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The folly of militant atheism


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In the fall 2016 issue of The Baffler, Sam Kriss takes on contemporary defenders of a particularly dogmatic form of atheism, including Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye. Kriss doesn’t counter them by upholding religious faith. Rather, he shows how their militant commitment to a “rational” universe tends to downplay forms of social and political disorder, irrationality, and domination. Here’s an excerpt:

The atheists stand against unreason and untruth, and because the least you could say about the world is that it’s all true, they find themselves taking on the same job as Hegel—to “defend reality against its detractors.” He wrote that philosophy is theodicy, and while to modern ears this identification has the tenor of a critique, his project was entirely without irony. What’s more, it didn’t really work: every stupid shitty historical form is eventually upheld in its progression toward absolute knowledge; merely understanding something under this grand dispensation is equated with a justification of the object of your understanding.

The modern variant follows a broadly similar line, and with more success: it turns out you can do theodicy much more efficiently once you remove that annoying cantankerous God from the equation altogether. But as Kierkegaard showed, equating the good with the mere possibility of knowledge can only drive you mad.

If our only problem were that we were backward, we could always catch up. If the real challenge before us were a simple paucity of facts, we could always learn them. But the real horrors of the twenty-first century aren’t horrors of superstition and unreason, but the far more deadly horrors of a rationally administered world we are endlessly condemned to repeat. Our spherical earth is increasingly organized like one colossal factory, operating seamlessly and just in time, teeming with millions of tiny and unwilling workers, slurping up the expertise of ten thousand sharpened brains—and it’s not beautiful, it’s Hell. Everyone is wasting their lives. Everyone is unhappy. It’s not just you. The world is insane, insane in a way that doesn’t even require any of the announcements from its administrators to be factually untrue.

Image of Richard Dawkins via Salon.