Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Physician and essayist Theodore Dalrymple doubts God but dismisses "new atheists"

Theodore Dalrymple takes on the "New Atheists" in City Journal, and it is all the more interesting because he himself has doubted the existence of God since a school assembly at age nine.

He thinks but little of this spate of anti-God works, saying, for example:
This sloppiness and lack of intellectual scruple, with the assumption of certainty where there is none, combined with adolescent shrillness and intolerance, reach an apogee in Sam Harris’s book The End of Faith. It is not easy to do justice to the book’s nastiness; it makes Dawkins’s claim that religious education constitutes child abuse look sane and moderate.

and also
Lying not far beneath the surface of all the neo-atheist books is the kind of historiography that many of us adopted in our hormone-disturbed adolescence, furious at the discovery that our parents sometimes told lies and violated their own precepts and rules. It can be summed up in Christopher Hitchens’s drumbeat in God Is Not Great: “Religion spoils everything.”

But I will spoil it no more for you.

Toronto journalist David Warren writes to say,
Hitchens & Dawkins are, or were, both capable of charm & wit -- including, even, self-deprecatory wit. It disappears in their atheist tracts. What appears in its place is just the worst sort of narrow, sneering, vindictive,
religious-style bigotry, that any religious person is supposed to be on his
guard against. Which is to say, they do not know what they are talking about; it is "beneath them" even to do the most elementary research into the actual histories & actual beliefs of the people they are attacking; & they will throw any missile that comes to hand, without considering its provenance. It is the flavour of Ulster at its very worst; or worse still, for there is not even a thin pretence of charity.

Dalrymple is by contrast modern, "post-Christian" European at its best. He is not a believer, but he does, actually, know something about Christianity, & he is aware of the need to retain specific virtues -- including charity, including humility -- that were inculcated in the Christian tradition. He is deeply concerned about the preservation of civilization (see his writings on every other subject; for he is a brilliant observer of post-modern life, from the angle of having been a doctor in places like prisons).

I got the same impression as Warren in both cases (the neo-atheists and Dalrymple), but didn't manage to put it half so well.

P.S.: David Limbaugh comments on Christopher Hitchens here.

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