Monday, June 11, 2007

Stanley Fish, a professor of worldly repute, likes to throw some bombs. His latest piece for the Times looks at the collage of “atheist books” for which Richard Dawkins, the neuroscientist; philosopher Daniel Dennett; Sam Harris, asshole; and smart-alecky iconoclast (and fellow bomb-thrower) Christopher Hitchens have received notoriety and much hubbub. Thought to reprint my comments, along with a sampling of other ideas the readers had in mind for the whole chestnut of religion, faith, God.

There are three components to religion, as I see it. One involves the institutions of religious faith, the second the religious community and, third, the deity to which the faith is professed.

The authors, with very different agenda notwithstanding, seem to be focusing on religion as the organized, institutional force through human history that has, by their outlook, engendered terrible violence and intolerance, irrationalism and everything inspired by a zealous factionalism toward a particular protecting and vengeful god. That, if I am understanding their theses correctly, sets up religious (or even spiritual) faith as the embodiment of ancient prejudice with the usage of ‘religion’ as its vehicle; this is unfair.

Harris is the worst offender at conflating a fundamentalist approach to religion with belief in a Supreme Being (or Force) itself. I agree with Prof. Fish regarding Hitchens, who, according to a recent review of this spate of God-bashing books by The Nation, is the only one to treat the subject of God as an adult, and approaches the texts therein with a better understanding of religion’s abuses than the others.

As for my own opinion, I suppose I’m alternately agnostic on the question of God, whatever it may be, and my best hopes go with the communities of believers who derive their strength from simply believing in something beyond our human power of logic and reason, which are obviously important enough.

Atheism seems awfully empty of something very important, I think, whatever it is. The point of ‘religious’ mystery, maybe, is not knowing; when atheism as Harris-Dawkins-Hitchens (hyphenating while being aware of their divergences) deconstruct with such certainty, there is a richness lost, with full appreciation (not approval) of the terrors history has seen in the name of God.”

Someone going by the handle “jlangill” had this to say:

To look at atheists in any light one needs to define faith. Atheists that write about it are people of faith, true to their own dogma one of logic and absolute truths. If one looks at faith in the perspective of reason and absolute truths it falls apart every time because the points of religious faith are ‘Trust’, ‘Love’, and ‘Justice’. These three items are where all of the argument arises because there is no ‘logical” or ‘reasonable’ point to any of them. Many a thousand tomes of law and we are little closer to true justice.

…The pundits of atheist beliefs would have you think that these things are ruined by religious faith because of the actions of people that have lost the objectivity of an all powerful god… ‘We must rid the world of the infidels’ is what the zealots cry in the world of the all powerful god. Why should I raise a hand against anyone where God is the issuer of all judgment. So if the rationalists and the logical thinkers think that zealots are the beginning and the end of religious faith than they have missed the point.

In the book of Mica there is the shortest statement of faith. Being a youth group leader I teach this to all the youth I come in contact with whether they are of faith or not it goes, ‘And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?’(New American standard translation Mica 6:8) Even if I remove god from the statement I could live in a world where we ‘Do justice’ ‘Love kindness’ and ‘Walk Humbly’ couldn’t you? But it is that elusive something more, of having a light to guide me, the path already walked, even to my death that binds me to my religious faith.…”

And this, from one Paul Tuttle, quoting Ann Druyan, the widow of the late Carl Sagan:

His argument was not with God but with those who believed that our understanding of the sacred had been completed. Science’s permanently revolutionary conviction that the search for truth never ends seemed to him the only approach with sufficient humility to be worthy of the universe that it revealed. The methodology of science, with its error-correcting mechanism of keeping us honest in spite of our chronic tendencies to project, to misunderstand, to deceive ourselves and others, seemed to him the height of spiritual discipline.

…Ann quotes Bertrand Russell that ‘what is wanted is not the will to believe, but the desire to find out, which is the exact opposite.’ [Tuttle adds:] To argue in the support of science requires education and discipline, to argue in support of a religion only requires a vocabulary. But the real problem with belief without evidence is its ability create and maintain privilege. Carried to its extreme privilege justified through religion is capable of subjugating entire populations.”

Humanity and its abuse of faith in a higher spirit, or a higher authority, seems to define religion generically considered by the authors, in their own way. Another commenter, Colin Nicholas, has the perceptive sense to draw from Einstein’s God (quoted below), maybe as old as Aristotle’s, which exists as some intelligent force that somehow created everything but does not take part in human matters:

About God, I cannot accept any concept based on the authority of the Church. As long as I can remember, I have resented mass indocrination [sic]. I do not believe in the fear of life, in the fear of death, in blind faith. I cannot prove to you that there is no personal God, but if I were to speak of him, I would be a liar. I do not believe in the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil. My God created laws that take care of that. His universe is not ruled by wishful thinking, but by immutable laws.” [Nicholas cites William Hermanns’ Einstein and the Poet: In Search of the Cosmic Man]

All for now.

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