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Chris Hedges on New Atheism, the God Debate, Science and Religion, and Self Delusion

Luke Breuer
2018-09-28 15:34 UTC

YouTube: Chris Hedges on New Atheism, the God Debate, Science and Religion, and Self-Delusion (2008)

book: I Don't Believe in Atheists: The Dangerous Rise of the Secular Fundamentalist
Partial Transcript

3:06 So I actually came towards these New Atheists fairly predisposed to accept the tradition that they said they represented. Upon reading their works, however, and engaging in a debate with them, I was appalled to find that what they had done is essentially replicate the fundamentalist beliefs of Christian conservatives with secular language, in secular garb. They had, like the radical Christian Right, created a binary world view, of us and them, of good and evil, of black and white. They externalize evil, in the same way the Christian Right does. Evil is not something within the human heart, endemic to all of us, something that we must all struggle against, but evil is a force out there that once we eradicate, will allow us to advance forward, morally, if not to a perfect society, to a more perfect society.

4:10 This kind of utopian vision, wedded to the dangerous belief that violence can be used to advance this vision, to purify the world, is characteristic of most utopian movements. These movements have been the curse of modern societies since probably the Jacobins in France. It goes back of course to the Enlightenment itself. The Enlightenment was a blessing in many ways, a reaction to the anti-intellectualism, oppression, superstition, bigotry of the Church, but it was also a curse. What the Enlightenment did was that it adopted the linear notion of time, which is a peculiar product of the Hebraic and Christian traditions—the idea that we're moving towards redemption or salvation. This is completely foreign in Oriental religions and completely foreign to the Greeks, who believed that both individual life and societal or communal life is about birth, growth, degeneration, and death. There was a cyclical quality to existence.

5:32 But what the Enlightenment did is it dropped the wisdom of original sin. It stated, probably most clearly by Augustine in City of God, City of Man—a great work—where he argued that the perfect society or the "City of God" could only be created by God, that it was incapable of being created by humankind because we were endemically flawed. The Enlightenment jettisoned this idea and put their faith in science, rational human beings, and knowledge as a way to advance humankind and create a more perfect world. This belief is extremely dangerous, because it is a short step—as the Jacobins proved with the Committee of Virtue and the Reign of Terror—that once you define certain groups of human beings as impediments to that progress, if you believe that they are incapable of being converted or reformed, then they must be eradicated. And I think the vast killing projects that we saw in the last century by Communists and Fascists is directly tied to that Enlightenment vision.

27:11 Religion, like art, is an attempt to deal with the nonrational. That's not irrational, nonrational—the most powerful forces that inform all of our lives. Love, beauty, the search for meaning, our mortality, grief, alienation; these cannot be empirically measured. This is why Freud said he could never write about love. He could write about sex, but he couldn't write about love. Religious systems are human creations; God is a human concept. All religious systems are flawed. All of them are finite attempts to deal with the infinite, to deal with those transcendent forces and the need that human beings have for the sacred. I think early in religious life, art and religion were not divorced. I think art itself is a religious ritual—certainly an important ritual. What art and religion are trying to do is acknowledge, preserve, and to a certain extent explain these forces that make up a complete human beings. I think that is probably one of the great failings of the New Atheists: that they don't distinguish between the nonrational and the irrational.