incarnated impediments

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James Wood's New Yorker piece "God in the Quad" (pp. 75-79 of the 31 August issue, only an abstract of which is online) starts off with the rather ludicrous supposition that:

"a resurgent atheism [is] marked by its own kind of Biblical literalism." (p. 75)

Really? There's a text that we revere, that we believe in literally without evidence, and follow with little critical thought and sometimes without even understanding? One that is not open to correction, subject to revision, or capable of outright replacement?

But gets better:

"The new atheists do not speak to the millions of people whose form of religion is far from the embodied certainties of contemporary literalism, and who aren't inclined to submit to the mad mullahs and the fanatical ministers." (p. 75)

If you added up Jainism, Shintoism, and Taoism, you'd certainly have "millions of people whose form of religion is far from the embodied certainties of contemporary literalism." Unfortunately for Wood's argument, the Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews who we atheists tend to criticize--and whose embodied certainties lie at the root of so much strife in the world--number in the billions.

"Abolishing the category of the religious robs non-believers of some surplus of the inexpressible; it forbids the contrails of uncertainty to pass over our lives. What is most repellent about the new atheism is its intolerant certainty..." (p. 76)

What, exactly, do we supposedly treat with such certainty? I don't know that I've ever seen an atheist either as intolerant or as certain about disbelief as theists often are about belief.

"the new atheists have, finally, an incomprehension of the actual faith that people lead their lives by" (p. 79)

Wood appears to be unaware that, as minority citizens in a hyper-religious society--not to mention members of religious families and often former theists ourselves--atheists comprehend quite well the "actual faith" as it is lived around us. Whether theists can comprehend the fulfillment of lives without faith is quite a different matter.

"What is needed is [...] a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief. [...] It would be unafraid to credit the immense allure of religious tradition, but at the same time it would be ready to argue that the abstract God of the philosophers and the theologians is no more probable that the idolatrous God of the fundamentalists, makes no better sense of the fallen world, and is certainly no more likable or worthy of our worshipful respect--alas." (p. 79)

Jerry Coyne responded to this point at Why Evolution Is True:

In other words, we need to express sadness that there is no God. [...] ...most atheists freely admit that religions and their traditions have considerable allure. But admitting that is not the same as saying that religious beliefs are facts. And on that point the gulf is unbridgeable.

PZ Myers ladles on the sarcasm, writing that:

All we've got here [at Pharyngula] are hordes of triumphal atheists who think the whole enterprise of religion is hairy effin' bollocks, and we aren't at all sad about our loss of faith, a loss that we've found liberating and joyous.

Losing one's religion may be a disappointment for some atheists, but that doesn't seem to be the norm. In fact, I hesitate to even call it a loss in any sense that indicates a lack of something vital or essential. To me, loss of faith has been akin to removing an orthotic from one's shoe only to find that it wasn't necessary--or, more to the point, that it was actually an impediment.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on September 2, 2009 10:46 PM.

Bernd Heinrich: Why We Run was the previous entry in this blog.

a dish best served cold--or an empty plate? is the next entry in this blog.

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