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Sunday, February 16, 2014

An Apple for Mr Dalrymple

If a godless totalitarian government ever takes over and forces us all to celebrate Take an Atheist to Lunch Day, I want dibs on Theodore Dalrymple. Mind you, that’s assuming he’s still available at that point, and not locked up as a traitor to the State.

Here’s a sample from his essay on the books of Dawkins, Harris et al, What the New Atheists Don’t See:
“In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins quotes with approval a new set of Ten Commandments for atheists, which he obtained from an atheist website, without considering odd the idea that atheists require commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them; nor does their metaphysical status seem to worry him. The last of the atheist’s Ten Commandments ends with the following: “Question everything.” Everything? Including the need to question everything, and so on ad infinitum?
Not to belabor the point, but if I questioned whether George Washington died in 1799, I could spend a lifetime trying to prove it and find myself still, at the end of my efforts, having to make a leap, or perhaps several leaps, of faith in order to believe the rather banal fact that I had set out to prove. Metaphysics is like nature: though you throw it out with a pitchfork, yet it always returns. What is confounded here is surely the abstract right to question everything with the actual exercise of that right on all possible occasions. Anyone who did exercise his right on all possible occasions would wind up a short-lived fool.”
And another, in response to Christopher Hitchens’ assertion that “Religion spoils everything”:
“It is surely not news, except to someone so ignorant that he probably wouldn’t be interested in these books in the first place, that religious conflict has often been murderous and that religious people have committed hideous atrocities. But so have secularists and atheists, and though they have had less time to prove their mettle in this area, they have proved it amply. If religious belief is not synonymous with good behavior, neither is absence of belief, to put it mildly.                    
In fact, one can write the history of anything as a chronicle of crime and folly. Science and technology spoil everything: without trains and IG Farben, no Auschwitz; without transistor radios and mass-produced machetes, no Rwandan genocide. First you decide what you hate, and then you gather evidence for its hatefulness. Since man is a fallen creature (I use the term metaphorically rather than in its religious sense), there is always much to find.”
There are plenty more gems in the essay, but to appreciate Dalrymple’s honesty as well as his dry wit, you really need to read the whole thing.

RJA

Republished by permission of the author

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