There’s a certain kind of person who, when they say something extraordinarily stupid online, see the inevitable pushback as evidence that they were right: that they had “hit a nerve” or uncovered some deep and unpleasant aspect of the human psyche. Chris Mooney was like this when writing about accommodationism, and John Horgan is like that about everything. None of these people ever consider the more parsimonious view: that they’ve just written something really dumb and are being called out for it.
Now we have Eric Metaxas, writing at the Wall Street Journal, who claims that the atheist rancor toward Larry Alex Taunton’s book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens (see earlier post today), reflects atheists’ own fears that God might in fact exist. Metaxas:
Avenging anti-God hordes have crashed the book’s Amazon page, fulminating with one-star reviews that the book is “tripe!” and “dishonest” and “morally reprehensible,” and accusing Mr. Taunton of riding the beloved Hitch’s coattails “to make a fast buck.” It is pretty obvious that none of these Amazon “reviewers” has actually read the book. But why haven’t they, and why are they so outraged? [JAC: I’ve now read the book, and it’s just as bad as you’d think.]
Do they fear that Mr. Taunton is some Bible-believing Svengali whose nefarious power over their ailing colleague was sheerest opportunism? And are they afraid that actually engaging with Mr. Taunton and his ideas would put them in the same danger as the man they so admired?
How can people so vocal about the importance of “evidence” and “reason” behave like this? Yet there they are, posting their angry one-star reviews, “liking” all other one-star reviews on the page to try to discourage book buyers, and then indignantly clicking away.
But one must wonder: Could it be that, in the friendship between the two men, they detect the possible existence of something they deny but secretly fear might be real? Is God a subject too scary to seriously consider with facts and reason?
The idea that Hitchens was curious about faith and engaged with it intellectually apparently would amount to an intolerable betrayal in the minds of some atheists, so they simply pretend that it never happened, despite the clear evidence to the contrary.
Well, we already know that Hitchens was intellectually engaged with faith: he was curious about it and, like all subjects, he wanted to learn about something before he passed judgement and, like religion or Mother Teresa, brought it to its knees. And speaking of “clear evidence,” what about Hitchens’s own statements that if he ever seemed to be embracing God, he would have been either in his last throes of dying dementia or addled by drugs? And what about the testimony of those who knew him best: his friends, his colleagues and his wife, all of whom assert that Hitchens was certainly not flirting with Christianity? All of these people knew Hitchens better than Metaxas did. None of these data are mentioned by Metaxas. Instead, he ends like this;
If atheist activists want to be taken seriously, they must be willing to engage the facts. The fact is that Mr. Taunton has simply said that Hitchens late in life was “not certain” of his atheism. Unable to tolerate this crack in the atheist facade, Mr. Taunton’s critics reacted hysterically. The response lent credence to what many of us suspect—that atheists really do fear some facts, and, more than that, fear where those facts might lead.
We surely can’t take Metaxas seriously because he won’t absorb the facts stated above. There is not the slightest evidence that Hitchens was uncertain of his disbelief, save the unsupported speculations of Taunton.
If we are angry, it’s not because we are scared that God might exist. I’m surely not; I don’t worry about God at all! We’re angry because a man who many of us thought of as a sort-of-friend, so sympatico was he with our views, is being maligned. We are angry that man who was an intellectual and rhetorical hero of many, who showed not the slightest sign of leaning toward a deity, is being coopted by the faithful to make a quick buck—confirming how badly religion can make you behave. And, above all, we are angry because atheists, at least in principle, respect the truth; and both Metaxas and Taunton have bent the truth to shore up their own weakness for superstition.