In just the last few months, three books attacking belief in God and making a case for atheism have been national best sellers: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins; God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens; and Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris. A fourth book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett also sold very well.
In my opinion -- and I dialogued with three of the four authors on my radio show (Dawkins has refused to come on) -- the arguments put forth are far more emotional than intellectual, and even secular liberal journals have written devastating reviews of the Hitchens and Dawkins books.
It is not due to their eloquence, originality or persuasiveness that these books have become best sellers. I believe other factors are at work. And they are:
First and most significant is the amount of evil coming from within Islam. Whether Islamists (or jihadists, Islamo-Fascists or whatever else Muslims who slaughter innocents in the name of Islam are called) represent a small sliver of Muslims or considerably more than that, they have brought religious faith into terrible disrepute.
How could they not? The one recognized genocide in the world today is being carried out by religious Muslims in Sudan; liberty is exceedingly rare in any of the dozens of nations with Muslim majorities; treatment of women is frequently awful; and tolerance of people with different religious beliefs is largely nonexistent when Muslims dominate a society.
If the same were true of vegetarians -- if mass murder and violent intolerance were carried out by vegetarians -- there would be a backlash against vegetarianism even among people who previously had no strong feelings about the doctrine.
Religion's reputation is made all the worse by the lack of any significant outcry in the Muslim world against the atrocities committed in the name of their religion. The negative impact of this Muslim silence, especially given the amount of Muslim rioting that occurs when Muslims are disturbed by something, can hardly be overstated.
If Muslims around the world -- especially in free countries -- demonstrated against Muslim terror with anything like the fervor that Muslims demonstrate against perceived offenses against their honor, Islam -- and by extension religion generally -- would have elicited immense respect, despite all the evil being committed in the name of Islam.
There are other, long-term, factors involved in the popularity of books against religion.
The secular indoctrination of a generation that has grown into adulthood is bearing fruit. Unless one receives a strong religious grounding in a religious school and/or religious home, the average young person in the Western world is immersed in a secular cocoon. From elementary school through graduate school, only one way of looking at the world -- the secular -- is presented. The typical individual in the Western world receives as secular an indoctrination as the typical European received a religious one in the middle ages. I have taught college students and have found that their ignorance not only of the Bible but of the most elementary religious arguments and concepts -- such as the truism that if there is no God, morality is subjective -- is total.
So the generation that has been secularly brainwashed is now buying books that reconfirm that brainwash -- especially now, given the evil coming from religious people.
At the same time, religion in the Western world has, with some notable exceptions, provided few responses to the secular challenges. In Western Europe and among the best educated in America, religion is regarded as nonsense at best and toxic at worst. And the liberal wings of Christianity and Judaism offer few or no arguments against the dominant secularism. Indeed it is virtually impossible to distinguish between a liberal Christian or Jew and a liberal secularist. Neither holds any text to be divine, both get their values from their hearts and minds, and they come to identical conclusions about virtually all moral issues. The liberal Christian, the liberal Jew and the liberal secularist all regard the human fetus as morally worthless; regard the man-woman definition of marriage as a form of bigotry; and come close to holding pacifist beliefs, to cite but a few examples.
Finally, many of the traditionally religious have gravitated away from rational beliefs into irrational, mystical and emotional religiosity. And on those occasions when they speak to the irreligious, they often talk to them just as they would to fellow religionists. I have been on national television talk shows with some of these religious spokesmen, good people all, but I cringed at their unsophisticated responses to the questions put to them. They would simply affirm their beliefs -- which undoubtedly sounded wonderful to their congregants, but did not sway a single secular viewer.
The problem is far more than merely an intellectual one. Only strong moral religion can defeat strong immoral religion. To his credit, when I challenged the aforementioned Sam Harris by noting that religious Jews and Christians are far more likely to confront Islamists than secularists are, he agreed that this is indeed the case. But with Islamic religious violence increasing, Western secularism increasing, and liberal religion merely echoing secular values and its non-confrontationalism, there will be fewer and fewer people capable of confronting religious evil. And with the ascendance of religious evil, the case for atheism will seem even more compelling.