Monday, October 08, 2007



You have to give Dinesh D'Souza a point or two for a kind of up-front honesty. In announcing his new book, What's So Great About Christianity, that he claims is "the first comprehensive answer to the atheist books out there, such as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great, he is clear enough about his ulterior motive:

I'd also like to kick some of the atheists off the bestseller lists. You can help by ordering my book online or asking for it at your local bookstore.
Uh, huh. God helps those who help themselves, I guess.

Obviously, I haven't read D'Souza's screed, I wouldn't think of lining his pockets by buying it and I will only attempt to hunt it down at the local library for its sociological ... or comic ... interest. But there is something in D'Souza's approach that is worrying to me.

He starts off lamenting the disconnect between Christians and "the secular world."

Today's Christians know that they do not, as their ancestors did, live in a society where God's presence was unavoidable. No longer does Christianity form the moral basis of society. Many of us now reside in secular communities, where arguments drawn from the Bible or Christian revelation carry no weight, and where we hear different language from that spoken in church.

Instead of engaging this secular world, most Christians have taken the easy way out. They have retreated into a Christian subculture where they engage Christian concerns. Then they step back into secular society, where their Christianity is kept out of sight until the next church service.
Those of us who regularly decry the influence of sectarian religion on our politics may be scratching our heads at this point but D'Souza is talking about something else:

The Christianity that is defended here is not "fundamentalism" but rather traditional Christianity, what C.S. Lewis called "mere Christianity," the common ground of beliefs between Protestants and Catholics.
And D'Souza wants to raise the alarm with them:

This Christianity is the real target of the secular assault.
Notice that "atheist" has subtly become "secular"? And, according to D'Sousa, allowing for the existence of the secular is a betrayal of the Faith:

Christians have become postmodernists of a sort: they live by the gospel of the two truths. There is religious truth, reserved for Sundays and days of worship, and there is secular truth, which applies the rest of the time.

This divided lifestyle is opposed to what the Bible teaches. ... They have instead sought a workable, comfortable modus vivendi in which they agree to leave the secular world alone if the secular world agrees to leave them alone.
D'Souza sees his best ally in making this case to be the New Atheists themselves. After discussing Stephen Jay Gould's Nonoverlapping Magisteria, he goes on to say:

But a group of prominent atheists -- many of them evolutionary biologists -- has launched a powerful public attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular ...

These atheists reject the Gould solution. They say that a religious outlook makes specific claims about reality: there is a God, there is life after death, miracles do happen, and so on. If you are agnostic or atheist, you have a very different understanding of reality, one that is formed perhaps by a scientific or rationalist outlook. The argument of the atheists is that both views of reality cannot be simultaneously correct. If one is true, then the other is false.

The atheists have a point: there are not two truths or multiple truths; there is one truth. Either the universe is a completely closed system and miracles are impossible, or the universe is not a closed system and there is the possibility of divine intervention in it. Either the Big Bang was the product of supernatural creation or it had a purely natural cause. In a larger sense, either the secular view of reality is correct or the religious view is correct.
Speaking for this agnostic, at least, the agnostic position is that such black-and-white thinking is the problem in the first place. But that is a minor point. D'Sousa's rallying cry goes:

The atheists no longer want to be tolerated. They want to monopolize the public square and to expel Christians from it. They want political questions like abortion to be divorced from religious and moral claims. They want to control the school curricula, so that they can promote a secular ideology and undermine Christianity. They want to discredit the factual claims of religion, and they want to convince the rest of society that Christianity is not only mistaken but also evil. They blame religion for the crimes of history and for the ongoing conflicts in the world today. In short, they want to make religion -- and especially the Christian religion -- disappear from the face of the earth.
The danger here isn't so much D'Souza's not very cogent slurring together of secularism, atheism, separation of church and state and paranoia. The danger is the aid and comfort some atheists, in their enthusiasm to right past wrongs, real and perceived, are willing to lend to this vision of the world. It is hardly a new thought that the extremes in any dispute begin to resemble each other in their methods and even their beliefs, merely reaching different conclusions from the same sort of thinking. But when the conclusion of both extremes is that the deeply-held beliefs of the vast majority of people are under attack from your side, it is time to start looking for someplace to hide.

Lord, protect me from my friends and I'll take a care for my enemies.

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