Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Cult of the Underdog

How much of our politics, tastes, desires, beliefs, and buying practices is based on our love of the underdog? It has been long understood that Americans love to root for the underdog, so well understood in fact, that people, movements, and parties are clamoring to be identified as the underdog. There are a million examples of this in our culture right now, if you know to look for them, but just a few of my favorites are the claims by the right and the left that the media is biased in favor of the other side, the claims by both creationists/ID proponents and the scientific elite that the other group has more money/publicity, and the claims by people of faith and atheists that the other side rules the country. If you are perceived to be the underdog, people will support your cause, so instead of arguing why their particular party/ideal/program/belief is better than the others, many people/groups seem to spend more time making arguments about how the other people/groups are more popular than they are. This is truly a result of our mediated society which decides most important issues based upon ad campaigns and media presentation.

Typically, these petty debates don't occupy much of my musing time, but the recent rise of "New Atheism" has made me deeply concerned. For those of you who have not heard of the "New Atheism" I would encourage you to go read Gary Wolf's definitive article on the subject published in Wire called The Church of the Non-Believers. It's quite long, but it details many of the perspectives from the movements founders and leaders. Essentially, "New Atheism" is a militant branch of atheism which rejects religious tolerance and intellectual pluralism on the belief that religion is dangerous to open societies. The notion that people who believe in a scientifically disproved "God" could be allowed to vote based on that belief is both frightening and unjust to the "New Atheists" like Chris Hedges. Although most of these thinkers have not said so in as many words, many of them would prefer some sort of law which prevented people of faith from voting in order to protect democracy from what they view as primitive, ignorant, and irrational ideas. The similarity to this militant and intolerant atheist to communist purges and other forms of intellectual totalitarianism seems blatant and is not entirely lost on Wolf and other commentators.

But what seems to be driving this movement is the commonly accepted belief that Christians (fundamentalists at that) rule the nation and are leading us into political ruin. Some of this argument can be blamed on Bush's open Christianity (although history should have taught us well that popular figures who claim to be believers are often found to be either liars or of very weak faith), whether you support his presidency or not. If atheists are the underdog, then the ruling group (the Christians) must be corrupt and dangerous. Indeed, a quick search through various popular internet sites (like Digg and even YouTube) shows how strong this movement has become founded upon the idea that Christians are in power and are oppressing the nation. Statistics seem to support this claim too. I won't bother to search for any specific poll, but any number of studies have shown that the majority of people belief in a God, and most of them believe in a Christian God at that. These statistics and the claims that Christians run the nation might come as quite a shock to most Christians, most Christians would argue quite the opposite. The removal of religious images in many government buildings across the nation has been cited by some as evidence of an increasing secularism. So whose the underdog? The truth, naturally, is somewhere in the sticky middle. Steven Weinberg in a review entitled A deadly certitude on Dawkin's instrumental book, The god Delusion claims that while most people claim to have some religious faith, the postmodern belief in relativism (and its PC disguise "tolerance") has left our society essentially godless:
According to a recent article in the New York Times, American evangelists are in despair over a poll that showed that only 4 per cent of American teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. The spread of religious toleration provides evidence of the weakening of religious certitude.
So whose the underdog? Well, Biblically we know that believers have been and always will be the underdogs in the world, and certainly the ethics, morals, values, and beliefs that most people hold in American are not in agreement with the teachings of Christ; however, currently, the "right-wing" religious movement does (did?) have consider power and influence. Time will tell if the Church will look back on the last 8-10 years as a golden area or a time where the Faith was mediated, comodified, and marketed for the political and commercial benefit of others. Either way, as believers we must avoid the Cult of the Underdog, and strive to understand the world and our culture as it is. Instead of entering into debates on whose the real loser or intellectual outcast, we must strive to glorify God and edify man by excelling at everything we put our hands to do: artistically, politically, culturally, personally, physically. So that whether we are the underdog or not, the world will know that we love God and our neighbors, and that our Faith is a primitive belief in nonsense; a belief only of hillbillies, children, and the elderly, but rather a belief with a long intellectual tradition held by great minds throughout history, founded upon rational (yet complex) truths, and personal application which allows for the value of the human individual and existence.


Hooser said...

I don't know if you're familiar with Sam Harris' bestseller 'Letter to a Christian Nation' where he takes the atheistic hard line you talked about. Either way, you might be interested in an upcoming book called Doug Wilson's upcoming response called 'Letter from a Christian Citizen'. You can find more info about it here.

noneuclidean said...

I actually got a chance to hear Harris talk about his book on the radio. I considered putting a bunch of links to people/books/articles that promote/discuss New Atheism, but it seemed like there was so much out there that people could easily find it themselves. Thanks for the article, I'll be sure to read it.

Michael said...

You raise a culturally significant ideal. How many times have you championed the underdog in a sports event, political race, book or movie. We want to see the underdog overcome insurmountable odds to accomplish what would seem impossible. This whole notion has portent to us in what we, too, would hope to accomplish in life or see as right winning out over wrong. In one sense, if the underdog can make it, so can I.
It could be said that that along with its adversarial position, the atheist movement in America has also acquired an underdog persona. In court of law, the atheist has argued, albeit from a modern and misguided interpretation of the First Amendment, that a right of “freedom from religion” is infringed. So for the atheist, it is the society at large, which by expression of religion in a “public” venue has not allowed the expression of the atheist’s First Amendment rights.
Isn’t it a queer turn of events that the court rulings upholding the atheists’ First Amendment right of “freedom from religion” effectively eliminates the expressions in the “public” arena of a belief system antithetical to theirs. It would seem that in America the atheist can have his cake and eat it too.

Jacob Douvier said...

Much of what you have described as "New Atheism" sounds awefully familiar to me as a student of philosophy. In the early 20th Century, they were called the Logical Positivists.

On the up side, at least they are not hiding their views. I can respect an opponent who has the courage to state his beliefs. Granted, in this case, I think they are wrong, but I still prefer it to the wishy-washy "tolerantism" that we have been getting recently.