I was in a discussion over on another blog about some of the trendy atheist books that have been on the best seller list for a while. I wrote a comment that I will repost here, that I think captures some of my opinions of works like Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion:
My post from Father Longnecker's blog:
I usually try to read all the trendy atheist books when they come out, if for no other reason than to be able to talk about the arguments coherently if queried by a parishioner who is vexed by the issues presented in such works.
I, too, am always left with the question of why so many of the authors, particularly Dawkins of late, are so vociferously angry and hostile.
I actually enjoyed reading some of Dawkins' early work. He was always an atheist, but his early stuff was really thought provoking, as he made some critiques, usually in a reasonable tone of voice, of religion, particularly Christianity, that I thought were valid criticisms, even if I did not agree with his conclusions on the issues.
Dawkins has gotten progressively more angry and vindictive, to the point where The God Delusion read like a petulant blog rant for most of the book, with coherent logic going out the window in favor of invective and circular reasoning. Granted that such shallow muckraking as it used to be called sells more books, but I was much disappointed in that book as I expected much higher caliber academic thought from him, as he has a really brilliant philosophical mind.
I am left to wonder, seeing as Dawkins has such a brilliant mind, that he either succumbed to the siren call of being a big name talking head or else was simply writing in that manner to sell books. I will admit either was effective if that was his goal.
The major critique I would offer of such arguments as presented by Dawkins and others that religion must be bad because it has done bad things, is that any insitution that can be created by man can be corrupted by man. Man is fallible, and therefore what he comes up with can ultimately be fallible. Any ideology, religion, or institution, including atheism, is not immune to the petty or despotic whims of those involved.
What Dawkins and others never acknowledge, I think to the detriment of their arguments, is the converse of that assertion. Yes, religion and Christianity have done bad things, but have also done a lot of very good things, most of which secular, civic society in the West is based. Public schools, hospitals, social welfare charity programs, ending of slavery, etc., were all (for the most part) pushed through by people with religious convictions.
For that matter, more people have been purged for being religious by institutional atheism (Communism and in some instances, Fascism) than ever was perpetrated in the name of the Church. To this day, historians are unsure how many millions of people "disappeared" in Stalin's purges and reeducation camps.
Until some of these atheists can take responsibility in their rhetoric for those actions by their atheist kindred, I largely find their arguments cases of "the pot calling the kettle black." And with their angry and vindictive tones, it is easy to see how such beliefs can morph into militant atheism and, if given the opportunity, can fuel such purges. If a Christian wrote such vociferious and circular arguments, such atheists would laugh them to scorn. I suppose I find it highly ironic that they disdain of religious folks as anti-intellectuals but engage in the same sort of behavior and blind belief system they despise in their own writings.