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The End of Reason
A Response to the New Atheists
By Ravi Zacharias Zondervan
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One Dear fellow American,
Two Australian sailors staggered out of a London pub into a dense fog and looked around for help. As they steadied themselves, they saw a man coming into the pub but evidently missed the military medals flashing on his dress uniform. One sailor blurted out, "Say, bloke, do you know where we are?" The officer, thoroughly offended, snarled in response, "Do you men know who I am?" The sailors looked at each other, and one said to the other, "We're really in a mess now. We don't know where we are, and he don't know who he is."
This story is appropriate to the discussion because, by the end of Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation, we don't know who we are in essence or where we are in the grand scheme of a world without God. Harris's mass of verbiage has all the hallmarks of outdated, overused arguments (of the "weak point, shout louder" type) that are further weakened by a tragic misuse of the Bible and misunderstanding of Christianity and of other religions as well. But even as he rails against God, denying us any transcendent point of reference, he fully embraces God's life-defining prerogatives. His criticisms are caustic, his alternatives bankrupt. One of my professors at graduate school used to say of a critic, "He's better at smelling rotten eggs than at laying good ones." The eggs that Harris claims are rotten are, in fact, good eggs, while the eggs he has laid, claiming they are good, are the rotten ones.
As I read Sam Harris's books, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, I felt as though I was being dragged through a vortex of emotion - from incredulity to outrage to a deep sadness. I wondered if anything was too sacred for him to mock. I bristled against the unvarnished disrespect, distortion, and illogicality of his thoughts that combined to reject any belief in God. It created a titanic struggle within me for an obvious reason: he has attacked that which lies at the very heart of my being and, need I say, of millions of others as well. His is a "take no prisoners" style - both fists flailing in an attempt to hit every conceivable expression of religion, Christianity in particular.
There is an English proverb that when you throw mud at others, you not only get your hands dirty but also lose a lot of ground. Harris may well have done that with his book. If he thinks his belief is noble, he has used ignoble and slanderous rhetoric to communicate it. Why his ridicule? Why such unbridled mockery? I fail to understand his extremist thinking, which has even caused other atheists embarrassment.
Atheists Divided on This New Atheism
Commenting on Richard Dawkins's book The God Delusion, which strikes many of the same notes as Harris's books, fellow atheist Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy at Florida State University, says, "The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist." And in response to Sam Harris's presentation at the Salk Institute, atheist and professor of psychology Scott Atran used almost identical words: "I find it fascinating that among the brilliant scientists and philosophers at the conference, there was no convincing evidence presented that they know how to deal with the basic irrationality of human life other than to insist against all reason and evidence that things ought to be rational and evidence based. It makes me embarrassed to be a scientist and atheist."
Ruse and Atran restore my confidence in the sciences - unlike Harris and Dawkins, who make me leery of trusting in their findings when their prejudice is so venomous and obvious. Even with all the restraint I can muster, this is the most strongly worded book I have ever written, because I am alarmed at the cultural devastation wreaked by this kind of thinking.
Who Am I to Write This Response?
For those who do not know me, it may be helpful to introduce myself before I go any further. It may seem ironic that I, who hail from the East, now find myself pleading with a Westerner to remember where he has come from.
I was born to Indian parents and raised in India. My ancestors were priests from the highest caste of Hinduism in India's deep south. Religion is embedded in that culture, and India has probably spawned more religions than any other nation on earth. Hinduism alone boasts 330 million gods in its pantheon. Consequently, a lifetime of watching ceremony, ritual, superstition, and all that goes along with that worldview made me totally reject all belief in the supernatural. Many, many times I wondered how people could actually believe what they said they did, and I marveled at the masses' apparent commitment to gullibility. On this I agree with Sam Harris.
But never once did I consider the vitriol that Harris, Dawkins, and the new breed of atheists have spouted in their books and arguments. Frankly, rather than being so cavalier about their attitude, they would do better to seriously rethink whether they can accomplish what they are setting out to do by defacing the better part of humanity, among whom are Nobel laureates, brilliant philosophers and scientists, and others - peaceable men and women who have labored hard to make this a better world.
Now I readily admit that the accomplishments of these people did not justify their beliefs for me, but they did merit common courtesy and respect. Is it possible, however, that Harris's disrespect is justified because in an atheistic world, love for one's fellow human beings is a foreign concept? I certainly hope not. I know he tries to protect himself by tossing a bone now and then, saying, "I did qualify my position," but that's an old philosophical trick that is readily seen through. His impassioned hostility comes through loud and clear. There is nothing fragrant about atheism when its attitude smells like this.
My Exposure to the World's Religions
People often say that India is the most religious country in the world. It may be true, yet many in India live as practical atheists.
Excerpted from The End of Reason by Ravi Zacharias Copyright © 2008 by Ravi Zacharias. Excerpted by permission.
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