Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Atheists 52, Moderate Christians 14

If the polls are to be believed, atheists are among the least popular people in the United States. So it's somewhat surprising that two recent atheistic treatises, Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation, have been so popular, mainstays on Amazon's bestseller list (though maybe the persecution complex is what's driving atheists to pick up these books).

With the exception of a sojourn earlier this year, when I argued in a movie nerd discussion group (don't ask) against Dawkins' thesis that science can theoretically prove that God doesn't exist, I'd been taking a long vacation from these debates. Religion is bad, their foundational myths have been disproven, the probability of God's existence (at least a God who actively interferes with the affairs of people) is close to nil, the moral teachings are suspect and contradictory, etc. -- I've heard it all before. The anti-religion arguments are mostly right, but sometimes the atheists are so frustratingly literal-minded and dogmatically rational that they turn me off. Frequently, atheists too easily dismiss the non-rational -- the spiritual or mystical experiences that often enrich human lives. People end up talking past one another, wasting everyone's time.

After browsing a few book reviews, I had dismissed Sam Harris as one of these literal-minded atheists who's obsessed with using scientific evidence to reject Biblical passages. These guys always miss the point of religion. So when Andrew Sullivan, self-professed "doubting" Catholic (whatever that means), started posting links to an ongoing internet debate on with Harris on his blog, I didn't even bother. But yesterday one passage grabbed my attention and so I checked it out: lo and behld, Harris is just dead-on. He doesn't just debunk myths; he gets at the *moral failing* of religion, and does so without dismissing spirituality. Sullivan, professional pundit and a sharp debater, can't so much as muster a whimper in response. It's a wholesale rout. Check it out.