TAG | atheism
Atheists need to stop making fun of “Christian rock” and the assorted second rate derivates of culture produced by the evangelical subculture if this is not a rip-off of The Onion, Atheist ‘mega-churches’ look for nonbelievers:
It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Hundreds packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational sermon, a reading and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.
Dozens of gatherings dubbed “atheist mega-churches” by supporters and detractors are springing up around the U.S. after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke.
This is almost a parody of what organized atheism can become.
Maria Popova has written an interesting piece on Isaac Asimov’s attitude towards religion.
Here’s the great man himself:
I have never, not for one moment, been tempted toward religion of any kind. The fact is that I feel no spiritual void.
That Asimov never “felt” the tug of any faith, let alone any God-shaped hole is, I suspect, a reflection of the fact that an individual’s susceptibility to religious belief or even to “spirituality”(to use that gelatinous term) almost certainly owes more to his or her psyche (we can debate how much of that is down to the genes) than to anything else.
Asimov then succumbs to hubris:
I have my philosophy of life, which does not include any aspect of the supernatural and which I find totally satisfying. I am, in short, a rationalist and believe only that which reason tells me is so.
Oh come on. The idea that anyone’s beliefs are founded solely on reason is a leap too far. Robots may be built that way. Humans are not. Judging by the section I have highlighted in these comments below, Asimov was no exception:
The soft bonds of love are indifferent to life and death. They hold through time so that yesterday’s love is part of today’s and the confidence in tomorrow’s love is also part of today’s. And when one dies, the memory lives in the other, and is warm and breathing. And when both die — I almost believe, rationalist though I am — that somewhere it remains, indestructible and eternal, enriching all of the universe by the mere fact that once it existed.
Under the circumstances it’s perhaps not a surprise that Asimov bought into the soft-left mush that is so much of Secular Humanism (there’s a reference to that creed elsewhere in the piece), but I did like this:
There is nothing frightening about an eternal dreamless sleep. Surely it is better than eternal torment in Hell and eternal boredom in Heaven. And what if I’m mistaken? The question was asked of Bertrand Russell, the famous mathematician, philosopher, and outspoken atheist. “What if you died,” he was asked, “and found yourself face to face with God? What then?”
And the doughty old champion said, “I would say, ‘Lord, you should have given us more evidence.’”
Over at the American Conservative, Noah Millman is frustrated by the nature of the debate between scientists (or “science popularizers”) and theists.
I feel like we go around this track every other month. A scientist or science-popularizer writes an unpersuasive essay arguing that science “proves” that religion is bad for children and other living things; a theist responds with an unpersuasive essay arguing that without some grounding in the divine, we’re doomed to become Nazis.
Millman makes some leaps that I wouldn’t, but this is worth noting:
It’s almost as if neither side can accept the possibility that religion is a natural phenomenon. Steven Pinker wrote a whole book against the idea that we can simply ignore our innate natures when we concoct schemes for social improvement. How, then, can he blithely assume that we can, as a species, move beyond a phenomenon – religion – as old as our knowledge of ourselves?
Fair point. We cannot. Religion will always be with us in some shape or form. It’s that shape and that form—and how to house it—that should really concern us.
Anyway, read the whole piece. Food for thought.
…In the negative space between the two structures is a very large sacred religious symbol known as the “Star of David” which dominates the structure, even from a long distance. FFRF believes with the state of Ohio it is important to memorialize the Holocaust. We also believe that the solemnity and import of the task can be accomplished without permanently placing a religious symbol on government property. As the Star of David was deemed by European Jews to be the symbol that “would represent Judaism just as the cross did Christianity,” its prominent inclusion in the memorial gives the impression of an endorsement of Judaism.
In the course of a lengthy post over at Patheos, James Croft writes:
Interpreting the Star as a government endorsement of the Jewish religion requires an unreasonable rejection of central historical facts regarding the use of that symbol. A reasonable, well-informed observer (and any reasonable observer would seek to inform themselves) would see in this memorial not an attempt by the government to promote Judaism, but an attempt by the government to memorialize a despicable moment in human history, and to educate about it: a secular purpose. So, in my view, there is no legal problem here…
While I want to live in a secular society, I also want to live in an intelligent, thoughtful, historically-literate society which is capable of recognizing the difference between promotion of religion and memorialization of an atrocity.
Atheist shoes being sold out of Berlin, who knew?
Not for me, I think. I’m more inclined, inappropriately enough,to Church’s. On the other hand an atheist tote bag, stripped of any pretty sentiment (“nichts, nichts, nichts…jawohl”), now that is something that could tempt me, and probably will…
The site’s owners explain their logo—a black hole—as follows:
There are already hundreds of symbols for atheism and none of them tickle us in quite the right place… either they’re too sciency, or too literal, or just plain ugly… Well, our solution is inspired by a Christian friend (thanks Matt) who accused us of having god-shaped-holes. And we think a gaping, BLACK HOLE is absolutely perfect… And what says “I believe in nothing” better than nothing?
In its mad way, that’s just perfect, and so much better than the simpering nonsense on display in the New York Times today in an article by T.M. Luhrman, a Stanford professor of anthropology.
Yet believers and nonbelievers are not so different from one another, news that is sometimes a surprise to both. When I arrived at one church I had come to study, I thought that I would stick out like a sore thumb. I did not. Instead, I saw my own doubts, anxieties and yearnings reflected in those around me. People were willing to utter sentences — like “I believe in God” — that I was not, but many of those I met spoke openly and comfortably about times of uncertainty, even doubt. Many of my skeptical friends think of themselves as secular, sometimes profoundly so. Yet these secular friends often hover on the edge of faith. They meditate. They keep journals. They go on retreats. They just don’t know what to do with their spiritual yearnings.
“Spiritual yearnings”? Good lord. Whatever turns you on and all that, but nichts, nichts, nichts…jawohl just seems like a lot less fuss.
Atheist activists have a knack for picking riveting, infuriating and seemingly never-ending battles. During the Christmas season, they aim for nativities on public property and at the end of every school year, their targets set on commencement prayers.
While these battles have become all-too-familiar, there’s one showdown brewing that distinguishes itself from the rest — atheists’ demands that a cross found in the rubble following the September 11, 2001 attacks not be included in a museum that is being planned to commemorate the lives lost during the tragedy.
American Atheists (AA), a group working to advance the secular cause, has been leading the charge against the Ground Zero cross since July 2011, when the organization first filed suit against it. TheBlaze’s Meredith Jessup has explored this issue, in detail, on TheBlaze Blog, where she explained AA’s main arguments against the cross’ inclusion.
“The atheists’ suit claims that by including the cross in a museum on public property, the government is unconstitutionally endorsing a religion,” Jessup writes. “It also asserts that the mere presence of the cross would result in emotional — and possibly even physical — injuries among atheists who will feel anxious and excluded.”
Get a life and all that.
Rev. Gavin Dunbar is rector of Saint John’s, Savannah, Georgia, and here’s what he has been saying recently:
…The new atheists proclaim their gospel with the fervour of believers: God is dead, man is free, free from the destructive illusions of religion and morality, of reason and virtue. But then a someone dies, suddenly and cruelly, like the young man known to many in ..[this] parish [in [Eastern Georgia] who was killed in a freakish accident last weekend. And his death casts a pall of grief over his family, his friends, their families, his school, and many others. Yet if he was no more than an arrangement of molecules, a selfish gene struggling to replicate itself, there can be no reason for grief, or for the love that grieves, since these are (we are told) essentially selfish survival mechanisms left over from some earlier stage in hominid evolution. Friendship is just another illusion. But of course we do grieve, even the atheists. And in so grieving, they grieve better than they know (or think they know).
The grieving atheist cannot provide any reason why he grieves, or why he (rightly) respects the grief of others. For to grieve the death of such a young man is implicitly to affirm the reality of the soul. Man is embodied, to be sure; but what is embodied is a soul, capable of memory, reason, and love. To grieve the loss of anyone then is to lament the departure of a unique being, whose mind and heart have touched our lives in spontaneously beautiful and inimitable ways. To grieve is to travel even beyond the lost life of a loved one to the origin and source of the love we have known, and there to register our gratitude. To grieve, therefore, is to affirm that there is a higher source of value than ‘the selfish gene’ – there is a God, who is absolute truth and goodness, the very possibility of knowledge and love…
Where to begin?
I’ve no particular enthusiasm for the ‘New Atheists’ (they are far too religious for my tastes), but, in its combination of incoherence and hysteria, this attack on them by Bryan Appleyard (H/T Andrew Sullivan) takes some beating.
Here’s an extract (my emphasis added):
Ultimately, the problem with militant neo-atheism is that it represents a profound category error. Explaining religion – or, indeed, the human experience – in scientific terms is futile….The project is also curiously pointless. A couple of years ago I hired a car at Los Angeles Airport. The radio was tuned to a religious station. Too terrified to attempt simultaneously to change the channel and drive on the I-405, the scariest road in the world, in a strange car, I heard to my astonishment that Christopher Hitchens was the next guest on a Christian chat show.
In his finest fruity tones and deploying $100 words, Hitchens took the poor presenter apart. Then he was asked if this would be a better world if we disposed of all religions. “No,” he replied. I almost crashed the car.
The answer demonstrates the futility of the neo-atheist project. Religion is not going to go away. It is a natural and legitimate response to the human condition, to human consciousness and to human ignorance…
Appleyard is right. Religion is not going away, because, it is indeed a “natural” response (its legitimacy is an irrelevance) and, as such, rather well suited to scientific explanation.
De Botton has little chance of success — either in starting a chain of Agape restaurants, or in persuading bigots on either side of this argument. Meanwhile, very many people who already attend church, synagogue or temple will do so, as has presumably always been the case, in many varied states of mind, which have included that of total unbelief.
It is a sad story, because, between the end of the Victorian age and the 1960s, it really looked as if there was a chance for Christianity, at least, to absorb, and accept, the fact that many people who had discarded the old ways of believing, yet saw the point of a liturgical year, punctuated by ritual observances; they also saw the point of old ceremonies accompanying birth, marriage and death. De Botton, in his attractive comments about Yom Kippur, regrets the fact that secularists do not have a time of year when they can all acknowledge the faults of the past year and try to patch up quarrels — but surely they do: it is the post-Dickensian observance of Christmas. Many who realise the extreme historical unlikelihood of Jesus having been to Bethlehem, let alone having been born there to the accompaniment of angel choirs, see the point of Scrooge’s conversion.
It must always have been the case, in all religions, that there was an enormous difference of belief among the adherents. In pre-Christian times, as you went through the Roman year as chronicled in Ovid’s Fasti, there would have been Epicurean atheists and Platonist worshippers of the Good and those who did not think about such matters, all offering incense at the same altars. The same was probably true of churches and synagogues and temples throughout the world.
Over a century ago, within the Church of England, figures such as Dean Stanley were propounding a position very similar to the one recommended in this book. The Catholic Modernists went further in their rejection of the old mythology. But Pope Pius X ruthlessly stamped them out and the sad fact is that, in all attempts since to explore this kind of territory, churches have reacted in a paranoid and intolerant manner…
Don Cupitt, the former Dean of Emmanuel College, Cambridge ‘came out’ as an actual atheist decades ago, and there was the Death of God school of theology in America, but they did not do much to win a following in those churches which preferred to hunker down behind orthodox stockades. Quite why this is so is for sociologists and psychiatrists to explore. The ‘modern’ phenomenon is not, actually, the apparently radical idea expressed by de Botton. Historically speaking, the modern idea is that religious rites should only be permitted to those prepared to jump through certain intellectual hoops as an entrance requirement.
As soon as the churches began to introduce that Visa control, they guaranteed that they would lose millions of adherents. As de Botton shows in chapter after chapter, it is natural for human beings to follow ritual observances. The intolerance and stupidity of the churches were as much to blame for such people being cut adrift as were the dogmatic atheists, with their fifth-form debating club ‘arguments’ about whether God ‘exists’.
Writing in the weekend’s Wall Street Journal, cuddly atheist Alain de Botton offers up a vision of hell with his proposal for a series of atheist “Agape” restaurants (God help us) at which secular folk could come to share in all the fun of Mass, Seder or the like:
The large number of people who patronize restaurants suggests that they are refuges from anonymity and coldness, but in fact they have no systematic mechanism for introducing patrons to one another, to dispel their mutual suspicions, to break up the clans into which they segregate themselves or to get them to open up their hearts and share their vulnerabilities with others. At a modern restaurant, the focus is on the food and the décor, never on opportunities for extending and deepening affections.
Has the man never been on a date?
But I interrupt:
Patrons tend to leave restaurants much as they entered them, the experience having merely reaffirmed existing tribal divisions. Like so many institutions in the modern city (libraries, nightclubs, coffee shops), restaurants know full well how to bring people into the same space, but they lack any means of encouraging them to make meaningful contact with one another once they are there.
With the benefits of the Mass and the drawbacks of contemporary dining in mind, we can imagine an ideal restaurant of the future, an Agape Restaurant. Such a restaurant would have an open door, a modest entrance fee and an attractively designed interior. In its seating arrangement, the groups and ethnicities into which we commonly segregate ourselves would be broken up; family members and couples would be spaced apart. Everyone would be safe to approach and address, without fear of rebuff or reproach. By simple virtue of being in the space, guests would be signaling—as in a church—their allegiance to a spirit of community and friendship.
Though there wouldn’t be religious imagery on the walls, some kind of art that displayed examples of human vulnerability, whether in relation to physical suffering, poverty, anxiety or romantic discord, would bring more of who we actually are into the public realm, lending to our connections with others a new and candid tenor.
This may just be me, but I suspect that images of “physical suffering, poverty, anxiety or romantic discord” are generally incompatible with a hearty meal for all but psychopaths and sadists, categories of people with whom I never like to dine more than is strictly necessary.
But back to de Botton:
Religions are aware that the moments around the ingestion of food are propitious to moral education. It is as if the imminent prospect of something to eat seduces our normally resistant selves into showing some of the same generosity to others as the table has shown to us. Religions also know enough about our sensory, nonintellectual dimensions to be aware that we cannot be kept on a virtuous track simply through the medium of words. They know that their captive audience is likely to accept a trade-off between ideas and nourishment—and so they turn meals into disguised ethical lessons…
…Taking their seats at an Agape Restaurant, guests would find in front of them guidebooks reminiscent of the Haggadah (the text followed at a Passover Seder) or the Missal, laying out the rules for how to behave at the meal. No one would be left alone to find their way to an interesting conversation with another, any more than it would be expected of participants at a Passover meal or in the Eucharist that they might manage independently to alight on the salient aspects of the history of the tribes of Israel or achieve a sense of communion with God.
The Book of Agape would direct diners to speak to one another for prescribed lengths of time on predefined topics. Like the famous questions that the youngest child at the table is assigned by the Haggadah to ask during the Passover ceremony (“Why is this night different from all other nights?” “Why do we eat unleavened bread and bitter herbs?” and so on), these talking points would be carefully crafted for a specific purpose, to coax guests away from customary expressions of pride (“What do you do?” “Where do your children go to school?”) and toward a more sincere revelation of themselves (“What do you regret?” “Whom can you not forgive?” “What do you fear?”).
The liturgy would inspire charity in the deepest sense, a capacity to respond with complexity and compassion to the existence of our fellow creatures. One would be privy to accounts of fear, guilt, rage, melancholy, unrequited love and infidelity that would generate an impression of our collective insanity and endearing fragility.
As I said, a vision of Hell.