I don’t often rebut other articles, but on occasion I feel that I would be intellectually negligent not to do so. One such article that requires a response is entitled “America Without God” (see here). It was recently published in The Atlantic by contributing writer Shadi Hamid, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute. This article is so bloated with egregiously specious arguments that it is a real challenge to rebut it concisely.
The tl;dr that is being put forth by Mr. Hamid boils down to the following fallacious assertions…
- Religiosity, or religious-like conviction, is a universal and unavoidable human condition that must inevitably manifest itself in some fashion.
- This “religiosity” is nebulous, but seems to be defined by Hamid as an innate human compulsion to embrace an “ultimate loyalty” expressed through “strongly held ideological convictions.”
- As religion has declined, the resulting “God-shaped hole” has been filled by a similarly fervent set of political convictions.
- This “sublimation” of religion into politics has not resulted in a more rational world as promised and expected. Therefore, secularism is disproven as better set of beliefs.
- Religiosity cannot be “effectively channeled into political belief without the structures of actual religion to temper and postpone judgment.”
- Christianity is superior since it motivates people to be forgiving and to “withhold final judgements for another time – perhaps until eternity.“
- Without a religious reawakening, we are left with either “world-weary resignation,” “violence,” or a “divisive wokeism.”
- Therefore, we should give up on secularism and re-embrace Christianity as our best hope for a better world. If we do not, dire consequences will result.
Sigh, where do I start?
First, like many articles in The Atlantic, this one is bloated and convoluted and loaded with gratuitous and irrelevant references and quotes. I don’t know if this is simply to fill space, or to argue by quantity, or to argue by creating the perception of authority, but one should not be misled into thinking that because it is hard to follow that it must be really smart.
By way of contrast I will quickly and clearly list some of the problems with this article…
- There is no evidence that “religiosity” is a necessary or unavoidable condition. It may be difficult to stop drinking whisky without dipping into the cooking sherry, but this does not disprove sobriety.
- The vast majority of Trump supporters are also the most gullibly religious believers in our population. They did not turn to Trump to fill any “God-shaped void.” They embrace Trumpism because their religious rationalizations have conditioned their brains to accept nonsense.
- The Left has not embraced “wokeism” to fill any void left by secularism just as atheists in general have not felt compelled to turn to anything beyond sound rational thinking.
- To assert that “secularism has failed” as a given is a ridiculous claim. First, we are still hugely religious as a nation. Second, secularism HAS succeeded dramatically in making our nation a saner and more inclusive place for all and has protected us from the worst extremes of religious zealotry.
- To claim that Christianity “tempers” our worst impulses is again asserted as a given without any serious credibility. There are countless burned, tortured, and lynched spirits that can attest to Christian forgiveness.
- And why is an eternal deferral of judgement and punishment a good thing? Justice must be timely to be fair and must be exacted in the real world.
- Lastly, but hardly the last flaw, is the fear-mongering that forms the final argument. Embrace Christianity or all the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah will be befall you!
The author is clearly motivated by a revulsion of Trumpism, a movement only rational-sounding to religious magical thinkers, then makes a false equivalence with wokeism, and concludes that the problem is secularism and that the cure is yet more religion. He attempts to maneuver us into an intellectual false choice between a secular dystopia and acceptance of organized religion as the only possible alternative. This is, quite simply, nonsense.
Look, I know I am being harsh. But this is a high-profile article that is receiving a lot of publicity. The author is out on the interview circuit spreading this nonsense of pro-religious manipulation and fear-mongering on talk-shows all across the country.
The truth is that we have not yet given secularism a chance to show us a saner world free from religion. The truth is that many of us are atheists and quite comfortable. We will not recant on our death bed nor will we ever pray in a foxhole, and we do not need to fill any God-shaped hole with Trumpism or Wokeism or any other *ism.
Now, that is not to say there is no problem. I have always emphasized that as an atheist I would not want to simply “do away with religion.” Religion has trained our brains to accept nonsense. We must fix that first or else we’ll simply adopt other nonsense, yes like Trumpism.
Reason can be our rock. Our best hope as a species is not merely the least destructive catechism of nonsense. We can learn to be rational. That is why my focus has always been on teaching fact-based thinking rather than attacking religion. My book (see here) was based on the premise that we must eliminate magical thinking, religious or non, by teaching rational thinking.
So I have still not given up on the vision of a rational, ethical, and healthy secular world and I assume John Lennon would not take back his words either…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one