Lessons from the Atheists - Chapter 1

"Lessons from the Atheists"


Chapter 1 : The Present Challenge of Atheism



Return to "Lessons from Atheists" Contents Page



Page Contents








1.1 Introduction


To start this book of properly, we need to clarify its purpose. Elsewhere on this site we have produced appraisals of both Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens' book, God is not Great.  We are aware that many Christians may not have read either of these books but we believe that there are valuable lessons to be gained from studying both of them.

The two 'appraisals' cover in detail our criticisms of those two books and each appraisal includes a number of Appendices to be used as resources for any Christian thinking about the issues raised by them. We have concluded, therefore, that there would be value in putting together our many conclusions that have come from reading and studying those books and that is what this one seeks to do.

You will find on these pages, therefore, much of the material found in those Appendices and, in some cases, themes or subjects opened out more fully. It is our hope that for those who have not read the two books, but who would like to learn from the lessons gained from them, these pages will act as a helpful resource in understanding and countering the claims that these men are making in these days.

This particular chapter opens by viewing the spiritual landscape in Britain at the beginning of 2008, at least in respect of atheism, and then goes on to provide a general introduction to the two books in question and the objectives of their authors. We have also made brief mention of Philip Pullman who also holds similar views as the other two writers.

Our overall objective, therefore, is to view the subject of crusading atheism in the 21st century, as it is revealed through these particular writers, and to ask ourselves, what lessons can we learn from them.



Return to top of page





1.2   The Reality of Britain in 2008?


Before we move into considering the specific things that some of the crusading atheists have said and the potential effect of them, to ensure we keep a balance, it might be helpful to try to assess what the true state of play is in Britain (our home) in 2008 (the time of writing).


As 2007 began to draw to a close, in The Times , on the 21st December, under the title, “ 2007, a bad year for God squadders”, columnist Gerald Baker commented: 


“If you measure intelligent sentiment by book-reading habits alone, then atheism was a big winner in 2007. Richard Dawkins continued to wave an angry Darwinian fist …. with his exposure of The God Delusion . He was joined by Christopher Hitchens, whose God is Not Great will be filling many Christmas stockings. But the atheists didn't confine their advances to the rather narrow field of non-fiction for grown-ups. Seizing on the old Jesuit principle of getting them while they're young, Philip Pullman went Hollywood this year with the Dark Materials trilogy.”


It sounded like it was a bad time for religion. But what do others say?


In the Economic & Social Research Council's publication, Britain in 2008, religion received its fair share of coverage. An article, “Atheism – are we really turning away from a Belief in God?” by Professor Linda Woodhead, started out as follows: 


“The recent flurry of books on atheism, including Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great, plus books by Daniel Dennett, Michael Onfray and Sam Harris, has fired speculation that atheism may be on the rise.”


The ESRC publication does by nature use statistics, so it is helpful as this article opens up to note: 


“Survey research suggests that the percentage of people identifying themselves as atheists in Britain remains low at around eight per cent, with a further ten per cent identifying as ‘agnostic', although the numbers have been growing slowly. Around the world, there are estimated to be more people with traditional religious views than ever before, and they constitute a growing proportion of the world's population.”


Before those of us with faith get too excited, Professor Woodhead tells us that,


“Although relatively few people identify themselves as atheists in Britain, much larger numbers, around 20 per cent of the population, say they are ‘not a religious person' or do not believe in God.”


To explain this she points out that,


“it is possible to be ‘spiritual', and to believe in supernatural powers, energies, fates or ‘Spirit', without identifying as religious or theistic.”


She reported, 


“Seventy two per cent of the population of England and Wales identified as ‘Christian' in the 2001 Census, with a further five per cent identifying with other religions.


To conclude the paragraph she observes: 


“Whatever this signifies, it does not suggest vast reserves of militant atheists or extensive attachment to secularism.”


In an earlier article in the same publication, under the title, “Religion in British Society”, Robert Pigott, religious affairs correspondent of BBC News, observed: 


“In research funded by the ESRC, Professor Voas used the European Social Survey to pinpoint the emergence of what he describes as ‘fuzzy fidelity', an attitude of uncommitted but real interest in God and spiritual matters. Its adherents include half the population of Britain and similar proportions in other European countries. This group has only a vaguely defined notion of a ‘divine entity', and says it makes little difference to their lives.

To really put religion in perspective (apparently), scan Debrett's Review of the Year 2007 and you will find no mention whatsoever of religion, only those people and events with which most of us filled our minds within that year!


So why, one might ask, bother with this issue of the atheists and their impact – or lack of it – on our lives?


Return to top of page




1.3 The Atheistic Crusade


Well, it seems that wherever you turn The God Delusion and God is not Great are heralded as the two primary blasts of recent years against religion – as noted in the second article we referred to above. They are worthy of our consideration. Even more, they are worthy of our rebuttal!


How does the world see them? Perhaps a visit to that contentious Wikipedia web site, might help.


The God Delusion : 


The God Delusion is a book by British biologist Richard Dawkins, holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford.


In The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. He is sympathetic to Robert Pirsig's observation that "when one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion.”


God is not Great :


God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” (published in the United Kingdom as God is Not Great: The Case Against Religion) is a non-fiction book by author and journalist Christopher Hitchens.


"In the book, Hitchens contends that organized religion is "violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children." Hitchens' main arguments for his points include a combination of personal stories, documented historical anecdotes and critical analysis of religious texts. His commentary focuses mainly on the Abrahamic religions, although he discusses other religions (such as Hinduism and Buddhism) as well.”


Of the significance of these books, Wikipedia goes on to tell us that:  


“As of November 2007, the English version of The God Delusion had sold over 1.5 million copies and been translated to 31 languages. It was ranked No.2 on the Amazon.com bestsellers' list in November 2006. In early December 2006, it reached No.4 in the New York Times Hardcover Non-fiction Best Seller list after nine weeks on the list. It remained on the list for 51 weeks until September 30, 2007 .” 


Of God is not Great, 


"The book was published on May 1, 2007, and within a week had reached No.2 on the Amazon.com bestseller list (behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), and reached No.1 on the New York Times Bestseller list in its third week.” 


Perhaps we should also include in our conclusions (although we haven't dealt with them elsewhere on this site):


 His Dark Materials, a trilogy of fantasy fiction novels by Philip Pullman, that comprises Northern Lights (1995 — released as The Golden Compass in North America), The Subtle Knife (1997) and The Amber Spyglass (2000), for reasons that will shortly become obvious.


Return to top of page





1.4 The Atheistic Crusaders


Let's let the atheists speak for themselves, just in case you are not clear on where they stand:


a) Richard Dawkins


“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, blood thirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infancticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomanical, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

(God Delusion Ch.2)

“To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries.”

(God Delusion Ch.7)   


“If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

(God Delusion preface)

The first quote reveals his lack of understanding of God.

The second quote reveals his lack of understanding of the Bible and its origins.

The third quote blatantly presents his goal in writing.


If these quotes don't convince you, go to Richard Dawkins own site online and you will realise that the Crusades are not just past history!



b) Christopher Hitchens


“Mediocre individuals engage in single combat or one-on-one arguments with god or his emissaries, raising afresh the whole question of divine omnipotence or even divine common sense, and the ground is forever soaked with the blood of the innocent. Moreover the context is oppressively confined and local. None of these provincials, or their deity, seems to have any idea of a world beyond the desert, the flocks and herds, and the imperatives of nomadic subsistence. This is forgivable on the part of the provincial yokels, obviously, but then what of their supreme guide and wrathful tyrant?”

(God is not Great Ch.7)


Now the above quote is just one example of the sideways taunting that comes through Hitchens' writing. He virtually never comes out in the open with the ‘grand slam' declarations of Dawkins, but yet every page is filled with ill-informed destructive comments that deride religion. To catch ‘the feel' of Hitchens we need to look outside God is not Great :


“I am not a religious believer. In order to be absolutely honest, I should not leave you with the impression that i am part of the generalized agnosticism of our culture. I'm not even an atheists so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful. Reviewing the false claims of religion I do not wish, as some sentimental agnostics affect to wish, that they were true. I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually the case."

(Taken from An Except from Letters to a Young Contrarian)


“I am atheist. I‘m not anti-Catholic.  I am not anti-Protestant. I‘m not anti-Greek Orthodox or anti-Judaism or anti-Islamic.  I just think that all religious belief is sinister and infantile and belongs to the backward childhood of the race and that the great thing about the United States is that it‘s a secular country with a godless Constitution.”

(From a 2004 TV programme)


c) Philip Pullman


“I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief,”

(The Washington Post in 2001)


“The Narnia books are "one of the most ugly and poisonous things I have ever read," with "no shortage of … nauseating drivel."”

(The Guardian on the occasion of C.S.Lewis's centenary in 1998)


[Read more of Pullman on C.S.Lewis and you see he objects to the Narnia children being killed at the end of the books in a train crash – so that we can see them go into heaven. This, mark you, from a writer who in his second Dark Materials book has a boy searching for his father and at the moment he finds him, his father is killed by a witch who declares, “I loved him and he scorned me! I am a witch! I don't forgive!” yet the witches are otherwise painted in a good light in the book!]


“I've been surprised by how little criticism I've got. Harry Potter's been taking all the flak. I'm a great fan of J.K. Rowling, but the people - mainly from America's Bible Belt - who complain that Harry Potter promotes Satanism or witchcraft obviously haven't got enough in their lives. Meanwhile, I've been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God .”

(Sydney Morning Herald)


“There are churches there…that cut their children… they cut their sexual organs, yes both boys and girls – they cut them with knives so that they shan't feel. That is what the church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.”

(a witch in the second of the Dark Materials trilogy)


“He showed me… cruelties and horrors all committed in the name of the Authority, all designed to destroy the joys and the truthfulness of life.”



Return to top of page






1.5   Do these books have Impact?


Reading revues in the papers and online about The God Delusion and God is not Great, my greatest concern has been the gullible non-questioning acceptance that is the most usual response. Yes, there have been some negative critics but the majority of revues appear to add credibility to the books.


In the first section of this page we noted, in Britain at least, the large percentage of the population who have a ‘fuzzy fidelity', a non-critical, uncommitted attitude towards God. I am certain they will be vulnerable to the untruths of these two books.


Sadly, I also believe those who call themselves Christians will be largely ill-equipped to cope with these two books. I will address this comment further in the ‘Lessons for the Church' chapter.


I used the word ‘gullible' above and I am utterly convinced that the deceptiveness of the writing in both of these books will either undermine weak faith, or convince the uncommitted, or set in concrete those who have already set themselves to oppose Christianity.


Now none of these things are new and the sort of things we find in these books has been said countless times before, but perhaps not with such persuasiveness. Perhaps it is no coincidence that these two books come out within a year of each other.


For those who read (and obviously by the sales figures, a lot of people do) I would make the plea, learn not to accept everything at face value that you read in these books. Learn to question and check the truth of what you read – and that applies as much to this site as to these books.


Perhaps a good thing is that there are still large percentages of the population who read very little and so these propaganda books will miss large numbers of people. My concern, and I hope yours too, is for those who do read and have been readers of either or both of these two books.


The truth IS out there, but it needs looking for, but mostly it's not in these books mentioned!




Return to top of page






1.6 Conclusions

To recap what we have covered in this chapter:

1. Introduction

  • the reasons for, and approach of this book


2. The Reality of Britain in 2008?

  •  what has been said about present day atheism

3. The Atheistic Crusade

  •  the nature of the two main books under consideration


4. The Atheistic Crusaders

  •  what our three main antagonists have said

5. Do these books have impact

  •  a suggestion that they are being read and the gullible are being affected.



To remind ourselves of the point of this book and specifically of this chapter:

•  we are considering what we can learn from the crusading atheists, and

•  we will be doing this by looking at their approaches, and

•  in this chapter we have been observing the nature of the 'playing field' in Britain today, and the books and authors in question, to see whether we really do need to be taking notice of them.






Return to top of page


Return to "Lessons from Atheists" Contents Page