace it in the schools with biblical mutterings and other theological Armstrong-ian deepities (God is not a being, God is the god behind the god drivel) then perhaps Dennett might not be quite so willing to tolerate religion’s social pluses and minuses.
But the major complaint Scheaffer has against Dawkins is that his web site sells stuff. THAT’S what makes Dawkins a REAL fundamentalist, a personality cultist. He natters on about Hitchens in much the same ad hominem vein, attributing his religious hostility to his relationships with his religious brother as well as his religious ex-wife.
If you are hoping to understand the link Schaeffer makes between fundamentalism and atheism, then read no farther than this: it is simply that some of the most popularly read atheists have a passionate personality, which therefore defines their message merely as an ingredient to obtain the cult that supposedly goes along with such fundamentalism.
All other considerations are secondary to that keen if incomprehensible insight. And a personality cult is fundamentalism, let us not forget, because our esteemed Schaeffer says so. Such is the refined definition that so exceedingly betters the simplistic version of religious belief criticized by the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens. As for their message? It’s all wrong, of course, as Schaeffer’s cherry picked quotations and hugely biased interpretation of them can attest. Dennett is absolved by His Worshipfulness because, well, because Dennett seems so much nicer. Thus we can be gob-smacked at the profundity of Schaeffer’s conclusion:
If Hitchens being Hitchens is an example of those “hardwon human attainments,” the rest of us would do well to avoid them. If Dawkins messianic/commercial website is the future of atheism, we might just be entering a new age of religion pushed there by the reaction to the reaction against religion. What a zinger! Religion will grow because of the reaction to these ‘cults of personalities.’
Oh please. What tripe.
Read the entire long winded diatribe here if you can do so without bleeding from the ears.