One belief does not a religion make

There’s nothing like a righteous religious leader for a good dose of stagnant inanity. Sydney Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen doesn’t let us down (SBS, ABC, News Ltd):

As we can see by the sheer passion and virulence of the atheist – they seem to hate the Christian God – we are not dealing here with cool philosophy up against faith without a brain.

One should immediately be suspicious of the phrase “the atheist”. Those two words alone give Jensen away, if you think about it for a moment. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, it brings to mind whinging complaints about “the Jew”. The reason he does it, I imagine, is that it carries more weight than just “atheists”. He’s not referring to the group overall, but to each and every member of it. They’re all the same, so nuanced reasoning is not required.

The “passion and virulence” of atheists was picked up on earlier by Monash University Professor Gary Bouma, who accuses atheists of stoking sectarian conflict. This is a convenient rhetorical device used to turn “arguing the point” into something negative. I haven’t heard of any atheist mobs hurling bricks through church windows. It’s really just hypocritical invective.

“Atheists hate God” has been a long-running mantra in certain religious circles, voiced frequently by those who apparently see no contradiction in the idea of hating an entity that one does not believe to exist. Christians do not generally “hate” the various supernatural entities of other religions (as far as I’m aware), so why would atheists “hate” the Christian God? I find it incredible that this misconception continues. Jensen clearly suffers from an acute lack of imagination.

Atheism is every bit of a religious commitment as Christianity itself.

This is a manifest falsehood, made all the more dishonest because Jensen uses such emphasis. Christianity posits an entire volume of miracles, historical events, prophecies, commandments, virtues, vices and assorted supernatural beings, not to mention the church’s additional evolving beliefs, rituals and systems of authority over the last two millennia. What dogma does atheism have to compare to all this? Atheism merely states that there is no God, and even that is argued over within the atheist community. (Is it right to say that God doesn’t exist, or merely that we cannot substantiate the concept of God?)

As a general remark, it’s curious that religious leaders choose to describe atheism condescendingly as a religion. They have no problem describing as religions their own institutions, which purport to offer the most important truths that you can possibly know. Surely, if their world view has any merit, calling atheism a religion would be elevating, not denigrating it. This is a hint that our protagonists don’t truly believe what they’re saying. I suspect they know at some level, perhaps subconsciously, that religion cannot compete with science or higher philosophy; that in fact it does not offer the absolute truth of the universe. Instead, they merely resort to suggesting (without a hint of justification) that atheism also suffers from the same fundamental problems.

It represents the latest version of the human assault on God, born out of resentment that we do not in fact rule the world and that God calls on us to submit our lives to him.

It is a form of idolatry in which we worship ourselves.

The notion of a “human assault on God” is rather amusing. Is Jensen really saying that rebellious atheists are ganging up on the Supreme Being? The force that supposedly created time itself and brought into existence a trillion galaxies is under “assault” from the electrical impulses of a bunch of organic molecules on one tiny rock? Forgive me if I don’t show overflowing concern for His well-being. Even if I believed in Him, I’d expect the Creator of the Universe to be a little more resilient than that.

As for resentment and idolatry, I suspect this is just part of how Jensen justifies his own faith. The notion that it might be possible to not worship anything at all seems alien to people who make these sorts of arguments. They don’t truly believe that atheism is even possible, so they translate it into something else more amenable to their understanding.

Jensen might reflect on the company in which he finds himself. Among the other religious commentators of late is Catholic Bishop of Parramatta Anthony Fisher:

Last century we tried godlessness on a grand scale and the effects were devastating: Nazism, Stalinism, Pol Pot-ery, mass murder, abortion and broken relationships – all promoted by state-imposed atheism.

This is why I think I’m safe from Godwin’s Law. It’s pure self-parody. I’m happy to see that, in a list containing Nazism and Stalinism, Fisher found room to bemoan the tyranny of broken relationships.

2 thoughts on “One belief does not a religion make

  1. I am very glad to see such a well reasoned rebuttal of the idiocy spouted by church leaders yesterday. Nice work, Dave!

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