With all the recent eulogies of militant atheist Christopher Hitchens by many religious people, it is a good time to ask the question of the value of atheism for the religious soul? Many religious people were more impressed and placed themselves in dialogue with Hitchens than with sanctimonious religious followers. Many fine religious works were written as a response and new defense of religion. Religious blogs and journals are devoting more space to his eulogy than to those of religious figures.
How do we explain this influence?
Rav Kook thought God needs atheism.”Because atheism cleanses the dross of ‘petty religion,’ the narrowness and provincialism of established Jewish religion that frequently becomes arrogant, rigid and judgmental. We need these people, these atheists, whom seek to befriend.”
Do we still have a theory that allows us to see a value in atheism? Rav Kook was happy to see late 19th century atheism wake up the simple Jewish masses because they had primitive views and they needed to evolve. You lose a few souls but the nation gains a purified idea of God. But what would Rav Kook have said about the primitive views of the 1990’s? Without the evolutionary sense of moving from peasant to modern world then what would he say about our current crop of vulgar believers who became vulgar atheists based on reading the new atheists? Rav Kook assumes that there would be an advancement in perception, in a Piaget or Kohlberg sense. He did not assume that they would remain un-evolved. What is being provided to these simple people who smashed their idols?
Are Jewish thinkers acknowledging that God as a supernatural force is dangerous for the community the way Rav Kook did?
Most of the best books written in response to the new atheism pointed out that the faith of Augustine, Calvin, Schleirermacher, or Kierkegaard was not the crude view of the atheists. Do we need a Jewish version? And for who? Those who already read books, can already read the best books. But the primitive believers who became primitive atheists still dont know how to read. I have no evolutionary belief that they will evolve.
And what about the darkness of atheism itself- what would be a current way to explain that it has a force for the good? Thoughts?
When the heretic smashes his “idols”, his preconceived notion of God, his activities are accompanied by danger. A concept of God has been shattered – and it must eventually be rebuilt. This brings the momentum of a religious community to a halt. Instead of continuing to climb ever higher on their pathway to spiritual uplifting, the religious community must now rethink its direction, as well as its confidence.
While the heretic is unable to destroy God, his arguments and critiques destroy the normative systems and patterns of belief. The heretic rejects the precepts and commandments of Torah and thereby brings into question any redeeming value that they appear to have. These commandments are the religious community’s guideposts for spiritual growth, and the heretic weakens them, if he does not destroy them completely.
Rav Kook, however, argues that a positive spark does emanate from the depths of the non-believer’s arguments. The non-believer challenges the religious man’s concept of the Divine, forcing the religious man to re-assess his perceptions. Not only does this strengthen the religious community by demanding a re-evaluation, it is also necessary for the community’s continued development. Since God is a priori undefinable, the religious community’s perceptions of the Divine, and their consequent behavior, must constantly be revised. Hence heresy, “kefira,” is the only dark force capable of contributing to world perfection
Confronting God can be an enjoyable and enriching experience for Man. However, if a person’s confrontation is based on a misconception of God, this can lead to crisis. This crisis may eventually result in a denial of God’s existence.
God is commonly described as a Supernatural Force. It is this common perception of God which R. Kook believes to be erroneous and thus dangerous.
For those who want to see some of the religious appreciations of Hitchens-see
Christianity Today This Evangelical one in Christianity Today is exceptional good, but the Baptist News has a good closing:
I would like to see the dialogue of Christian apologetics move from Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris into our houses, diners, and local community centers,” Stetzer wrote. “The AP news wire will not be abuzz with the passing of the atheist in your neighborhood, but your heart ought hurt for them. I am grateful for evangelical scholars who have engaged New Atheism with the level of intellectual commitment the movement deserves. But for most of us, we ought to concern ourselves with and grieve over the debates that war in the minds of our families, friends, and coworkers.