...in City Journal by Benjamin A. Plotinsky. Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, is written by French philospher Michel Onfray, who Plotinsky describes as "a fanatic." Considering Onfray's beliefs about religion, that seems a bit disrespectful toward fanatics:
To combat monotheism, Onfray writes, we must employ “sound use of our understanding, rational ordering of our minds, implementation of a true critical will.” But it quickly becomes clear that reason is not what motivates this philosopher. For example, he charges repeatedly that monotheism opposes science, citing such obvious examples as the Catholic Church’s long denial of heliocentrism. “Clearly Islam embraces astronomy, algebra, mathematics, geometry, optics,” he adds, “but only to calculate the direction of Mecca more accurately by means of the stars, to establish religious calendars, to decree prayer hours” (his italics). But why should the scientist’s motives for research—religious or not—matter? What’s wrong with an astronomer who, seeking God with his telescope, discovers a star? Onfray’s argument is a Catch-22: religion is bad because it does not embrace science; but when religion does embrace science, that science doesn’t count precisely because religion has embraced it.
This logical problem illustrates something that Onfray’s persistent sarcasm batters home: his guiding principle is not science or knowledge or reason, but rather indiscriminate—and often unresearched and irrational—opposition to religion. This means, for one thing, that he never concedes the immense debt that civilization owes to various monotheist religions, which eliminated such horrifying pagan ceremonies as human sacrifice; preserved classical knowledge through the Middle Ages; created some of the world’s greatest literature, art, and architecture; and led the movement to abolish slavery, to name just a few obvious examples.
Obvious, yes. But only to those who actually study history. Which is to say, not many.
Instead, Onfray tends simply to quote a religious text that offends our modern sensibilities, cite an historical event that resembles it, and argue that the former led inescapably to the latter. This crude approach has some disturbing consequences, such as blaming Judaism—the earliest of the three Western monotheisms—for nearly every crime for which Onfray can find Old Testament analogues. So the Israelites’ conquest of Canaan was “the first genocide” (again his italics); the Hebrew God “invented total war”; the Torah “invented the ethical, ontological, and metaphysical inequality of races.” Today’s terrorists and counterterrorists, moreover, “are continuing the religious war that began with the Torah bidding the Jews to do battle with their enemies.”
How bizarre. So all of the evils of this world can be traced back to Judaism? Hmmm...and I thought all of the horrific troubles of mankind over the past few thousand years were caused by the Jesuits, Opus Dei, and Cardinal Ratzinger. I may be forced to reevaluate my position...