Sunday, May 20, 2007

Theists and A-theists Take off the Gloves


From the 2004 publication of The End of Faith by Sam Harris, through last year's book by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, right down to today, we're seeing a host of books tackling both sides of the God question. Latest and perhaps most snarky (or so I hear) is the attack on religion by Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything. In the Books section of this week's New Yorker Anthony Gottleib has written an article, Atheists with Attitude, about these recent books -- but even more about the history of atheism and its most notable proponents.

Why all these books right now? Gottlieb writes:

The felling of the World Trade Center in New York, on September 11, 2001, brought its share of religion. Two populist preachers, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, called it divine punishment (though both quickly withdrew their remarks), and not only the bereaved prayed for help. But September 11th and its aftershocks in Bali, Madrid, London, and elsewhere are more notable for causing an outbreak of militant atheism, at least on bookshelves. The terrorist attacks were carried out in the name of Islam, and they have been taken, by a string of best-selling books, to illustrate the fatal dangers of all religious faith.

One of the most interesting aspects of Gottlieb's article is what he says about historical disasters and their influence on thinkers of those times. One of its considerably less successful aspects, it seems to me, is the way he jumps back and forth between rejection of belief in God - atheism - and rejection of religious institutions. It's an expression of a genuinely thorny theological problem when someone cannot believe in God because he or she has difficulty accepting both belief in God, and the presence of random and undeserved suffering in the world. But making the same decision because human beings do - and have always done - terrible things in the name of their religions is not, I would suggest, the same thing at all.

Perhaps someone reading here might summarize the recent discussion about atheism that took place during the recent "Faith and Reason" course at the Centre for Lay Education at the Montreal Diocesan Theological College. I wonder, also, how readers feel about this whole question of atheism in recent popular books and articles. Does it concern you? Do you feel personally involved when someone attacks "belief"? In your life, have you felt that people made assumptions about you because of your faith? Have you ever tried to defend your faith to an avowed atheist - or have you (as I have!) ever called yourself an atheist?

--Beth Adams

26 comments:

Earl said...

These are interesting questions. I did not have a true home church for some years. It was not until after "shopping" around for awhile in Montreal that I found a Christian church that encouraged Christians to really think about God, scripture and the meaning of life. That church is Christ Church Cathedral on Ste. Catherine,s Street nest to The Bay. I believe it is THE church in Montreal at this time that is helping to lead its "flock" into a new spirituality, best summarized in book form by Marcus Borg, John Domminic Crossan, John Selby Spong, etc. We call their considered way of thinking the "new paradigm", as opposed to the old one that takes the Bible literally.

So when I have to explain my return to Christianity I have a double challenge. The first is to expalin why I don't think I'm living in sin if I wear fabric composed of two materials, or heat soup on Sunday... that the Bible is a vast historical, albeit mostly religious record of a people spanning almost 2000 years. Hardly the most relevant spiritual guide for the 21st century!

The second, and the most difficult, of course, is to try to explain how one can (to be cont'd)

Earl said...

The second challenge is that most atheists I know (including, amazingly most of the writers Beth mentnions) are ignorant about the new paradigm and think God still intervenes literally in the actions of the world. Like most critics of these books I have the impression that this new group of authors have read nothing since C.S. Lewis, on the one hand, and Bertran Russell on the other!

Earl said...

They have not absorded the serious research of the past 100 years of so! Yet, they want to make a splash, a name for themselves and some quick bucks. So they are preying of the public's gullibility and naivete. Since these writings are the most in view it makes it even harder to reach the unbelievers. But I think the chance would be better if we could explain the new paradigm to our atheist friends.

Earl said...

(PARTS of the Bible are still the best spiritual guide, lol, it's just that the fundementalists and unbelievers get mired down in the muck and gloss over the best parts!)

Earl said...

So encourage atheists to read the more advanced literature that is based not just on faith and revelation but upon historical facts and considered research. Isn't this surely the correct "way"? Give copies of Karen Armstrong's "The Great Transforation" to friends. Try to get them reading thinking seriously again. Find ways of getting the message out.

Beth said...

Thanks, Earl, for making these points. I couldn't agree with you more -- many self-professed "unbelievers" are actually highly intelligent people who simply can't reconcile their knowledge of the world with religious belief as it was taught to them, and have never been exposed to people and churches grappling openly and collectively how to be both believers and educated, scientific thinkers. There's a definite opportunity here and a lot of work to do, both inward and outward, don't you agree?

Earl said...

Yes, Beth. Do these atheist writers ever wonder why some of history's smartest people, like Einstein, to take one instance, was religious? (See Time magazine, Apr. 16, 2007.) Do the Hitchens et al. realize that the greatest human disasters of the 20th century were atheist driven, i.e., Hitler and Stalin? As the Dean said in last Sunday's sermon: "To make war as a means to end terrorism makes as much sense as improving life by standing on our heads." How long will this neoconservative society blather promoted by a failing "liberal" press keep pulling the wool over peoples' eyes!

Beth said...

My good friend Teju Cole left the following comment at my own blog, when I linked to this post at Anglicans Really Alive. His background,and his fine writing, which you will discover if you visit his blog, Modal Minority, at http://modalminority.typepad.com/modalminority/
would be interesting to readers here.

"Hitchens is a polemicist, but of the recent books--from what I can tell from his first chapter and the reviews I've read--his is the one that strikes a subtle note: that religion has exarcebated human problems, not caused them. It's an important distinction, and of course it's open to debate.

What I have found peculiar, though, is the strange air of consensus amongst reviewers: that it is bad form to criticize the religious way of thinking. There's a hush around religion, as if how seriously people held certain beliefs were sufficient grounds for not criticizing such beliefs. This has the effect of putting the irreligious on the defensive, and I think that's part of what has been responsible for the recent spate of anti-theist polemics.

I happen to agree with most of the facts as presented by Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris. I share their irritation at the worldwide theist-hegemony. But I can't join them in believing that the world would be better if, tomorrow, we all woke up irreligious.

What I find that many of the anti-theists and their theist adversaries have in common is the mentality that the world is solvable. The Pope thinks the world needs to turn back to God and into the arms of the Church, Dawkins thinks the world needs to give up on all supernatural beliefs, and the Imams are convinced that all would be well with us if we only submit to Allah and the fatwas of his servants.

But what doesn't seem to occur to any of them is that the world is neither a puzzle to be solved nor a secret to be uncovered but rather a mystery to be endured and enjoyed.

Bill said...

Beth,

I,too, have been pondering why there is this sudden torrent of books and articles on atheism. It is almost a throwback to the nineteenth century. I think of Bertrand Russell's "Why I am not a Christian." However, unlike the atheism of protest that we find in the writings of Dostoevski or Albert Camus, this type of atheism is probably more symptomatic of a certain malaise, especially in the case of Western Europe. It offers no vision of "a new heaven and a new earth." Instead it is an open invitation to despair!

Bill

Kathleen said...

I'll take humanist atheists and agnostics any day over a doctrine riddled hypocrite who is willing to kill me if I do not embrace his/her version of Christianity.
Hitchens is not attacking God, but religions, which from the beginning of time have been excuses for cruelty, torture, and murder. "My god is better than your god" has poisoned humanity forever. Kathleen

Bill said...

Beth,

I want to take up a couple of points from Earl and Kathleen.

First, Earl's comment about the "new paradigm." I associate this with Marcus Borg. Am I right?
In any case, it reminds me of the Galileo Affair in the 17th century.
Copernicus put forward his heliocentric theory of the universe as a hypothesis. He wrote his treatise in Latin and dedicated it to the Pope! No problem.

Galileo, who was somewhat less cautious and by nature probably more impulsive (after all, he was Italian!), published his heliocentric theory as fact, based on his own observations, using a telescope and he wrote in Italian, not Latin. The rest is history.

However, the controversy over the relative merits of the Ptolemaic and the Copernican systems continued to be debated for a couple of centuries. I seem to remember reading somewhere that both theories were still taught at Harvard in the 19th century.

Of course, the Copernican theory won out in the end, following the course that Thomas S. Kuhn has traced in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" (3rd ed. 1996) Anyone who has not already read Kuhn, should do so without delay! His thinking bears directly on the issues we are facing.

In the case of religion, I think the paradigm shift has already begun with the new leaders of the fundamenntalist and evangelical movemts in the U.S. They realize that the unbending fundamentalism and the rigid moralism of the older generation of leaders no longer works today. It simply doesn't wash anymore. An increaingly urbanized and better educated generation who rely more on the Internet than radio and television for their information and news will not buy it. The fundamentalists made very effective use of both radio and television to broadcast their messages of hate and intolerance

There have been several articles recently in the NY Times about the emergent leadership within the ranks of both the fundamentalists and the evangelicals. They suggest that a more moderate and centrist positioning is occurring. Let us hope that this is the case.

The present resurgece of atheism is definitely the result of the politicization of religion in the U.S.A. in the past thirty years. The Religious Right has supported the Bush Administration from day one and helped to get it re-elected for a second term, with horrendous consequences for both America and the world. Al Gore's new book, "The Assault on Reason" address this subject. The irrationality which often seems to characterize fundamentalism has now spread to the public square. Despite the separation of church and state in the U.S. constitution, this has happened and continues to happen, with even direct government grants being doled out to faith based communities. Where is the ACLU?

The Religious Right's obsession with abortion and homosexuality, rather than, say, with poverty, homelessness, divorce and the plight of single parents, the working poor, illegal immigrants, drug addicts and the former mental patients who wander our streets speaks volumes. Do these people ever read the Gospels? Can they even read?

The failure of religious institutions to deal with their internal problems has destroyed trust in the churches and this in turn has led to rejection of the faith. There is a serious error in not making a clear distinction between the faith and the institution that embodies it. Christopher Hitchens seems to make this mistake.

The sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church in both the U.S. and Canada have done an undetermined amount of damage. They have certainly destroyed the credibility of the hierarchy. The fallout for priests and religious cannot be easily assessed but it must seriously affect recruitment of candidates for the priesthood and the religious orders.

Trust has to be earned. Once lost, it is very difficult to restore, particularly in an organization as centralized as the Roman catholic Church.

Then, closer to home, there is the history of the Indian residential schools in Canada and the role the churches played in it, especially the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church.



All this obviously makes for confusion and leads to feelings of disgust, if not outright despair. Many people have simply abandoned the institutal church which appears increasingly to be unrelated to their lives and the lives of the marginalized and dispossessed (why for example are we being asked to contribute towards the rebuilding of the"igloo" cathedral in the Arctic at a cost of $6 million dollars when the plight of our native people is a national disgrace?)

Kathleen sums up these feelings very well in her comment. I have spoken of the atheism of protest in my earlier posting. She speaks of the honest atheist/agnostic. There are,indeed, such people. I have met them!

Bill

Bill said...

Beth,

Further to my earlier comment today, I want to add something to what I said about the institutional church (I apologize for the misspelling of that word in the penultimate paragraph).

Dorothy Solle, the radical German 20th century theologian said that religion needs to be understood in its twofold function.
First, it legitimates and conserves the status quo.

Secondly, it is also an agent of change and liberation, even of protest. Liberation Theology in South America is one example. The Anglican Church in South Africa in its opposition to Apartheid is another. It also mediates between the oppressed and the oppressors, as may be seen from the Book of Exodus.

A good illustration of this twofold function is the ante-bellum South where slavery was seen as being congruent with the Bible (after all, there was considerable legislation in the Hebrew Bible respecting slaves and they are even mentioned in the Ten Commandments!). Paul (or at least the writer of the deutero-pauline letters) recognized the institution of slavery in the Hellenistic world. Some of the first Christians were, in fact, themselves slaves. Onesimus, for example, whose behaviour occasioned Paul's Letter to Philemon. Slavery was seen as part of the natural order of things.

However, a very different reading of the same texts gave rise to the anti-slavery movement in Britain and later in the United States. William Wilberforce was led by his Christian convictions to become a vigorous opponent of slavery. As a statesman and brilliant orator, he was able to lead the fight for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, long before it was abolished in the United States. The Emancipation Act of 1833 was the result of his life's work. Wilberforce was an evangelical whose faith came from his reading the NT. (He also helped to found the Church Missionary Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society.)

It is unclear to me how atheism could have effected such a radical change, given that the British Empire was built on the slave trade as, indeed, was the Roman Empire.

The experience of state-sponsored atheism in the 20th century in the USSR and in Communist China is one of oppression and persecution, for which the gulag is not an inappropriate metaphor. The aftermath in the former USSR has been one of demographic decline, decreasing life expectancy for males, drug addiction and alcoholism and more recently HIV/AIDS. Russia found itself in a state of virtual anomie.

Recall Dostoevski's dictum: "If God does not exist, then everything is permitted." The Jacobins in France in the 18th century; Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the 20th century. Ideological atheism has been responsible for the deaths of countless millions. It is even more destructive than religious fundamentalism because it creates a spiritual wasteland.

The idea that atheism confers freedom is a serious and dangerous delusion which recent history seems to controvert!

Bill

Earl said...

Well, thank God Dostoyevsky was wrong! God exists, otherwise the human race may have been extinguished by now!

What I'd like to see now is some discussion of where the world is headed spiritiually. As late as last summer I (and Gene Robinson for that matter who spoke on this at the "Out Mass") were quite optimistic that the tenets of the axial religions (due to writers like Spong, Armstrong, Borg, etc.; the enlightened teachings in the divinity schools, and the aridity of the Pope's and fundamentalists leaders version of Christianity) would become more manifest. Also, the younger generations' greater acceptance of human rights (even in our own diocese!)and the soon-to-be dying off of the older generation gave me hope. Today I'm not too sure. Will thinking people start turning away militant forms of religion (including myriad congregations in North America)or are too many people loosing the ability to think? Is the "me-generation" spreading? Are we being fooled into thinking that with the demise of the Bush administration and its accompanying corruption (not to mention the increasing corruption at all levels of society throughout the world)that there is hope?

Earl said...

P.S. A recent U.S. poll determined that over half of all self-identified "Christians" in the U.S. do not know who gave the Sermon on the Mount. Go figure.

Bill said...

Earl,

I think it is much too early to say how things are going to devolve in the next decade or so. Certainly the environmental crisis is going to force the developed countries to address the problems endemic to the developing world--poverty, disease, environmental degradation, etc.

So far as institutional religion is concerned, I think that there is going to be a rejection of the religious right in the USA, if the present Republican Administration is defeated, as I hope it will be. However, this is by no means certain. I have my doubts about the Democratic Party's strategy. But I think the religious right has definitely overreached itself and is certainly badly compromised. The war in Iraq weighs heavily upon them and now the prospect of defeat is really frightening!

Jerry Falwell's death signals a changing of the guard for the religious conservatives. I think that the new leaders of the evangelical movement are going to be more moderate and certainly a lot more sophisticated.

In Canada, the decline of institutional religion will no doubt continue, at least for the old mainline churches, the Anglicans, the Presbyterians and the United Church. I don't buy the results of Reginald Bibby's polls.

The Roman Catholic Church will no doubt continue to get a boost from the immigrants from Latin America and the Philippines. This is already the case here in Quebec.

The Anglican Church of Canada is likely to be further weakened by whatever the outcome of General Synod in June and Lambeth next year is. We are probably going to lose people, however it goes. Already I hear people saying that they are fed up with the controversy over the residential schools and same sex unions, that there are other issues that need our attention. Believe me when I say that this is a no-win situation!

With respect to the theological students, many of them seem to be small "c" conservatives theologically. The mature candidates for the ministry seem more preoccupied with their careers than with current theological issues. This is to be expected.

The older generation of Anglicans, whom you describe as "dying off" soon, are probably still in the church because that was the way they were socialized. I am not clear how much of their religion is simply conventional and how much of it is deeply held faith. It is impossible to say. However, their passing is going to be noticed because they are not being replaced! Most of them support the church and its programs to the best of their ability. They continue to serve on the various committees and contribute financially according to their means. Some even leave bequests!

However, you are right about the general level of ignorance of the Christian faith by many self-professed Christians in Canada and the United States, especially self-described "bible-believing" Christians.

The church has some responsibility for this situation in that it has failed to transmit the faith in a way that is both intelligible and readily accessible to ordinary people, using language they can understand.

There is still an enormous gulf between the academy and the pulpit, on the one hand, and between the pulpit and the people in the pews, on the other hand. At the Cathedral we have managed to narrrow that gap somewhat.

Of couse, this is where liturgy comes in. It is essentially a sign system and operates subliminally. Have you read any of the work of the postfeminist writer and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva? She is Bulgarian and grew up in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Her latest novel "Murder in Byzantium" shows it!

Of course, this is how the Russian Orthodox Church managed to survive 75 years of militant atheism and outright persecution. Who could have imagined that the Cathdral of the Saviour in Moscow would be rebuilt (and so splendidly) after all those years of "godless" atheistic materialism.

Russian scientific materialism failed singularly because it never managed to penetrate the consciousness of the Russian masses. The intelligentsia, who had begun to think again for themselves, were open to religion, especially to orthodoxy and Russian popular traditions. Some recovered their faith when they started to collect ikons. Really not a bad way to begin, when you think about it!

Christopher Hitchens, by the way, is ideologically aligned with the oppressors rather than with the oppressed,pace, Kathleen (I was going to say, with the murderers, rather than their victims but I refrained)! Some of the details of his biography are somewhat disturbing. Be sure to take the time to check them!

Bill

Earl said...

Good post Bill, thx! Who is Reginald Bibby?

I understand that about 3% of Canadian Anglicans left the "church" when we decided to ordain women (don't know whether or not they came back). I think we can survive a similar number once we have the green light for same-sex blessings. (I'm willing to increase my financial contribution by 3% - lol.) Just think about the numbers we may gain!

I also understand that the woman priest from Edmonton who is apparently a frontrunner for our new primate is anti-same-sex union. Some people have said that she might feel we are moving too fast!!! Imagine! A woman priest! Reminds me of Condy Rice. How does such a smart, priviliged, coddled black woman end up thinking the way she does? Have the Saudis set up a $10 million retirement fund for her?

God, the world is corrupt!

Re disconnects in the church. There is still a vast disconnect between the academy and the pulpit as well, especially in our diocese, but gratefully not at the Cathedral.

Bill said...

Earl,

Two points by way of clarification:

(1) Reginald Bibby is a professor at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, who has been tracking religious trends in Canada for several decades now. Known as "bad news" Bibby, he has become somewhat more upbeat recently, except for Quebec!

(2) Victoria Matthews is the Anglican bishop of Edmonton. She withdrew from the race last time because she was diagnosed with cancer. Theologically she is considered to be a conservative.

Remember, this issue is now being treated as a doctrinal matter rather than simply an issue of pastoral care where, in my view, it more properly belongs.

It is this kind of thing, however, which makes secular society increasingly impatient with and intolerant of the church. The authority of scripture is invoked as a smoke screen for maintaining reactionary and outmoded social and theological views. God then gets blamed for this impasse!

Unlike secular society, which relies increasingly on decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada, based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we have no mechanism to decide these matters, except by way of consensus. We do not have a magisterium to decide these issues for us, ex cathedra.


Bill

Natalie said...

I wholly agree with Teju Cole's comment that:

"...the world is neither a puzzle to be solved nor a secret to be uncovered but rather a mystery to be endured and enjoyed."

and I also feel that the current plethora of A-theist literature is a good thing, stirring up debate about matters that need stirring up. Yet I'm a believer and for me the mystery to be endured and enjoyed is precisely the existence of that something Other we lamely call "God" because we have no language to properly describe that Otherness. Is it possible to talk about God and about belief without referring to religion? I'd like to think so. Religion and its well-known flaws, outrages, excesses, as well as its positive aspects, is after all a human invention. Some might disagree but as I see it, the various religions are social constructs, institutions, and like all human organisations they reflect their leaders' aims, aspirations, delusions and their manner of exercising power. But what about the Otherness? How can any institution represent that mystery? Is God interested in religion? Is God religious? These are the kind of questions which I find stimulating. Even if we'll never know if the answers we find during flights of imagination are anywhere near the truth, it's still worth getting aboard such flights.

Bill said...

Beth,

I agree very much agree with what Natalie has written.

The 20th century German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of the need for "religionless" Christianity and the importance of using "secular" language to address modern society.

Michel Onfray's "In Defense of Atheism: The case against Christianity, Judaism and Islam" calls for a "post-Christian secularism" and a return to Reason.

Onfray is very concrned about what he perceives as a growing and pervasive relativism. The Pope shares his concern as does Jurgen Habermas!

That religions are social constructs was already recognized in the 18th century by the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), although the idea still strikes many people as novel.

Natalie is also right which she states that vigorous debate is healthy. It is the sign of a vital democratic and pluralistic society!

Bill

Bill said...

Beth,

An opinion piece in The Catholic Register (May 6, 2007) has a couple of quotes from Einstein's journals which may be germane to our discussion of contemporary atheism:

"What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility towards the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos."

And again:

"Fanatical atheists are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after a hard struggle. They are creatures who-in their grudge against traditional religion as 'the opium of the masses'--camnnot hear the music of the spheres."

Quoted in "Einstein on God and Religion," by Fr. Ron Rolheiser. Opinion, The Catholic Register. Week of May 6, 2007, p. 19.

Bill

Natalie said...

Bill, the music of the spheres is exactly what I mean by the Otherness, and at the same time, by the everydayness of what I understand to be God. I've tried to put some of that into my comic-strip book "The God Interviews" and I'd be interested to know what you think of it. A slide-show of the pages is here:
http://www.nataliedarbeloff.com/interviewgod.html

Bill said...

Natalie,

I have now had a chance to look at your slide show 'The God Interview,' and I think it is excellent. I recommend it to visitors to the blog.

At the noonday eucharist on Friday at the Cathedral, the celebrant asked why this sudden profusion of books about atheism. Leaviing aside the philosophical issues involved, he simply asked whether the world really would be a better place without God or religion. He concluded that it would probably not be a better place, perhaps even a worse place!

Certainly the history of the 20th century would seem to confirm his view. State sponsored atheism resulted in the deaths of millions. Think of Josef Stalin and Pol Pot.

Already in the 19th century, Dostoevsky predicted that if Russian atheists ever attained power, they would use the sword to impose atheism of the masses. He was right. They did. Of course, Stalin was not a Russian but a Georgian and an ex-seminarian as well!

Bill

Bill said...

Beth,

The question has come up, Which titles are we talking about other than Christopher Hitchens' God is not Great, when we speak of a profusion of new books about atheism.

I am going to list a few here.
The dates refer to editions available or announced. These are not recommendations. A full listing of available titles with prices may be found at www. Amazon.ca Atheism.

Here goes:

Richard Dawkins,The God Delusion, 2006;

Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell;

David Mills, Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person's Answer to Christian Fundamentalists, 2006;

Michael Onfray, Atheist Manifesto: The case against Christianity, Judaism and Islam (announced for 2008);

George Smith, Atheism: Case Against God;

Victor Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis, 2007

On the other side of the question:

Allistair McGrath & Joanna Collicutt McGrath,The Dawkins' Delusion: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, 2007;

Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live without God, 2004 & The Real Face of Atheism, 2004


There is also The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, ed. Michael Martin.

For a more literary discussion try Fydor Dostoevsky's novels The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. Both provide excellent discussions on the basis of 19th century positivism or 18th century rationalism. Also Russian nihilism which rejected customary beliefs in matters of religion and morality.

John Polkinghorne, a British mathematical physicist and an ordained priest of the Church of England, is also well worth reading.

It is important to remark here that atheism always arises within a particular social or cultural context, for example, 5th century Athens.

In the 18th century, atheism was inspired by the rationalism of the Enlightenment and by anti-clericalism, especially in France.

In the 19th century, atheism was driven by positivism (Auguste Comte, for example). Anti-clericalism was also an important factor in Italy and France.

In the 20th century atheism was largely ideological--Marxist-Leninism, based on the presuppositions of 19th century materialism and positivism.

Today's atheism seems to lack a proper metaphysical foundation. This is due in part to Friedrich Nietzsche who not only proclaimed the death of God but also the demise of metaphysics.

Nietzsche assetered: "There are no facts, only interpretations!" He thereby cut the ground out from under positivism which appealed to "scientific facts." According to Nietzsche there are no such things. Post-modernists would probably agree!

This leaves atheism as a belief system: Non credo in deo! This means that it can be neither proved nor disproved. It must be accepted or rejected on the basis of probability. It is in the final analysis a matter of belief. Pascal's Wager!

Finally, I submit that the current wave of books on atheism is a response to militant Islam in Europe, where a number of similar titles have been published recently in France.

In the United States, it appears to be a response to the rising tide of religiosity and religious fundamentalism in politics.

Finally, I would suggest that atheism per se is not a real threat. The danger lies rather with nihilism which denies that there exists any basis whatsoever for knowledge or truth.

This negative attitude is growing, especially in Europe where it manifests itself as a pervasive relativism.

Pope Benedict XVI has addressed this cultural development on a number of occasions recently.

Nihilism has very broad political, social and economic implications, including a negative birth rate. In so far as it denies any basis for knowledge, whether past or present, it may result in the denial, for example, of the Holocaust or the Gulag. It can also lead to fascism.

Ideas have consequences!!!

I hope visitors to the blog will contribute other titles, plus their take on this phenomenon.

Bill

Anonymous said...

I happened upon this blog, and saw that Einstein was quoted as being religious.

I just wanted to make very clear that Albert Einstein did not believe in a god nor was he religious in a spiritual sense. His god was Spinoza's God - a "God" of nature that does not extend beyond our physical Universe.

But rather than me interpret his thoughts, let me quote him directly where he attempts to, once and for all, clear up the confusion over his unfortunate usage of "god" and "religion".

On 24 March 1954 from Albert Einstein:

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

---------
---------

It stands to reason, of course, that such a brilliant man who has devoted his life to EVIDENCE, would then follow doctrine based on FAITH.

Simply believing in something because "it makes sense" or "feels right" is not something scientists do, especially brilliant ones. And it's not as if they would like to believe in religion or god and can't reconcile science and religion. It's because that once one understands Science and grows in her ecumenical understanding of the Universe, religion and god concepts become demeaning to civilisation and childlike, respectively.

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