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Know Thyself; or, Putting the "Mental" in "Fundamentalist"

  • Nov 25, 2008
Pros: A great explanation of human nature

Cons: Bleak

The Bottom Line: Fundamentalism can be fun, too!

I Don't Believe in Atheists by Chris Hedges is a tough book to write about. It's very philosophical, and so determining the author's angle can be extremely difficult. It has one main angle, and that is anti-fundamentalist. Other than that, it makes complaints about the war on terror but is otherwise neutral in its religious leanings. I Don't Believe in Atheists isn't an attack on religion or an attack on atheists, nor is it a defense of either of those viewpoints. It is not an argument for the existance or non-existance of a deity. It is not a call to action for anything. I Don't Believe in Atheists is, more than anything, an attack on the fundamentalist mindset.

Early on, Hedges defines the fundamentalist mindset in a very dramatic, clear-cut, and definitive fashion. A fundamentalist, whether a religious or atheist person, is one who sees his way as higher than any other way in the world. The fundamentalist believes that we could create a utopia if everyone thinks like he does, pushing forward and developing true human progress. The fundamentalist tries to convert people to his or her own line of thought. If anyone tries to think or act differently, then the dissenter must be disposed of by any means necessary. One of Hedges' prime targets, Sam Harris, took this idea to an extreme when he declared that we should bomb Islamic countries pre-emptively. Hedges mostly names the New Atheists who champion religious suppression - Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett - but he is also sure to point out that religious fundamentalists think in the exact same fashion.

The only weakness of I Don't Believe in Atheists is that in the first few chapters, Hedges pretty much repeats this point ad nauseum. It's tough to see where his writing hits the supposed themes of those chapters, so they all blend together. However, this is merely nitpicking; Hedges still argues passionately and drills his main point, that religious and atheistic fundamentalists are one and the same in their mindsets. Their problem, Hedges says, is that they imagine sin to be this large-scale problem which exists somewhere in the outside world. In doing this, they turn away from real sin, which Hedges believes comes from within. It's been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and Hedges points out that many brutal political regimes were started with the idea of creating a perfect, utopian society. But the people who started those regimes eventually resorted to wiping out anything which would stand in their way.

The idea of a utopian society is a regular theme throughout the book. Hedges uses a term to sum up all fundamentalists: "Utopian Fundamentalists." Again, all are willing to go to the same extremes to get society the way they want it.

The thing I really liked about I Don't Believe in Atheists is that it rocked my understanding of human nature. Hedges points out that when law and order fall apart and society breaks down, we begin to resort to more primal instincts in order to survive. Basically, it's in our nature to destroy each other. And even in an advanced, westernized civilization, when humans are attempting to progress, our progress didn't create a peaceful world. We may have cured polio, but we also used our progressive thinking in order to build the atomic bomb. It's a highly accepted fact that part of the reason the first World War started was because Europe was engaged in an arms race. Better science and technology didn't create peace in 1914, and it didn't work when the Nazis took over Germany either. In this way, science and technology caused both wars. This is a line of thinking which never occurred to me, and it made me think.

The chapters really don't start to take proper themes until around the middle. It's there when Hedges calls the idea of moral progress a myth. This was interesting to me because it contradicts very directly one of the very few sections of The God Delusion I thought might be true. Hedges makes the point that science and knowledge are both morally neutral, and so we wouldn't necessarily be better for destroying all the religious institutions in the world and replacing them with science labs and research centers. Things would be different, but would they be better? After reading Hedges' well-reasoned argument, I have to believe the answer to that question is a resounding "no." It's not until the last two pages of the book when Hedges comes around to making a very slight case for belief in a religion, but he really doesn't push the issue. It's extremely admirable that a religious apologist would go almost the whole book crushing peoples' ideas of human nature and not trying to defend religion through most of it. It shows that the author really knows what he's talking about.

I think the most interesting chapter might be the last, where Hedges finally hits people picking and choosing the scriptures in which people pick and choose their beliefs. He also takes brutal aim at consumer culture, talking about how we are defined by what we own and the kinds of images which bombard us. He does this all in showing us something called the illusive self, which is basically a mass self-delusion.

If this book sounds a little bleak, sadly, that's because it is. This is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on the human condition. Not only that, but Hedges isn't giving us a mass solution to how we can fix it either. Such a message would run contrary to the general theme of the book. And so instead of giving us a lot of lip about how we can come out of our rut, Hedges offers a much more feasible solution - just accepting your own humanity and looking deep into yourself. Honestly, there's no real solution to the cycle of humanity, and so Hedges bleakly but bluntly tells us that we're just going to have to live with it. It is, after all, just the way we are. It's really kind of a downer.

This is a really tough book to write about! There's so much information and so many ideas in it to process that I just can't fit everything I want to say into the hour-long time span I have to write reviews on Epinions these days. But in I Don't Believe in Atheists, Chris Hedges rocked my understanding of human beings. It's definitely worth a read, especially if you're a fundamentalist of any kind.


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Nicholas Croston ()
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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About this book


Critiques the radical mindset that rages against religion and faith, and identifies the pillars of the new atheist belief system, revealing that the stringent rules and rigid traditions in place are as strict as those of any religious practice. The new atheists, led by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, do not make moral arguments about religion. Rather, they have created a new form of fundamentalism that attempts to permeate society with ideas about our own moral superiority and the omnipotence of human reason. Journalist Hedges makes a case against both religious and secular fundamentalism.--From amazon.com.
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ISBN-13: 978-1416570783
Author: Chris Hedges
Genre: Religion, Philosophy, Science
Publisher: Free Pr
Date Published: March 10, 2009
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