The God that whined (National Post July 25,2007)

The God that whined

Barbara Kay, National Post
Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Back in the day, the many atheists I knew went about their unbelieving lives in a quietly sardonic, but non-combative way: They'd abandoned organized religion, but sought no quarrel with those who stayed. They explained their non-belief to their children, but let them join the boy scouts.

Everything old is new again, but ? different. Yesterday's live-and-let-live atheism has morphed into today's truculent "atheism with attitude," where God is not only dead, but --postmodern glee having replaced Nietszchean gloom regarding His demise -- with good riddance to Him.

The new atheists call themselves the "brights," which makes believers and even agnostics the "dims." I daresay deist Albert Einstein would raise a shaggy eyebrow at being so characterized. But he's not alone: About half of scientists believe in God, and they are dismissed as Uncle Toms by the swaggering brights.

A feature article in last Saturday's Post detailed some of the movement's infrastructure: the new atheism's high priests (whose Eureka! tone suggests they invented atheism, though it's as old as religion), Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitch-ens et al.; their Bibles: The End of Faith, The God Delusion, God is Not Great and other books, as well as magazines such as Canadian Free Thinker; their houses of anti-worship, like Toronto's "Centre for Inquiry" and the American Atheist Alliance International; and even their agitprop for kids: CDs such as Friendly Neighbourhood Atheist (roll over, Mr Rogers!) and Beware of Dogma.

Brights have even opened summer camps. Old-style atheists sometimes sent their children to socialist camps. But summer camps specifically devoted to indoctrinating children in anti-religious faith rather than instilling a positive secular faith? This is something new. (Memo to Johnny in cabin #7: A copy of the Psalms was discovered under your mattress. Report to the re-education tent at once!)

The brights' most potentially consequential political thrust, though, is their sly appropriation of martyrish victimspeak, the kind that other collective rights groups have successfully leveraged for political gains.

Atheist Daniel Dennett, author of Breaking the Spell, says that it takes considerable courage to attack religion these days: "I risk a fist to the face or worse. Yet I persist." Others speak of feeling "marginalized."

But the political handwriting on the wall is especially evident in this statement by American activist Herb Silverman: "What I would really like is for atheists to come out of the closet because we are so demonized in our culture."

"Culture"? "Closet"? Uh oh. The ideological appropriation of "rights" vocabulary is the canary in the identity-politics "equality" mine. Once gay persecution is adduced, can the cry for official atheist equity be far behind?

In grievance-collecting, it's a case of "say the right word, and you'll be heard." True, atheists in democratic countries can't conjure up grim tales of the truncheon's midnight thud on the door, but in our politically correct culture, "feelings" of disempowerment or victimization often achieve moral parity with the real thing. So I'm betting it won't be long before our heartstrings will be tugged by activist atheists who claim that Stephen Harper's saying "God bless Canada" makes them feel "violated," or complaining that reading Christianity-stuffed Heidi makes their children feels psychologically "abused."

In a society where the rights of perceived victims are morally privileged over traditional cultural elites (in this case, believers), political influence accrues to those who can make the best case for bias-based collective past suffering and current defencelessness against those perceived as powerful.

Aggressively marketed grievance has worked for women and gays. The same strategy for brights will doubtless end in a government-funded Status of Atheists Council to undo the iniquities of 10,000 years of theocratic hegemony and repression. After that, we may yet see -- don't laugh until you're sure it can't happen -- demands for reparations payout by churches and synagogues to redress the ignominy and shame now-atheist, former (involuntarily-designated) Christians and Jews suffered as children when force-fed the Ten Commandments in Sunday and Hebrew School. (Somehow, I do not envisage a similar campaign by Muslim atheists directed against the madrassas, not sure why ?)

When bullets whiz overhead, there are no atheists in foxholes. What the bitter, bloviating brights fail to realize is that the whole world's a foxhole nowadays, and that their upthrust swollen heads make a better target for our mortal enemies -- religion's cancers and other, secular but equally totalitarian triumphalists -- than those humbly bowed in gratitude for mankind's loftiest ideals and supplication for the courage to defend them.

© National Post 2007