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Fundamentalists on the Left and Right

Chris Hedges has lived an interesting life so far. He is a graduate of Harvard divinity school and once considered a career in the ministry. He eventually ended up in journalism where he served for two decades as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News and National Public Radio. In 2002 he shared the Pulitzer Prize with a team of writers for coverage of global terrorism.

His immersion into Islamic fundamentalism prompted Hedges in 2006 to write American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, which became a bestseller. The book deals with America’s own fundamentalist religion and Hedge’s concern about where that religion may be taking us.

His new book takes on what Hedges believes is another growing threat. The title really says it all: I Don’t Believe in Atheists. His reference is not to atheism in general, but a special brand of atheism he describes as “secular fundamentalism.” The atheists Hedges has in mind are militant and even somewhat evangelistic and are busy spreading a utopian vision of what science and reason can accomplish.

“The battle under way in America is not a battle between religion and science,” Hedges writes. “It is a battle between religious and secular fundamentalists. It is a battle between two groups intoxicated with the utopian and magical belief that humankind can perfect itself and master its destiny.”

It’s actually a very small group that is promoting these ideas, but they have gained a wide following through their books. Sam Harris’ The End of Faith and his smaller book Letter to a Christian Nation, both became bestsellers; Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion; Daniel C. Dennett’s Breaking the Spell; and Christopher Hitchen’s, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything ‚ÄĚthese are the non-believers Hedges does not believe in.

Of course, Hedges disagreement with these men is not about their atheism. His concern is the same concern he has with religious fundamentalists. He writes: “We have nothing to fear from those who do or do not believe in God. We have much to fear from those who do not believe in sin.”

That’s right, sin.

Hedges believes that secular fundamentalists, those who would try to build a utopian world based on science and reason, are just as dangerous and just as deluded as those who believe they can achieve a perfect world through religious belief. Both visions overlook the inherent corruptibility of human nature.

“Religious fundamentalists, who believe they know and can carry out the will of God, disregard severe human limitations,” Hedges writes. “The secular utopians have also forgotten they are human. Both they and religious fundamentalists peddle absolutes. Those who do not see as they see, speak as they speak and act as they act are worthy only of conversion or eradication.”

Rather than a coming utopia–created either by clever social engineering or by divine intervention, Hedges sees some tough days ahead for our world. He foresees severe economic hardships, ongoing climate issues, hunger and massive displacement of human beings, and more. Extremists of either the secular or religious variety are not going to help the situation; in fact they will make matters worse.

Hedges writes, “Those who are blinded by utopian visions inevitably turn to force to make their impossible dreams and their noble ideas real.”

If he is right, and there is much in this book that is compelling, we will soon be faced with a dire new world order, or disorder.

James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.