Atheism as an Extreme

My husband, G. Grod, and I recently read the Philip Pullman “His Dark Materials” trilogy. G noted, which I repeated in my review, that Pullman repeatedly used religious language and tropes, though he claimed his book was a non-religious fantasy. He and others viewed it as an atheistic answer to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

In “What the New Atheists Don’t See” at The City Journal, (link from Arts & Letters Daily) Theodore Dalrymple points out that many of the new books on atheism make a similar move. They deploy religious frames in their arguments against religion. Rather than being at the opposite end of a continuum, they are like the flip side of a coin: inextricably tied to what they seek to eschew.

Dalrymple argues quite reasonably for a middle ground that sounds more like ethics than religion, and more like agnosticism than atheism.

I am reminded of one of Michael Pollan’s insights about eating from The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Most people are wilfully ignorant of the industrial practices of meat. If people learn what meat is and how comes to out table, one reasonable but extreme response is to go vegetarian. Pollan, though, advocates a middle ground of learning and choosing sustainably raised flora and fauna.

The middle ground. How interesting that Pollan and Dalrymple must remind us of choices of balance, because the extremes have become so widely practiced.

One Response to “Atheism as an Extreme”

  1. Lazy Cow Says:

    This post is particularly relevant for me as just this morning I told my daughter that she couldn’t read His Dark Materials trilogy just yet (she’s only 7). It’s the first time I’ve censored her reading, but I have real problems with the third book in the series. I’d prefer it if she was more mature before she had to deal with Pulman’s aetheistic view. I must confess that the reason I gave her was: “Because Pulman hated CS Lewis and Tolkien”. That was enough for her, as she adores the Narnia series and we’ve just read The Hobbit. Maybe I can marshall my arguments better for the next onslaught :-)