Are atheists really evangelicals?

via Andrew Sullivan

Reza Aslan thinks atheists are so like evangelicals that they have in fact become evangelical.

Of course, positing the existence of a transcendent reality that exists beyond our material experiences does not necessarily imply the existence of a Divine Personality, or God. (In some ways, the idea of God is merely the personal affirmation of the transcendent experience.) But what if did? What if one viewed the recurring patterns of religious phenomena that so many diverse cultures and civilizations–separated by immeasurable time and distance–seem to have shared as evidence of an active, engaging, transcendent presence (what Muslims call the Universal Spirit, Hindus call prana, Taoists call chi’i, Jews call ruah, and Christians call the Holy Spirit) that underlies creation, that, in fact, impels creation? Is such a possibility any more hypothetical than say, superstring theory or the notion of the multiverse? Then again, maybe the patterns of religious phenomenon signify nothing. Maybe they indicate little more than a common desire among all peoples to answer similar questions of “Ultimate Concern,” to use the Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich’s famous phrase. The point is that, like any researcher or critic, like any scientist, I’m open to possibilities.

The new atheists will say that religion is not just wrong but evil, as if religion has a monopoly on radicalism and violence; if one is to blame religion for acts of violence carried out in religion’s name then one must also blame nationalism for fascism, socialism for Nazism, communism for Stalinism, even science for eugenics. The new atheists claim that people of faith are not just misguided but stupid–the stock response of any absolutist. Some argue that the religious impulse is merely the result of chemicals in the brain, as though understanding the mechanism by which the body experiences transcendence delegitimizes the experience (every experience is the result of chemical reactions). What the new atheists do not do, and what makes them so much like the religious fundamentalists they abhor, is admit that all metaphysical claims–be they about the possibility of a transcendent presence in the universe or the birth of the incarnate God on earth–are ultimately unknowable and, perhaps, beyond the purview of science. That may not be a slogan easily pasted on the side of a bus. But it is the hallmark of the scientific intellect.

Heh. There is a god, one who delivers smack downs like this.



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  • Joes


    This is drivel.

    One of the first things that Richard Dawkins admits is that he can’t prove there is no god. It’s just that it’s highly unlikely. Just like you can’t prove that there isn’t a invisible flying spaghetti monster that created everything… but it too is unlikely.

  • Joes


    This is drivel on the same scale as that banana/hand nonsense.

    One of the first things that Richard Dawkins admits is that he can’t prove there is no god. It’s just that it’s highly unlikely. Just like you can’t prove that there isn’t a invisible flying spaghetti monster that created everything… but it too is unlikely.

  • Misanthropic Curmudgeon

    I wonder if it is posible for this Reza Aslan (whoever that might be) to paint with a broader brush in their gross generalisations, misrepresentations and construction of strawpeople?

    To represent the infantile aregument that sci­ence was resposnible for eugen­ics is absurd and demonstrates ignorance of them both, and then to go on and suggest that “all meta­phys­i­cal claims … are ulti­mately unknow­able and, per­haps, beyond the purview of sci­ence” again demonstrates a narrow minded position on both what science is (and is not) and amounts to an uncurious throwing of the hands in the air and shrugging ‘dunno’.

    Indeed, I’ve seen Reza Aslan arumenst presented in many a Sunday School and happy-clappy church in my time, and that is about the level of what Cameron (blinded by his own faith?) considers to be a ‘slap-down’?!?!

  • NZ Groover

    When you think about it, Atheists and (insert faith here) are no different. Both have an absolute belief in their position despite the fact that we know very little about the world we live in.

  • Gosman

    I’m sorry but I haven’t seen anybody seriously try and claim religion is not merely wrong but evil. Some misguided people might be more inclined to use Religion to justfy behaviour which is abhorent but as you point out they can do the same with other man made philosophical views such as Communism.

    What people like Dawkins points out is because there is little chance of scientifically proving the reality of a particular Religious tradition it shouldn’t be treated as if it is beyond criticism and used as the main basis from which our society should be structured.

  • TitanUranus

    Well, I will have to disagree with you on this one Whale, hardly a smackdown.
    It`s the same tired old strawman dribble the lazy religious apologetics drag out everytime,
    Misanthropic Curmudgeon explains it perfectly.
    You and I are both atheists ,Whale , I just go one god further if you were to apply the same thinking that tells you that Thor, Buddha,Jupiter , Horus , Tane and all other gods don`t exist and apply it to your particular god you would have no option but to admit your god does not exist either.

  • thor42

    Interesting comments by Reza Aslan (I’m atheist myself, btw).
    When it comes to religions, I have no problems with all but one of them – Islam. A very good case can be made that Islam is evil, and is much closer to a *cult/ideology* than a “religion”. ( I’ve seen Dawkins criticising Islam along these lines, btw, and I agree with him. )
    For what it’s worth, I’m not one of those atheists who runs around trying to convert people (irony!) from religion to atheism.
    Anyway, this could be an interesting thread…… ;)

  • Phronesis

    The problem for all of you calling yourselves atheists is that you are caught out by the last few sentences above. Agnostic is a far more defensible position.

  • thehawkreturns

    There is a fundamental difference between most atheists and theists. Atheists can entertain the possibility that one day some proof might emerge about a God (or two) and they would be are perfectly happy, albeit surprised, to accept that God in that case. Theists can never accept the fact that there is no god even when they cannot produce a shred of supportable evidence for a god. Atheists use science and rational thought. Theists are generally brainwashed from early childhood and have not developed the cerebral maturity to escape.

  • TitanUranus
  • Aljolette

    Hi, just a heads up that Reza Aslan is not a christian (or jew for that matter). His god is allah, which for those who know about these matters, might put quite a different spin on his article. He is one of the more important “normalisation of Islam” in the West guys. Just a thought. So when he talks about “God”, he’s not talking about the god you think he’s talking about :-)

  • Aljolette

    Hi, just a heads up for those that might not know – Reza Aslan is well known overseas as the face of the “normalisation of Islam” in the West. The “God” he talks about is not the one you think he’s talking about. Some of you might think that doesn’t matter in this context and maybe you’re right. But those who follow these matters know very well who he is. Very well. Love your work Cam! :-) (even though we don’t always agree of course, which just makes it more fun)

  • gonadman

    if the devil is six then god is seven this monkeys gone to heaven this monkeys gone to heaven

  • tristanb

    If there was a god – it sure as hell ain’t the Christian one – he’s one nasty motherfucker, and that Bible is an absolute joke of a boring waste of time.

    I don’t care if people believe in God. But I gotta say it lowers my opinion of their intelligence.

    Groover, atheists are open to whatever there is evidence about. But we’re not going to believe something because some con-artist “feels it in their bones”.

  • James

    Sorry but most atheists aren’t spending their day wondering about God…they lack a belief so spend as much time on the silly idea as they do on the notion that an ice cream comet is streaking through space. And they are having great sex as opposed to the believers who are racked with guilt…;-)

  • Misanthropic Curmudgeon

    Tristanb’s observation that the god of the Jews/Christians/Muslims is “one nasty moth­er­fucker” is (profanely) accurate. (Alledgedly) the god of the bible killed about 2,000,000 for not obeying his wishes and fawning over him. The (alledged) devil a couple.

    The best cure for Christianity (or any religion) is to sit down and criticially read thier texts. For example, the bible contradicts itself on when this jesus-fellow was (allededly) born, when he (alledgedly) died, his (alledged) blood lines, the prophesies that were supposidly fullfilled….

  • Misanthropic Curmudgeon

    Further to tristianb’s comment that “I don’t care if peo­ple believe in God. But I gotta say it low­ers my opin­ion of their intelligence”, that is one reason I love it when people wear crosses around their necks, tea-towels or doileys on their heads, or walk around with a tablecloth over their face: It makes it easier to spot the idiots.

  • bunswalla

    Cameron, I contend that we’re both atheists; I simply believe in one fewer god than you. And when you understand why you reject all other gods but your own, you will perhaps understand why I reject yours.