Dr. H. P. Bianchi is an assistant professor of history at a local community college, where he teaches courses on Western Civilization and Asian history. He received his master’s degree in modern German history from the University of Connecticut and his doctorate from The Catholic University of America. His research focuses on the question of secularization in Britain and the United States.

Dr. Bianchi is happily married and the father of two boys. When not working, you might find him perusing one of his interests in gardening, disc golf, hiking, cooking and traveling.

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1) These are a private buildings purchased or built using freely given private contributions. Unlike, say, Gracie Mansion or the White House. 2) How much are the homes of Fareed Zakaria or Wolf Blitzer worth? Or is that irrelevant because those are private homes paid for out of their own salaries? 3) Who elected the MSM as enforcers of church discipline? First the priest scandal, reported by an institution that doesn't actually think what the priests did was wrong, and now media moguls deciding that someone else is living too large for what exactly? Acording to whose standards? I expect to see (less and less) subtle insinuations over the next several years that Church properties should be seized by state, local or federal governments. For the common good, of course.

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Thanks for your thoughtful reply but I stand by both comments. The 1996 cost to build Casa Santa Marta adjusted for inflation in over $30 million and that's not the assessed value, which would include the value of the land. It inconceivable to think it's worth less than $30 million. Furthermore the fact that it is a guesthouse is my point exactly. Comparing residences by assessed value does not make sense. If Archbishop Dolan's residence was in upstate NY, it might be less than a million. You rightfully point out that the article does not claim that Archbishop Lori purchased the residence. I think the distinction that is missing throughout the whole article in a different one. It is two different questions: should bishops sell an old residence (which the article seems to encourage and I disagree) or should bishops build modest new homes (on this point, I agree), and Burke seems to group both in the same category. I think the case of Archbishop Myers' retirement house is scandalous, but it should not fall in the same article/category as Archbishop's Lori's residence. I hope this clears up some points.

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Fertile Soil

Reassessing the New Atheism

In March, atheists from across the country gathered on the National Mall, claiming their event, the Reason Rally, was the largest secular gathering in world history. Organized by 20 of the leading secular institutions, it was dubbed as the national coming out of the atheist movement in America, yet only 10,000 to 20,000 people (estimates vary) attended the event, less than the weekly turnout at many mega-churches. There appears to be a disconnect between the representation of atheism as a major force in American society and the inability of secularists to marshal large, sympathetic crowds.

The Reason Rally was organized by proponents of the New Atheism, a radical group that dismisses religion in forceful and rash terms, and includes Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens. Dawkins’ remarks at the rally typify this approach: “Mock them, ridicule them in public. Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and challenged.”

The rally, therefore, was geared toward a particular type of atheist, which only constitutes a small percentage of Americans. Only 1.6 percent of the population calls themselves atheists, but a much larger percentage of Americans are religiously unaffiliated (14.5 percent), a group that really does not care about religion. The organizers of the rally desperately wanted this large apathetic, unaffiliated group to join their movement, but as typically happens with people who are indifferent, they were no-shows.

I believe that the role of the leaders of the New Atheism in the modern crisis of faith needs to be revalued, and subsequently reduced. They are the loudest atheists, cause theists the most frustration, and generate the largest response, but their influence is limited. I assume a few of your friends do not go to church on Sunday, but I would speculate that it is because they are watching football or going shopping, not attending a Darwinist meeting. It’s hard to get excited about nothing.

One of the best signs of God’s existence is that humans are geared toward the divine. Across different societies and civilizations, humans have created religious institutions to answer the same fundamental questions; the answers, of course, are very diverse. Every individual is drawn to religion by a force deep within their nature, but how does this innate desire for God correspond to the rising number of people who are unconcerned about religion?

Human nature has not changed, rather the way God and religion is viewed has fundamentally shifted. That is to say, secular versions of religion have been created to replace historical religions based on God, and thus, atheism is not rising because of the rejection of religion, but due to the creation of new, secular religions, cultural systems that have the same function as traditional religions but a different end.

These secular religions have elements of worship, intricate rituals and calendars, holy texts, and a complex set of symbols. Two weeks ago, I wrote about politics as a religion, and in the future I will make similar arguments for sports, mass media, consumerism, and environmentalism as new religions. As society secularized the divine, it divinized the secular. It had to be this way, for humanity was made for the divine.

I hate to oversimplify, but I would summarize the rise of secularism as follows. Humans are naturally drawn to religion, but our sensual impulses pull us in an opposite direction. Modern society created “rational and scientific” arguments, such as those in the New Atheism, to numb our consciences and to remove guilt for doing something that we know is wrong. We then use secular religions - sports, politics, materialism - to partially fulfill our desire for the divine, resulting in a population that is not radically atheist, but uninterested toward traditional religions, yet deeply restless and unsatisfied.

Ironically, the New Atheism has a profound religious nature, the Reason Rally resembling a tent revival meeting, followers having complete faith in anything Dawkins writes, and Hitchens becoming the new patron saint of the movement. One of oddest quotes about the Reason Rally reads: “Somewhere out there, Christopher Hitchens is very, very happy,” implying that the deceased atheistic intellectual was enjoying the afterlife, something he wholly argued against during his life. It speaks to the profound pull of an eternal way of thinking, even in those most opposed to it. 

As previously mentioned, it is impossible to get excited about nothing. The New Atheism is not about destroying religion, but creating a new one, focused on worshiping self over God. I would not worry about calls announcing the end of religion, but I would be concerned about facing the challenges posed by new ones.

May 18, 2012 04:25
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi