Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Virginia Tech

Let’s tie two timely issues together. This is sometimes dangerous, because when issues are timely, they are also frequently raw, and this means that it is easy to be misunderstood. But I will try to state this basic argument against atheism as briefly and as clearly as I can.

The first timely issue is the presence of the new atheism, which various influential people are crusading for. Regular readers of this blog know that the new atheists are here, they are belligerent, and if you don’t come along with them with glad shouts of acclaim, the obvious explanation for your lack of cooperation is that you’re an idiot. Truculent is the word.

The second issue is the Virginia Tech shooting that the nation is still reeling from. Everyone is appalled, grief-striken, and numb. That is what makes it easy to misunderstand. Everyone is also touched, focused, and teachable. That is what makes it possible to begin to understand.

Here is something I wrote in Letter from a Christian Citizen.

“If the two of us were looking at a news report of the latest atrocity, I would want to say that at some point in the future, in some fundamental way, that will be put right. You want to say, as an atheist, that it will not ever be put right. But you refuse, for some reason, to take the next step and say that there is nothing wrong with it now” (LFACC, p. 54).

I wrote these words long before the Virginia Tech tragedy, but knowing that something awful like it was bound to happen at some point in the future. Sam Harris made a similar point in his book when he described a particular crime, yet future, as inevitable.

Now let me head off the misunderstanding (and it is always the same one). I am not arguing (or otherwise hinting) that Sam Harris, or Richard Dawkins, or any of these new atheists are in any way supporters of this kind of murderous rampage. I know that they are as appalled as I am. So the point is not that they are secret admirerers of the shooter.

My point is that atheists disapprove of this kind of thing, but their disapproveal cannot be derived from the premises of their atheism. It must therefore come from somewhere else. This means that Harris, Dawkins, et al. are as much opponents of the logical consequences of atheism as I am. They like to portray themselves as courageous “facers-of-the-consequences.” If logical consequences were a bracing autumn breeze, the upper right hand corner of Dawkins’ blog would have a picture of himself standing in it, chin out, hair swept back, and a steely resolve in his eye. “Bring those consequences on.”

Okay. Here is one. Given atheism, the Virginia Tech shooter is now in the same condition as Helen Keller, Mother Teresa, John Paul II, Ted Bundy, John Lennon, and Dolly Madison. The nirvana of non-existence is now his, and he successfully escaped to that haven from every claim of justice. That rampage is an atrocity which Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens all believe will never be put right. Justice will never be applied to it. And this lack of justice is just the way it is. So what is wrong with this lack of justice now? Given atheism, nothing is wrong with it.

But even the new atheists cannot bring themselves to acknowledge this. This is because they are created in the image of God, and they know better. So my charge is not that they approve of such things. Of course not. Not a bit of it. My charge is that they are purveyors of an impotent disapproval. The shooting has stopped, the shouting has died down, the bullets are all spent, and the shooter has begun to decompose. And the infinite concourse of atoms that constitutes all reality continues to roar by us heedless, continuing, as always, to not give a damn.

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