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October 25, 2006
Dear Concerned Citizen,
by Dinesh D'Souza

side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar A group of leading atheists is very puzzled by the continued existence and vitality of religion. As biologist Richard Dawkins puts it in his new book The God Delusion, faith is a form of irrationality, what he terms a “virus of the mind.” Philosopher Daniel Dennett compares belief in God to belief in the Easter bunny. Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and now Letter to a Christian Nation, professes amazement that hundreds of millions of people worldwide profess religious beliefs when there is no rational evidence for any of those beliefs. Biologist E.O. Wilson says there must be some evolutionary explanation for the universality and pervasiveness of religious belief.

ctually, there is. The Reverend Ron Carlson, a popular author and lecturer, sometimes presents his audience with two stories and asks them whether it matters which one is true. In the secular account, “You are the descendant of a tiny cell of primordial protoplasm washed up on an empty beach three and a half billion years ago. You are a mere grab-bag of atomic particles, a conglomeration of genetic substance. You exist on a tiny planet in a minute solar system in an empty corner of a meaningless universe. You came from nothing and are going nowhere.”

In the Christian view, by contrast, “You are the special creation of a good and all-powerful God. You are the climax of His creation. Not only is your kind unique, but you are unique among your kind. Your Creator loves you so much and so intensely desires your companionship and affection that He gave the life of His only son that you might spend eternity with him.”

Now imagine two groups of people—let’s call them the Secular Tribe and the Religious Tribe—who subscribe to these two worldviews. Which of the two tribes is more likely to survive, prosper and multiply? The religious tribe is made up of people who have an animating sense of purpose. The secular tribe is made up of people who are not sure why they exist at all. The religious tribe is composed of individuals who view their every thought and action as consequential. The secular tribe is made up of matter that cannot explain why it is able to think at all.

Should evolutionists like Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Wilson be surprised, then, to see that religious tribes are flourishing around the world? Across the globe, religious faith is thriving and religious people are having more children. By contrast, atheist conventions only draw a handful of embittered souls, and the atheist lifestyle seems to produce listless tribes that cannot even reproduce themselves.

Russia is one of the most atheist countries in the world and there abortions outnumber live births by a ratio of two to one. Russia’s birth rate has fallen so low that the nation is now losing 700,000 people a year. Japan, perhaps the most secular country in Asia, is also on a kind of population diet: its 130 million people are expected to drop to around 100 million in the next few decades. And then there is Europe. The most secular continent on the globe is decadent in the quite-literal sense that its population is rapidly shrinking. Lacking the strong Christian identity that produced its greatness, atheist Europe seems to be a civilization on its way out. We have met Nietzsche’s “last man” and his name is Sven.

Traditionally scholars have tried to give an economic explanation for these trends. The general idea was that population was a function of affluence. Sociologists noted that as people and countries became richer, they had fewer children. Presumably primitive societies needed children to help in the fields, and more prosperous societies no longer did. From this perspective, religion was explained as a phenomenon of poverty, insecurity and fear, and many pundits predicted that with the spread of modernity and prosperity, religion would fade away.

The economic explanation is now being questioned. It was never all that plausible anyway. Undoubtedly poor people are more economically dependent on their children, but on the other hand, rich people can afford more children. Wealthy people in America today tend to have one child or none, but wealthy families in the past tended to have three or more children. The real difference is not merely in the level of income. The real difference is that in the past children were valued as gifts from God, and now they are viewed by many people as instruments of self-gratification. The old principle was “Be fruitful and multiply.” The new one is, “Have as many children as enhance your lifestyle.”

The prophets of the disappearance of religion seem to have proven themselves to be false prophets. Even though the world is becoming richer, religion seems to be getting stronger. The United States is the richest and most technologically advanced society in the world, and religion shows no signs of disappearing on these shores. China and India are growing in affluence, and the Chinese government is not exactly hospitable to religion, yet religious belief and practice continue to be strong in both countries. Europe’s best chance to grow in the future seems to be to import more religious Muslims. While Islam spreads in Europe and elsewhere, Christianity is spreading even faster in Africa, Asia and South America. Remarkably Christianity will soon become a non-Western religion with a minority presence among Europeans.

My conclusion is that it is not religion but atheism that requires a Darwinian explanation. It seems equally perplexing why nature would breed a group of people who see no purpose to life or the universe, indeed whose only moral drive seems to be sneering at their fellow human beings who do have a sense of purpose? Here is where the biological expertise of Dawkins and his friends could prove illuminating. Maybe they can turn their Darwinian lens on themselves and help us understand how atheism, like the human tailbone and the panda’s thumb, somehow survived as an evolutionary leftover of our primitive past.

Responses to Jesus Camp:

Ms. Morse is unecessarily concerned about the lack of breadth and depth of the spirituality of the kids at Jesus Camp. Since all she knows about the subject is what she sees in the film, she is unaware that this is not the sum total of their faith experience. Almost all of them will surely have access to pastoral ministry and Sunday School teaching in their home churches which will address the same concerns she has raised about their spirituality. I say this in a good-natured way; Catholics aren't the only ones who teach their kids. The makers of "Jesus Camp" may have gotten to you even more than you realize. You are justly defending our right to raise emotionalistic zombies if we choose. I am giving you the good news that we are not doing that. - Jim Dempsey American Indian College of the Assemblies of God

I read your article on Jesus Camp and after doing so have no idea whether you are for or against the movie. Too many words, not enough of a point. Does it make fun of Pentecostals and the camp or does it encourage emotional involvement in a life with Christ? Usually I enjoy reading your articles, but I found this one very confusing. Please help. - Tena Lustig

Responses to other tothesource articles:

I missed Dinesh's article on Islam, but was amazed by the letters in response that almost universally claimed the atrocities and violence committed by Christians against Muslims hadn't happened for hundreds of years. How is it that Westerners and especially Americans can not understand that the brutal conflict and slaughter that gave the world the term "ethnic cleansing" was a war that pitted Christian Serbs against Muslim Bosnians. As most of the world rightly condemned the outrages of murder and rape, the mosques and schools of the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia watched films and reports that clearly placed the conflict in almost entirely religious terms; a Christian war against Muslims living in Europe as their neighbors. There was clearly much more involved there than just the religious conflict, but to ignore what happened in Bosnia and to claim that Christians have never persecuted Muslims is to ignore fact, and in the eyes of every Muslim who saw the tapes and heard the stories, to appear as liars or blind. - Dave Kenney Jakarta

I did a Google search on let the waters bring forth life in abundance because I have often thought the same thing that science and the scriptures are not as far apart as people often contend. Clearly Moses was inspired by God to have such a clear understanding of the creation in its scientific form. Thanks for the small gimps into such a compelling subject. I am currently reading Carl Saganís COSMOS and although interesting I hate to leave GOD out of the picture. Science may call it the laws of nature but I like to call it the laws of creation. - Jeffery Hill

I think that more attention needs to be given to answering the tough questions about Islam and its foundational beliefs. Dismissing the sincere concerns of non-Muslims about the violent origins and essential hegemony of Islam with a wave of the historical-survey hand are far from satisfactory. Some useful future topics for discussion might be: How does Islam justify the more violent aspects of its origins? Are those aspects of its origins still in any sense advocated by the Qur'an as exemplary of proper Muslim conduct for today? If they are no longer valid for today, why not, and how did they become obsolete? Do any such beliefs, if they are currently obsolete, have the potential to become authentic again, should certain circumstances arise? If they are still valid for Musilms today, how can Islam object to being characterized as essentially violent and oppressive? What real assurances can Muslims give to non-Muslims, from the Qur'an, that violence, oppression, and hegemony are no longer valid or essential parts of Islam? These and other similar questions seem to form the real sticking points hindering the acceptance of what Dr. D'Souza is saying. Sincerely, - JL

I was looking at your motto "Challenging Hard Core Secularism with principled pluralism" Would you explain that to me? I understand hard core secularism--I live with that. What do you mean by principled pluralism? Christian? Multi-Faith? - G. W. D.

I thought there must be something good in the Koran, and so I began reading it. Have read it twice looking for something beautiful like "The Lord is My Shepherd..." or "Our Father Who art in in Heaven" or "Though I speak in the tongues of men or of angels..." and instead I found on almost every page angry threats supposedly by God that made God sound exactly like an angry mideastern potentate with no suprises whatsoever, an entirely predictable religion of hell fire and damnation, terrible chastisement, and no two sentences that hang together and make sense. Read one page and you've read them all. Now the challenge. How can it be that over one billion people on earth think the Koran is the Word of God? Maybe the translations that I read are corrupt? They claim the original has marvelous beauty. If so, why doesn't it translate into English? Surely there are intelligent Muslims who can make sense out of the Koran. I would like to have a dialogue with them. I have tried to meet some Muslims who would intelligently discuss their Holy Book, but so far it hasn't happened. - Pastor Sam

Congratulations on your four years! I confess I read every issue with considerable anticipation of gaining new insights (or in some cases, reinforcing my emotional beliefs with some rational analyses). All the best for many more years. - Don Power

Regarding "Is Islam the Problem?" Let's not throw out the baby with the bath water. Any argument that contributes further understanding to the multiple factors of a complex situation should be acknowledged as helpful. Yes, it is true that radical Muslims continue to fuel their efforts and swell their ranks by conversions from their more moderate brothers and sisters. At the same time, the Koran DOES contain inflammatory passages toward nonbelievers. Even though radical Muslims clearly appear to be taking these passages out of context, misinterpreting and misapplying them, the reality we must deal with is that these radicals view all Westerners as infidels, regardless of whether they are Christians, Jews or atheists. As someone once said, "The perception is the reality." That is, while a given perception may not correspond to objective truth, it is--nevertheless--the reality that must be dealt with. In other words, you have to begin negotiations with your counterpart/adversary where they are, not where you think they should be. Let's not create false dichotomies regarding strategies for responding to terrorism. Let's use all possible avenues to enhance our awareness and our efforts at mutual understanding and--I pray--eventual reconciliation. - Pastor Tom Ervasti, Salem Covenant Church, Duluth, MN

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We live complex lives. We strive to sort out priorities that sometimes conflict or seem incompatible. A moral framework is needed to help us understand the reality around us. Our Judeo-Christian heritage provides a framework to help us comprehend the choices we make and the conflicts that arise over them. It is not only the main source of our spiritual values, but also many of the secular values we depend on.

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  Dinesh D'Souza
Dinesh D'Souza, the Rishwain Research Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, served as senior domestic policy analyst in the White House in 1987-1988. He is the best-selling author of Illiberal Education, The End of Racism, Ronald Reagan, The Virtue of Prosperity, and What's So Great About America. D'Souza's forthcoming book The Enemy at Home will be published by Doubleday in January 2007.
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