Monday, 26 May 2014

Runny Atheism

I was reading Arts and Letters Daily recently and I came across an article by Jenny Diski whom I know via The London Review of Books. ‘Oh’ I said to myself, in giddy surmise ‘I didn’t know she was Jewish’. Which she is, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Prepare yourself for a revelation - the internet is a tribal place. Whatever knee you jerk with and if you cross yourself withershins or not at all, there is a place for you where you will find a comfortable level of agreement with a soupçon of dissidence provided by stray pilgrims of an alternate universe that wander in and are ritually disembowelled or disemvowelled.

Birds of a philosophic feather flock together and tweet in chorus. The agnostic/atheist amongst them have taken to ritually deprecate the civilian excesses of Richard Dawkins. I saw this recently with Philip Kitcher discussing the God question with Gary Gutting on
He holds that the different doctrines held by religions which contradict each other indicate the general falsity of the lot of them. That’s a point which is regularly made without admitting any nuance in what doctrinal elaboration attempts to capture. He’s simply not interested in any of this and yet it must be central to religions adherents. Dawkins does take it seriously because they do. There’s an honesty to that in comparison to the runny atheism of Kitcher. Not even good in parts.

P.K.: Right, they don’t have to pick and choose among the religions of the world. They see all religions as asserting that there is more to the cosmos than is dreamed of either in our mundane thoughts or in our most advanced scientific descriptions. Different cultures gesture toward the “transcendent” facets of reality in their many alternative myths and stories. None of the myths is factually true, although they’re all true in the sense that their “fruits for life” are good. Prominent examples of refined believers include William James, Martin Buber and Paul Tillich, and, in our own day, Karen Armstrong, Robert Bellah and Charles Taylor. When refined religion is thoroughly embedded, religious tolerance thrives, and often much good work is done......

I see refined religion as a halfway house. In the end, a thoroughly secular perspective, one that doesn’t suppose there to be some “higher” aspect of reality to serve as the ground of values (or as the ground of assurance that the important values can be realized), can do everything refined religion can do, without becoming entangled in mysteries and difficult problems. Most important, this positive secular humanism focuses directly on the needs of others, treating people as valuable without supposing that the value derives from some allegedly higher source. The supposed “transcendent” toward which the world’s religions gesture is both a distraction and a detour.

Polite atheism, stealth atheism, of this exsanguinatory kind makes me pine for the enthusiasm and the whiff of tent which Dawkins brings to the row.


skholiast said...

Funny thing about that "halfway house" notion, it's just what I think about soft-boiled atheism. You know, it's fine if it gives them some comfort, if it's "all they can take." Not everyone is ready, yet, to stand the scathing mercy of l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle.

ombhurbhuva said...

What Yeats said:
‘A rancourous rational leveling sort of a mind
that never looked out of the eye of a saint
or out of drunkard’s eye.’