Ross Douthat Would Make A Fine Atheist

Ross Douthat Would Make A Fine Atheist


Ross Douthat goes after what he calls “Hollywood’s religion of choice” in the Times today: “Avatar is [James] Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism-a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.” Describing pantheism as “a form of religion that even atheists can support,” he argues that it doesn’t offer humans the “escape upward” into immortality that he believes is the reason religion exists.

He writes:

“The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its ‘circle of life’ is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.”

I think he’s right. But I also think that Douthat, whose religious views have flummoxed his arguments before, has actually written a nice apologia for atheism. The same societies that hew closest to the natural order-less scientifically, technologically and medically developed societies-tend to be far more religious than the more “modern” ones where God was so famously declared “dead” in the 20th century. The less prominent religion is in society, the less nasty, brutish and short is human life.

“Except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back,” says Douthat. Yes! Ross! Let’s not go back! Let’s accept the reality of mortality. Let’s ditch backwards thinking-of the kind that has you opposing gay marriage even when you clearly know better. Here’s to more pleasant, civilized and longer life.