Christian theologian unhappy with atheist books.
John Haught is a very unhappy theologian. He is particularly unhappy about the “outbreak of provocative atheistic treatises” by people like Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins. I would assume he means Dennett as well though he didn’t mention him.
To be fair we should note that these books are atheist treatises in one sense but not another. They are treatises by atheists but not necessarily treatises on atheism. For instance the book by Sam Harris does explore why atheism is logical as much as he explores the destructive nature of religion in the world. The same is true for the book by Dawkins.
Haught is disappointed because he finds the works “unchallenging theologically”. He says this puts it on the same lefel “of reflection on faith that one can find in contemporary creationist and fundamentalist literature.” Let us be clear about something, that is the exact level at which most Christians understand their beliefs. Believers in America are not like Haught and Haught is unhappy about that. There is little reason to respond to the Haught’s of the world because they have almost no influence. They are almost as irrelevent in Christianity as they are in the world at large.
Nor is it the purpose of these books to discuss the elitist ideas of a gaggle of ignored theologians. These books were addressing the impact of religion in the world today. And theologians like Haught simply have no impact. Churches that don’t take the consistently irrational view of the fundamentalists have been losing members for the most part. Churches that are literalists grow. Why? Because people yearn for a consistency. And liberal theologians make no more sense to their fellow Christians than they do to the typical atheist.
We s should note that the views of theologians like Haught have been debunked in the past. George Smith’s book Atheism: The Case Against God ($15.95, available from Laissez Faire Books, 1 800 326 0996) has dealth with the nonsense of theologians rather thoroughly. Books that deal with the religion at this level have limited impact because most people don’t think at that level. Smith’s books has been around for years and is an excellent discussion on the irrationality of the concepts of a deity. And while many atheists attribute their non-belief to Mr. Smith’s excellent work it has never been a best seller. It wasn’t a best seller for the same reason that Mr. Haught has almost no influence within Christianity -- it doesn’t address religion the way most people see it.
Very few theists are conviced of theism. That is, they don’t come to theism from a logical perspective. They were not reasoned into believing and won’t be reasoned out of it. Most people just accepted it because they were taught it and they thought it was good. As religion has become more consistent, by ignoring the theologians like Haught and embracing the preachers like Robertson, people have become more dismayed. People tend to cling to religion because they think it has utility. They are religious because they think it is “good” not because they think it is true. They have rarely considered the “true” aspect.
The current spate of books by atheist are popular because they address the real issue of religion for most people. They address they question of whether or not religion is good. That is bound to disappoint the inconsequential theologians like Mr. Haught but that is why they are popular.
Haught whines that these authors “debate with these extremists rather than with any major theologians.” Well, the extremists, as Haught puts it, are the bulk of American Christiandom and America is the last major Christian nation in the world. The major theologians were debunked long ago so it would be unproductive to do it again. What these “new atheists” did was address Christianity as it really is today, not as irrelevent theologians would wish it to be.
There are two arguments that one can make in this field. One is to discuss the logic of theism and the other is to discuss the results of theism. That these books conver the later doesn’t mean that no books on the former exist. Mr. Haught just chooses to ignore them.
Haught laughs at Hitchens for discussing the “factually irreconcilable accounts of Jesus’ birth”. Haught admits the Bible has contradictions. He wants Hitchens to ignore the contradictions and concentrate on the ramblings of theologians. Yet the typical Christian gets his ideas of such things from the Bible not from individuals like Haught. Haught’s real complaint is not with the “new atheists” but with the old Christians. It is the Christians who take literalist interpretations seriously. That the members of his own faith are extremists who believe contradictory things is Haught’s problem not the problem of the new atheists.
In the end it would be absurd to write a book that address the theology of Mr. Haught. Mr. Haught might read it but very other people would. Mr. Haught’s liberal version of Christianity is a dying theology believed by fewer and fewer Christians. The reason is that it is as irrational as fundamentalist Christianity but far less consistent. Mr. Haught tries to reconcile primative theism with rationality and reason. That can’t be done.
In any conflict between individuals holding similar premises the one who is more consistent will win the rational debate. Fundamentalist Christians and liberal theologians both hold similar premises about God. But the fundamentalists is more consistent with his premises than the liberal theologian. Hence fundamentalism has become the predominate Christian view and liberal denominations have imploded.
The liberal theologian who embraces reason sometimes and theology sometimes is trapped. He can’t apply either consistently. If he applies reason consistently he ends up having less and less religion as he goes along. His god shrinks. If he is entirely consistent his god disappears altogether. The god talk of liberal theologians borders on nothingness. The god who can’t be comprehended is a god who barely exists for the human mind. And the god who barely exists is not about to inspire faith. The fundamentalists present the traditional view of God. It might be irrational but it is something that people can het ahold of of and cling to. The god of liberalism is a brief, barely visible whisp of smoke. You can’t cling to it. You can’t believe it. It has no appeal.
Mr. Haught's real dispute is not with atheists but with his fellow believers. Atheists don't address Mr. Haught's theology because, for the most party, Christians have rejected it. If one is to rebutt Christianity you need to rebutt the Christianity that is believed not the wishful thinking of a few old men. Haught is ignored by atheists because Christians ignored him long ago.