Macchars don’t wear sweaters

The Four Horsemen 1

Posted on: October 9, 2009

I came across a discussion on YouTube, a must see for anyone who is vaguely interested in the debate of religion. The video showcases a rare coming together of contemporary intellectual heavyweights, the bastion holders of rationality in our times, exponents of what is called the movement of “new atheists”. These are Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. Apart from Dennett, I had already seen a good number of debates featuring the others, and had a fair idea of what they stood for. For a measure of their eminence, Dawkins is a renowned biologist, best selling author, voted the 3rd most influential public intellectual in the world in 2005 and one of the 100 most influential people in the word in 2007. Hitchens is a journalist and best selling author, voted the 5th most influential public intellectual in the world in 2005. Sam Harris and Dennet are also best selling authors. These are the Bertrand Russelian figures of our age, the men one supposedly turns to, for perspective, when one feels sickened by an irrational, power driven world.

The four are best known in recent times for their scathing attacks on religion, which they see as the root cause of all the evil in the world today. I have frequently seen them tear to shreds priests, rabbis and mullahs, who try to argue for the cause of a God. The thrust of their arguments is to decimate a literal belief in a greater power which created the universe, in all forms the belief may be expressed – at one end the assertion that there is a disinterested god who created the world and never interfered thereafter, and on the other end a god with all possible theological trappings – a god interested in personal human fortunes and god of miracles, one who rewards prayer and punishes sin etc.

They have also been accused of going for the “soft target”, i.e., literal belief in god and the contents of holy books (that was my impression as well before reading Dawkins “the god delusion”, and the feeling although somewhat dispelled wasn’t completely got rid of). Someone who argues for God as a real entity is always on the losing side, because it a forever un-provable proposition. I partly understand their attacks on religions underbelly, because that’s how debates are, and the fact that people who believe in religious dogma word for word comprise a vast political force, and are in the majority rather than minority around the world.

I hoped this discussion between these four intellectuals supporting the same side would unravel some deeper questions, which the question of religion leads to, which touches upon the very essence of the human condition, and the subtlest questions of philosophy – is it more important to know or to lead a wholesome life? Can one be without the other? What are morals? Where do they flow from? Religion? Human nature? Or is it a fundamental psychological need as Jung suggested? What role is faith to play in our lives? Why the universality of religion? Has it been a positive force of good rather than evil? Why is a philosopher’s misery better than ignorant bliss?

And very importantly, I wanted to know why they felt it worthwhile to devote their intellectual energies to the critique of religion, as opposed to the vast political forces at play in the world, considering the current strife around the world, the danger of nuclear war. In their world view, how come religion was the main culprit? I detected a subtle underlying discourse of something else, which i also wanted to verify.

To be continued:-

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