Friday, May 24, 2013

Why Stop There?

I keep up with quite a few atheist writers and several atheist blogs.  (In all fairness, to some degree I write an atheist blog.)  What they--we--all seem to have in common is a sneering dismissal of religious beliefs in all their manifestations.

That is not a bad thing.

Believing in things that aren't true can be very dangerous, especially when large swaths of people are taught to believe that...oh I don't know, climate change is a hoax (or worse, the path to the Rapture), or...oh, I don't know, God wants you to kill the infidels.  These kinds of unfounded beliefs should be mocked, discredited, pushed to the fringes, and then mercifully ignored (except for further casual mockery)--ideally before the ocean reaches your doorstep or meat cleaver wielding lunatics decide to visit the local V.A.

It's a noble goal, this tearing of other people's veils, and in our day and age it literally has the power to save the world (let no pretenders tell you otherwise), but lord knows pursuing it properly can eat up a lot of time and mental energy.

And yet, I'm very confused as to why all the atheist writers I read tend to stop there.

It strikes me as hardhearted and fundamentally anti-humanistic to tear down the Bible's claim as the literal Word of God without also acknowledging that it is an absolutely stunning literary achievement.  (If that sounds questionable to you, Erich Auerbach will put a fatherly hand on your shoulder and explain why you should step out of the echo chamber post-haste to let your ears stop ringing.)

Like any monumental work of literature, it has things to teach us about being human.  Rightfully lampooning the idea that the sky is filled with water or that the world is 6,000 years old without then helping people to marvel at the weird, nihilistic genius of the Book of Job or the psychedelic explosions of poetry in Revelations is to miss the forest for the trees.  (I might even threaten my godless street cred by admitting that Jesus makes for a very enthralling protagonist.)  It would be like getting caught up debunking the existence of the Cyclops and failing to enjoy Odysseus' wit in escaping the monster's cave.

Many lament the "shrillness" of the current atheist movement.  I don't mind it.  Anyone who ignores a truth because it was bluntly stated is someone who was not in the market for truth to begin with, and so not someone I consider a fellow traveler anyway.  But I do worry for the "souls" of my fellow atheists out there, the ones whose righteous animus toward wrong thinking poisons their ability to draw pleasure from one of mankind's greatest written works.

The most pointed charge our critics level at us is equating atheism with emptiness, and if we focus only on dismantling their erroneous belief system it can often appear (appear, I say) that they are right.  I think the proper response is to go further than just twitting them for mistaking mythology as fact by then enjoying their "holy" book for the sublimely human piece of art it really is.  Because how maddening would they find that and how much richer would our lives be for it?


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