The angry atheist

REX MURPHY

When atheists wail for a chaplain, when they lament their status vis-á-vis Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and Christians, we have a group athirst for what they otherwise proclaim they despise.

Richard Dawkins

I think the late Christopher Hitchens' screed against Mother Teresa, his unmanly attempt to pulverize the reputation of the Albanian nun who gave her life to tending Calcutta's dying poor, was the low point of his otherwise stellar output.  It was a wretched addition to the bloated "trying too hard" or "look at me" school of contrarian commentary that illustrated, with needless vigour, the other sad category of anti-god apologetics — the "I'm so angry other people are so stupid for believing in God and are therefore not as smart as me" stream.  (The comic Bill Maher occasionally travels himself with them, as per his movie, the puerile Religulous.)

Anger seems a common condition among this kind.  Hitchens' grim, self-advertising equal, Richard Dawkins, is a very bundle of anger and aggressiveness.  Dawkins can be quite the toad, a kind of Don Rickles for unbelievers.  He appears not so much as a person who subscribes to a particular philosophy or worldview as someone who cannot abide the thought that others do not wish to think the same as he.  There's something almost fanatic about the intensity with which he derides and insults Christians and other faiths (but, it seems to me, mostly Christians).

Such "professional" atheists also display an unseemly infatuation with being regarded as victims.  When they are not being superior and angry, their more frequent pose, they are whining that their non-beliefs do not receive the respect or standing of their opposites.  They cannot stand to be reminded of the mere presence of what they have absolutely no regard for.  A strange posture.

From this sad corner emerge all those hollow laments about Christmas and the creches.  Or wanting to strip any and every sign of the Judeao-Christian inheritance from schools, courts and public meeting places.  They claim a near-allergic response to even the least intrusive manifestation of religious belief, and an especial revulsion to being reminded by any traditional emblem of faith in any place when they might even see one.

They can be very prickly on this stuff.  They have mastered the art of bewailing their discomfort at a breach of that great standby in such matters, their "human rights."  Actually, of course, the comforts of religion, for believers, are not "human" rights at all, but the mercies of a benevolent God.  Thankfully, these fall outside the reach of any tribunal to grant or grieve. 

Evidence of this prickly, acutely self-regarding perspective comes from the U.S., where a group of forlorn and (by their measure) much put upon atheists are making angry demands that atheists in the military be granted their own chaplain.


Other than the whiny schoolyard temper-tantrum logic of "He's got one, so I want one too," what has this silly demand got going for it?  How can a system of thought built on the not believing of/ in something, on the nonexistence of any god, require the services of a chaplain, a — need the qualifier be emphasized?  — spiritual counsellor.  Chaplains offer mediation on the supernatural, the afterlife, the individual's relation with the/a creator. 

Very odd, to say the least.  But, as usual, the professional non-believers see themselves as much put-upon and ignored.  They claim, in fact, to be (within the Army) more numerous than "Jews or Hindus or Buddhists or Muslims."

They unwittingly manifest an admiration and hunger for religion and its many solaces, and proffer anger as a cover for envy.

It's very telling they make this comparison, for here, as in much else of modern atheism, they betray the need to be seen in the very category of those they derogate: a religious one.  Why should those who don't believe at all clamour for the same structures, assists and services of those who in fact do believe?  Funny, you never hear them wishing for their own Hell. 

After all, to chase the religious analogy to its limit, then they should equally be asking for prayer, the remission of sins, occasional fasts and Lenten exercises, and at least Sabbath and Sunday services.  At which, under clouds of incense, they could intone from the works of George Orwell and Thomas Huxley and chant a hymn: Our Dawk, who art in the Guardian, and always on the BBC, hollowed be thy fame, thy royalties come, thy shill be done ..."

When atheists wail for a chaplain, when they lament their status vis-á-vis Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and Christians, we have a group athirst for what they otherwise proclaim they despise.  They unwittingly manifest an admiration and hunger for religion and its many solaces, and proffer anger as a cover for envy.

On the actual question itself, that of chaplains for non-believers, there is little need to pronounce.  It is ludicrous.  Only those seeing through a glass, darkly, could make such a claim in the first place.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Rex Murphy, "The angry atheist." National Post (July 27, 2013).

Reprinted with permission of the National Post.


THE AUTHOR

Rex Murphy is host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup and contributes weekly TV essays on diverse topics to CBC TV's The National. (See Rex's TV commentaries). In addition, he writes book reviews, commentaries, and a weekly column for the National Post.

Rex Murphy was born near St. John's, Newfoundland, where he graduated from Memorial University. In l968, he went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. His primary interest is in language and English literature, but he also has a strong link with politics. His first book, Points of View, is described on Amazon: "With TV commentator and journalist Rex Murphy, it's easy to put a twist on the old parable: when he is good he is very very good, and when he's angry, he's awesome. Uncommonly dignified, relentlessly honest, unencumbered by de rigueur political correctness, and solidly grounded by his Newfoundland roots, Murphy is that rarest of TV types. He's an everyman who happens to be a Rhodes Scholar, and a personality treasured for his brain, not his looks...A cranky intellect, maybe, but an intellect just the same. It's Murphy's almost reluctant cynicism — delivered in language as sharp as shattered glass and aimed squarely at those in ivory towers — that makes Points of View a must-read."

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