A review by Contributing Editor
Susan Humphrey of David Silverman's book:
"Fighting God, An Atheist
Manifesto for a Religious World"
My first thought when I saw the title was: IF you really believe that God doesn’t exist how can you fight something that doesn’t exist? It isn’t God he is fighting. He is actually fighting the people who believe that God exists.
Then in the closing statement of the introduction he says:
"... all religions are lies, and all believers are victims."
I strongly disagree. Especially when you consider a statement he made a couple of paragraphs earlier:
"We (as in atheists) have concluded that gods are myths."
If that is the case I think he is showing that he doesn’t understand the nature of myths. Myths are neither true nor false. They are stories that either resonate with someone or they don’t. So how can a religion based on a myth be something other than a myth?
In the second to the last sentence he says:
"Indeed, it is my duty as an American, as an atheist, and as a nice person, to do what I can to take religion down -- not by force, not by law, but by truth."
I think he distorts "truth" in an effort to make his points. For example he says:
"The preachers are hawking mythology and mythology is weak."
If there was any "truth" to this statement that "mythology is weak" myths wouldn’t resonate with people today. I think the opposite of what he says is "true:" "Myths are powerful" and that is what frightens him.
I think Silverman, many atheists, and many religious folk don’t understand the nature of myths. They need to read Joseph Campbell’s books. 2,3 I have also written about myths in earlier essays. 5
He consistently tries to paint religious people as "victims:"
"... all believers are victims."
"The believers are mostly nice people who are just victims of the cold and calculated brainwashing they’ve received since birth (as my own mother unwittingly and unsuccessfully attempted to do to me)."
"Religious people are victims of a bad thing and often do bad things because they believe they are being good, without seriously pondering their own positions."
I agree that people often do bad things believing they are being good, without seriously contemplating the repercussions of their actions. My comment applies to all people, David Silverman and other atheists included, not just religious folk. I don’t agree that all religious people are victims.
The word "victims" implies that they are defenseless and unable to help themselves. I don’t think most religious folk are unable to help themselves. If you imply that they are then they can argue there is nothing they can do to change. AND I think all people have the capacity to change.
He also ignores the fact that many religious people are religious for a variety of reasons. Some for the sense of community, for the need to belong to a group, to be a part of something. Some to keep peace in a household, where one spouse is religious and the other isn’t but sees no harm in participating or being a member of a religious congregation. Though, I think Silverman would consider them to be hypocrites -- pretending to believe when they don’t.
"It may be distasteful, but we must admit it -- these pandering hypocrites in Congress (and in churches) who talk as if they believe in a god -- but act as if they don’t -- are probably atheists, lying about their beliefs for their personal benefit. In this world, there are good theists and bad theists, and there are good atheists and bad atheists, but some of the worst atheists, the ones who feign piety for personal gain, are running religion and politics."
I do agree with him that many who seem to feign piety for personal gain are running religion and politics. I don’t however think this is all bad -- they are the ones driving people away from religion into the "nones," the "none of the above" category, on religious polls!
Another criticism I have with the book and his attitude is that he seems to think that one can’t be truthful and respectful at the same time. I think he is wrong. Decency and common civility have come to be seen as a weakness rather than as a strength in our country. A recent article on the Alternet website by Michael Winship addresses this concept:
"Is decency a weakness? Here’s what psychiatrist Carl Jung would say about the GOP’s embrace of the dark side." 4
Joe Biden was also attacked by members of his own party recently for commenting that he worked with people who’s beliefs he didn’t share. Compromise and working across the aisle have come to be seen by some as traitorous activities. I think this is the gist of Silvermans comments as well -- treating religion and religious people with respect is being a traitor to the cause of "truth"!
"Criticism against what we do focuses only on the idea of respect, not on truth. This only play into the hands of the people who run religion. Religionists want religion’s placement on the pedestal of respect and preserved by any means. But religion deserves no respect."
On the reverse side there are some that consider any criticism, any disagreement of opinions or of their beliefs disrespectful. Perhaps this is part of what David Silverman is fighting against.
However I think it is possible to criticize ideas without attacking a person’s character (such as calling them victims or stupid).
I think that what we are witnessing now with David Silverman and many in Congress on both sides of the aisle and from many Trump supporters and from many "anything but Trump" supporters is a breakdown in the very foundations that civilization rests upon -- the realization that:
Character Counts. All that matters in this world are our day to day words and actions that show the world the true nature of our character. How we treat other people, especially those we disagree with. How we treat other living things -- plants, animals, and our planet. And how we treat ourselves. All the rest the doctrines and dogmas and promises (whether religious or atheistic or political) are distractions that lead us astray.
We can be decent, civil, respectful towards others AND still speak up for truth, justice, fair play, and affirm the belief that "all human beings are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights" to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the right to be treated with decency, civility and respect.
Because one way or another we are going to have to figure out how to live side by side with people we disagree with IF, that is, we want to survive let alone thrive. If that means we must tone down the rhetoric, relearn how to be decent, civil and respectful towards the "other" than that is what we must learn how to do.
And you know the Bible, the Analects of Confucius, the I Ching, the Tao Te Ching, the Upanishads, the books from our world'
s great thinkers and philosophers all tell us this is what we must do!
It is some of the people (politicians, religious, corporate leaders) who have lost their way and embraced their own "dark side" (as mentioned in Winship’sarticle I mentioned earlier). 4 They are encouraging people to give into their baser instincts -- their darker sides, rather than encouraging folks to live up to their higher sensibilities or to follow their "better angels." They are leading far too many astray.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
David Silverman, "Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World." by David Dilverman," A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (2017) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers, "The Power of Myth," Anchor, (1991). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Joseph Campbell & Johnson E. Fairchild, Myths to Live By," Penguin Books (1993). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Michael Winship, "Is decency a weakness? Here's what psychiatrist Carl Jung would say ...," Alternet, 2019-JUN. at: https://www.alternet.org/
Do a Google.com search for: susan humphreys myths site:www.religioustolerance.org for links to many of her articles on myths.
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Original posting: 2019-JUL-02
Author: Contributing Editor, Susan Humphreys