There’s been a lot of press about the late Christopher Hitchens, including encomiums from Christians who admired his ability as a writer and expressed sympathy with some of his viewpoints. Admittedly I could never get over his fanatical atheism which passed from mere unbelief into the realm of nastiness and rancor. In his tome God is Not Great: How Religious Poisons Everything he makes out monotheism to be the worst creed to afflict mankind, while thoughtfully omitting the genocidal philosophies of Nazism and Marxism. Worse was his mean-spirited and vulgar “debunking” of Mother Theresa. There are certainly intelligent skeptics worth reading. Orwell is a case in point. But Hitchens was a mere hater, and that sort of person frankly interests me very little.
Another sort of skeptic is the English conservative humanist Theodore Dalrymple. It is interesting that Dalrymple has taken on the “new atheists” even while claiming that he “first doubted God’s existence at about the age of nine.” For me, the splendor of “What the New Atheists Don’t See” is not in his witty critique of philosophical nihilism; rather it is the heartfelt beauty of his spiritual meditations. Dalrymple discusses the little revelations found in paintings by the Catholic priest Sánchez Cotán and the sonorous prose of the Anglican divine Joseph Hall. He dwells not on the depths to which believers have sometimes stooped, but what heights they have attained. Speaking of Cotán’s images, they offer “a visual testimony of gratitude for the beauty of those things that sustain us…. a permanent call to contemplation of the meaning of human life.” On this point most people can probably agree. Dalrymple reveals a generosity and sensitivity of intellect worth emulating.
For more on Dalrymple, see my notes on In Praise of Prejudice.