Feb 4, 2009

Christianity Is Not Great, Pt.1

Dinesh D’Souza is one of the most prominent intellectual defenders of religion against the new surge of outspoken atheism D’Souza’s book, What’s So Great about Christianity?, is intended to provide Christians with the knowledge and understanding to effectively answer attacks by atheists on their religion. The book’s scope is fairly broad and includes topics like “intelligent design,” religion and atheism in political theory, and defending faith as reasonable. In these topics D’Souza gives me so much to strongly disagree with that I shall write a series of posts arguing against his book, chapter by chapter.

What's So Great about Christianity? by Dinesh D'Souza; Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; 2008; 348pp.

Preface: A Challenge to Believers - and Unbelievers
Here, D’Souza’s point is that Christians should understand and be ready to defend their faith. Many Christians are not able to do this, though they should be. “Without realizing it Christians have become postmodernists of a sort: they live by the gospel of the two truths. There is religious truth, reserved for Sundays and days of worship, and there is secular truth, which applies the rest of the time” (xiv).

He next points out that according to the Bible, Christians should not be of the world with its “distorted priorities,” but they have a mission to be fully engaged in it (xiv).

By what standard are the world’s priorities considered distorted? What distorts them? If the world’s nature is what it is, then how are priorities in it “distorted”? If the standard is something in the world, that in turn implies they can be non-distorted; or are they “distorted” according to a standard not of this world? If so, how is that that standard even known?

People can have distorted priorities in this world and they can have non-distorted priorities. People are not infallible and can have mistaken or irrational priorities, or they can have correct, rational priorities. In time the consequences of their priorities will indicate whether they are distorted or not; and if they are, then it is up to the individual to recognize that his priorities are distorted and to figure out what to do about it. Such is life. Is D’Souza conflating these possibilities in an undifferentiated concept of the world having, by its nature, “distorted priorities”?

The “easy” alternative, however, is taken by religionists in their expecting - or inventing - automatic, infallible, authoritative priorities in the forms of scripture, commandments, dogmas, etc., to simply obey and always believe no matter what. The real distorter of anything in the world is belief in the supernatural. Having otherworldly notions and applying them to life distorts it.

D’Souza continues. He sees the atheists as no longer content with being tolerated (when atheists have been tolerated in America, he neglects to mention) but are now intent on “taking over the public square” and evicting Christians from it. They want to make religion disappear altogether (xv). As if Christians do not now or never had wanted to make atheism disappear!

D'Souza writes that most people "sense there is something out there that provides a grounding and an ultimate explanation for their deepest questions, yet that something eludes them. They feel the need for a higher sense of purpose in their lives, but they are unsure where to find it." (xvi).

Yes, Dinesh, most thinking people do need a grounding for their deepest questions and they also need a clearly defined higher purpose for their lives. That is exactly what philosophy is supposed to do. A rational, reality-based philosophy like Objectivism achieves that; an imaginary philosophy like the Christian religion only pretends to achieve that.

D'Souza goes on to say that the atheists have not been adequately rebutted and his book will do that. "Their arguments have gone largely unanswered." From D'Souza they will feel "the horse kick of a vigorous traditional Christianity."

I agree that their arguments have been unanswered. Even considering all the philosophical flaws in the arguments of the "new" atheists they can effectively attack religion, at least up to a point, because religion is, ultimately, void of intellectual substance. I will hold D'Souza to being different and actually delivering a "vigorous horse kick" to my atheism, unlike his fellow Christians. All the credit to him if he does!

After outlining his books agenda, D'Souza then concludes the preface by addressing atheists and their beliefs as he sees them, but it is in a way that I think is over-generalizing: "You have been engaged in the pursuit of happiness for a fairly long time; ever wonder why you haven't found it? How long do you intend to continue this joyless search for joy? Older societies had much less and felt abundant; why do you, in the midst of plenty, continue to feel scarcity pressing down upon you" (xvii)?

Maybe that is true of some atheists on the nihilistic left - I would not doubt that. I am sure it is certainly not true of Objectivists, who are atheists. It is not true of me as an Objectivist. D'Souza is mistaken in lumping all atheists together. "Atheism" is merely a negative concept. People can be atheists for many different reasons and have very different philosophies. One should therefore be cautious about generalizing about those who simply lack a specific belief.

As to the old, religious societies that had less but felt abundance, I reply that because they felt something does not mean they were right or that what they "felt" was real beyond the feeling. Of course, what he is hinting at is "feeling" the Holy Spirit or some such otherworldly being. I do not know, but I will bet that D'Souza - and this goes for many religious believers - cannot even conceive how an atheist can legitimately and genuinely "feel" an "inner abundance" (to use his terms). Here is a very sad consequence of holding a mind-body dichotomy. Such religious pre-conceptions are why that kind of an atheist is unthinkable, even undiscoverable, by their minds. (Then again, maybe not. Some Christians are discovering, after the initial conceptual shock, that one can be an atheist and actually be moral!)

So, in sum, the agenda for What's So Great about Christianity? is to educate and motivate the believers to challenge the atheists.

Christianity Is Not Great, Pt. 2


  1. Thank you for your comments on D'Souza's book, _What's So Great about Christianity?_. I have added it tentatively to my reading list.

    Based on your studies of contemporary religion, who would you say is the most important (if not best known) advocate of faith? In other words, who is today speaking and writing articulately about the nature of faith, when it should be relied on, and its relationship with reason?

    Or do most intellectual fideists today simply repeat earlier writers?

  2. Darn good question, Burgess. I've been wondering about that. There are just so many religious thinkers out there. I think William Lane Craig might be an important one in that regard based on the modest amount of him I've read and heard.

  3. "As to the old, religious societies that had less but felt abundance, I reply that because they felt something does not mean they were right or that what they "felt" was real beyond the feeling."

    I wouldn't say that people in older societies of less abundance were necessarily lacking in spiritual fulfillment. Objectivism doesn't say that people need abundance to be happy, but rather need a positive sense of life and the pursuit of values.