Superstitious Atheism

In his next chapter, Peter Hitchens compares the respective gullibilities of the believing Christian and the “scientific” atheist. Atheists believe this to be one of their strong points, which Peter appears to recognize. “How the materialists like to jeer at the naive faith of the peasant, fooled by relics, faith healers, and the general hocus-pocus of some branches of Christianity” (p. 165).

Peter says that he knows some people like that (as do I), but that there are forms of the faith that are not bogged down with this sort of thing. Indeed, the Reformation can be understood as a sustained Christian campaign against such superstitions.

“As I am unmoved by alleged pieces of the True Cross or snippets of St. Bridget’s fingernail, vials of liquefying blood, or mysterious cures at holy wells, this does not strike at the heart of my faith, though I do know people who take such things perfectly seriously, and I suspect — in spite of my robust English Protestantism — that miraculous healing does sometimes take place even in this skeptical age” (p. 165).

The subtext here is that gullibility is a human characteristic, not a Christian one — and many Christians have distinguished themselves in the important task of policing our own ranks.

But this cannot be said for the secularist progressives.

 

“The peasant’s willingness to believe in such fancies is as nothing to the material intellectual’s gullible open-mouthed willingness to believe anything” (p. 165).

This is reminiscent of Chesterton’s observation that the alternative to believing in some thing, is not to believe in nothing, but rather to believe in anything. The bulk of the examples that Peter cites to buttress his point come from the attitude of the enlightened ones to the transparent wickedness and incompetence of the communists during their heyday.

“The more educated and enlightened they were (by their own judgment, anyway), the more likely they were to be fooled” (p. 166).

After enough time passes, everybody acknowledges what it actually was like under Stalin. That’s not the problem. Truth is truth, and truth will out. The problem is that we never seem to get around to asking who was plying us with lies. The same thing is happening now with global warming, Islamic extremism, and so on. The problem is that, for the enlightened ones, when the truth about these things comes out, it never actually winds up discrediting anyone. The same gang of people will be the self-appointed experts who will be trying to get us to go into hysterics about something or other ten years from now. To allow them to do this, which a people without God must do, is the heart and soul of gullibility.

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