Friday, April 24, 2009

"When Atheism Becomes Religion" - America's New Fundamentalism Re-visited by Judy Joyce with Cultural Examples - Miss USA - 2009

Book reviewer, June Sawyer of Hardcover has this to say about author, Chris Hedges. He is disgusted with the Christian Right, going so far as to call it the most frightening mass movement in American history. Even more disturbing for Hedges, however, is the notion, which many atheists and liberal churchgoers share, that as a species humanity can progress morally.

Oprah Magazine on Hedges' Atheism and Religion
Chris Hedges reminds us that the point of religion is not to make us disdain those who think differently but rather to help us become decent, responsive, and moral human beings. - (O, the Oprah magazine ) --text refers to the Audio CD edition. >
These Oprah Magazine remarks about the book, “When Atheism Becomes Religion: America's New Fundamentalism” reminds the reader of the role religion is intended to play in the lives of individuals and in the public square. The book depicts atheism as the latest form of religious fundamentalism.

Hedges claims that Atheism, under a reworked but familiar rubric, is every bit as demanding and intolerant as that which it claims to disdain.

Cultural Examples of Hedges Literary Claim

Current cultural examples of Religion vs. Atheism are on display in the case of Miss California, Carrie Prejean, and USA pageant judge, Mr. Perez Hilton. The recent incidents between Prejean and Hilton gives readers of Hedges book an opportunity to test his thesis firsthand.

Miss Prejean - who identified herself as a Christian - answered a question posed to her as part of the competition by Miss USA pageant judge, Perez Hilton. Factually, her thoughts on marriage as an institution reserved for a man and a woman echoed the recent independent votes of a majority of Californians on a ballot measure about the definition of marriage. Those votes were taken, counted, and tallied within the standards set by a secular State of California in an election unrelated to the pageant.

By many measures, Miss Prejean spoke as O magazine suggests is the appropriate response of a religious person acting as Christian religions intend. In other words, Prejean spoke with conviction and decency about her beliefs as a moral human being. She stated that she did not wish to offend anyone but her faithful response to her belief system was to support marriage as already defined.

A videoed reaction to her answer by pageant judge, Perez Hilton, has been widely circulated. Hilton's vituperative response to Ms. Prejean's beliefs provide a case in point to the “New Fundamentalist” theme about Atheism or Secular Humanism presented by Chris Hedges.

Upon viewing the Hilton remarks, many believe there is reasonable suspicion that Mr. Hilton was personally responsible for Ms. Prejean's loss of the Miss USA crown. She came in as 1st runner-up instead. This assessment is due to Hilton's ad hominem attacks on the contestant where he referred to her as "a dumb blonde b - - - -". In speaking to a woman in such a demeaning way from a position of power over the outcome of a contest, true feminists are enraged by what they define as harrassment.

Defining the Author's Point of View

Hedges claims the battle underway in America is not a battle between religion and science, it is a battle between religious and secular fundamentalism
Setting aside the events and the on-going debate that this incident is now driving, a more introspective review of Chris Hedges book on Atheism addresses the cultural point.

Hedges on Secular and Religious Myth Peddling

We can move forward materially but we do not move forward morally. The belief in collective moral advancement ignores the inherent flaws in human nature, as well as, the tragic reality of human history. Whether it comes in religous or secular forms, this secular version of this myth peddles fables no less fantastic and no less delusional than (when) preached from the pulpit.

In the example of Ms. Prejean's answer to what purportedly was an objective question, her response did not appear to be fundamentalist in the sense Hedges identifies as dangerously rampart among Atheistic Secular Humanists.

Rather Ms. Prejean's remarks were decent, responsible, and in line with her sense of human morality as the Oprah magazine reviewer would suggest is appropriate for religious opinions expressed in the public square. Prejean made it a point that in expressing her views, she did not intend to harm anyone but merely answer the question put to her.

In the example of Mr. Hilton, the presentation of his ideas were a direct attack upon Ms. Prejean personally when, in the public square, she expressed an idea contrary to his own. Hedges warns readers of this form of secular fundamentalism and self-identies with the use of the term "we" :

We prefer to think we are the culmination of a process, the result of human advances, rather than creatures unable to escape the irrevocable follies and blunders of human nature. The ideas of inevitable progress allows us to place ourselves in the center of creation to exalt ourselves. It translates our narrow self-interest as a universal good, but it is irresponsible.
Defining Progressive Utopia

Chris Hedges invokes the term utopia to remind the reader of the earliest uses of the word coined by Thomas Moore in 1516. Taken from the Greek words for “no' and “place”, to be a utopian is “to live for the creation of an unreal world” that does not exist due to human folly and blunders. By living under the utopian delusion of progress to perfection in all that we do, a disguised self interest can summon a self-righteous atheist to act irresponsibly. In the public square, this conduct is cloaked in a misguided fundamentalist view that the world revolves around a backward notion that human progress is inevitable and, by definition, necessarily reflects their point of view.

For the reader to cast Mr. Hilton as a utopian might be a stretch though Hilton seems to ardently believe that gay marriage is a progressive move toward human perfection. None-the-less, Mr. Hilton's response to Ms. Prejean's personal covictions, at odds with his own, falls well within Hedges concern about self-righteous fundamentalism in all it's disguises.

“When Atheism Becomes Religion; America's New Fundamentalism” by Chris Hedges (Free Press division - Simon and Schuster, 2008) is a timely recommendation for readers interested in a more introspective consideration of current events and our cultural milieu.

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