Tag Archives: Atheism

Institutional Blame

I have been hiding in the wilderness of Sooke for the past week camping with some homeschooling families with whom I am very close.  Thus I missed the following very interesting set of letters from the National Post from last week.

Give them a close read.  Most (except for maybe the first) are fairly coherent presentations of their views.  Each give a stable and laudable defense of whether or not religion is a source of good or evil.  While there is some elements of truth to the debate and the positions given, I believe there is an underlying presupposition that is fundamentally flawed in those who are either pro or against religion or atheism.  This presupposition is that the institution or the “greater universal force” of religion or atheism or any type of ‘ism’ is the source of praise or the blame.

This presupposition is wrong because it seems to imply that some great man-created force exists independently of human activity.  The most common example of such an idea comes when people speak of “the market” as if it is some force that governs, limits, and guides human economic activity.  There is some validity to such a turn of phrase: the ancient metaphysical principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts surely applies to any collective human activity.  However, this whole acts only in the concrete actions  of the parts that make up the whole.  Thus, to speak of ‘the market’ apart from human participation is like speaking of a play without any actors: it makes no sense.

Yet this turn to the institution as if it is some divine force is so very common to our every day parlance that we find it difficult to look beyond it.  I recall a conversation I had with a friend about this in which this friend stated that every corporate institution is a moral evil.  I understand where they are coming from: some corporations have it built within them to always look out for themselves to the neglect of others.  However, this is not the fault of “Walmart”, “conservativism”, “americanism”, etc.  While certain ideas do have an effect, it ultimately comes down to the people in the institutions and corporations that affect the outcomes and corporate actions of the body.  Yes, laws, mentalities, ideologies, and cultures are all part of this.  But they always need human persons to instantiate these principles.  Without people, ideologies, mentalities, laws, cultures, etc, would not exist.  The laws and cultures are the result of human activity, not the other way around.

This brings me back to the letters above.  You will note that we have one side defending “religion” while the other is defending, for lack of a better word, “atheistic humanism”.  Both defend their own ideology by demonstrating how the other ideology, as if it is in and of itself some divine force, is fundamentally the force of all that is wrong in the world.  Both are wrong because both are defending an idea rather than the concrete reality of human activity.  Simply put, neither position is scientific because it does stand to the test of reality.  We all know saintly religious people, we all know, too, virtuous atheists.  Why doesn’t “atheism” or “religion” force them to be bad?  Because, in the end, it is about human decision and freedom acting upon ideas, worldviews, and the day to day situations people are faced with.

The debate should not be about “atheism” vs. “religion” because it is not about institutions or even ideas.  The debate needs to be about what does it mean to be human.  Does man have a destiny?  Is man oriented to something greater than himself?  It is here that the debate must turn and until it does turn towards the problem of transcendence we will continue in the antinomy that is so prevalent in such a debate.

How does this happen?  This is where it becomes difficult because many people do not allow for careful, thoughtful reflection.  We always want to affirm our own position, and this tends to be done in an antithetical manner against the “opposing side”.  This is not helpful.  However, those who are truly reasonable about such questions tend to be relegated to the sidelines of intellectual history.  For example, in the English speaking world, a man who attempted to change the terms of the debate is largely unknown: Maurice Blondel.  He saw this antinomy between the two sides and saw the same problem: we are not dealing with the concrete situation in life.

Ultimately, it is about dealing with the human person, challenging them to think upon the transcendent character of their existence.  Only then will the debate become constructive, helpful, and life giving.  Until then, it will become a violent exchange of words.  Both sides blame the other for such violence.  But it is not “religion” or even “atheism” to blame, but rather it is people who are unwilling to give a moral analysis of their lives, to reflect on the transcendent character of human existence.

in Christ

-Harrison

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I Don’t Believe in God Either – Part II

Well, I must admit: I am a little overwhelmed by the sudden overflow of traffic to my post “I Don’t Believe in God Either“.  It brought a lot of comments, as I expected, because a 1000 word post is insufficient to deal with such a large topic with all the necessary nuances needed.  I would like to engage with some of the comments on the blog and on Facebook so as to further engage and continue the conversation.

The first is the misrepresentation of my appeal to Pascal.  I appealed to him as a sort of “rebuff” to dilettantism: the idea that “you have to try everything once.”  First, I don’t agree with dilettantism: it has all sorts of internal inconsistencies both logically and ethically.  All I was doing in appealing to Pascal was his idea of “living as if God existed” as important for the dilettante to take seriously if they are going to live by such a standard.  I agree with one friend – to an extent – that Pascal ought not to be used apologetically for the existence of God. I would put forth, however, that Pascal has been grossly misrepresented in his wager as being an argument purely for the assent of the mind.  If one wants a strong critique of that interpretation, read Blondel’s “L’Action”.

In reference to Tom’s comment, I would put forth that really this is a misunderstanding of what I was putting forth.  He is treating the transcendental as part of this world alone still.  I am arguing differently: man’s experience of the transcendent is one aspect, but my argument is that God is not only experienced as transcendent, but that He is, by nature, transcendent to ALL nature.  This is not the nature of the Norse gods or the Flying Spaghetti Monster: their natures are by definition non-transcendent to the natural realm.  By definition the Norse gods etc do not fulfill the demands of the experience of transcendence.  Here is a diagram to emphasize my point:

Tom’s version of reality could be described as this:

________________________

Transcendental Being(s)  \
|                                          \ -> The one reality
\/                                       /
The universe                        /

 

OR another way:

God->Universe->Human Beings

My claim:

God (Total Transcendence)

_____________________________  > Infinite gulf between God and created realm

{The created realm (including angels, demons, etc. according to a Catholic cosmology).}

 

In short, for Thor to be Thor, he cannot be equated to the God of Christianity.  By definition the transcendence is of an infinite stature.  It is also, by virtue of the utter transcendence that God can be entirely present to the world He created: because He is completely Other and completely Greater.  He cannot do this if He is equated to the gods of Norse Mythology.  We are talking about two different orders.  The categories used by the former diagram are the god that I don’t believe in either.  But the issue of my article – and this is where I find that it was either ignored or that I, at least, didn’t make myself sufficiently clear – is that the Norse gods cannot be equated to the transcendent mystery of Christian theism.  If an atheist is attempting to debunk the very mystery of the Christian God, they need to start speaking the theistic terms that we are speaking, but they are consistently being ignored.  This is why the discussion is always at a stop: we are speaking of two entirely different realities.  Until the atheist is willing to speak of the realm of completely other, there is no discussion happening.  In short: what I wrote was not a polemic against atheists, but an invitation to dialogue about the reality as it is believed by Christians and other theists.  People like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. are attacking a straw man: the god that they define is not the God of Christianity (or Israel: Islam, it is a little different).  Until they are willing to accept the Christian claim as it stands for the Christian, then no conversation will actually happen.  I cannot remember where I read it, but I recall Hitchens once saying that the problem of transcendence is the greatest issue for the atheist to reconcile with his position.

This brings me to another comment on the blog found here.  I would first like to say that to an extent, every debate will have an “us vs. them” mentality.  I have one position, another side has another position.  By the fact of the nature of dialogue and debate, polemics are a necessary element.  It is not necessarily to be taken as an all out war, but we must acknowledge that for debate/dialogue to occur, we must necessarily have differing positions.  And again, I do not find the claim that an atheist ought to take a life of theism seriously to be  unrealistic if they are of the opinion that “you need to try something before you decide for or against it.”  If they don’t hold that position about life, then yes, we ought to be going another direction.  It is simply a statement, as I said above, that there is an inconsistency that I find disconcerting.  If you expect something of others, you ought to live it yourself.

This brings me to my final point with regards to this.  I did not write the article as an apologetic against the atheist, nor did I write it as an argument for theism.  I wrote it simply as an appeal to dialogue: an appeal to the clarification of terms which I find so very lacking in the discussion/debate of God’s existence.  I actually do not think that logical argumentation is the absolute way to go for a variety of reasons.  Ultimately, for the Christian, joy and holiness are the ultimate apologetic for the existence of God and the saving power of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is there that Christians should be beginning.  The initial post was simply to be a reflection on what I found lacking in the discussion about God between theists and atheists.  However, I must admit, it has spurred me on to want to write more articles about it as a series.  That way I can have the nuances I need.  I especially desire to speak about this in regards to Pascal’s Wager.  Though it ought not to be, per se, used as an apologetic, I think it is far too often misunderstood in the contemporary discussions.  I think Pascal is offering something far more challenging than what is presented in most intro to Philosophy classes, or most people’s interpretations of it.  So keep your eyes open.

in Christ

-Harrison

 

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I Don’t Believe in God Either

Peter Kreeft has a wonderful anecdote about his religious philosophy class.  He asks all the people who do not believe in God to put up their hand and asks them to sit on one side of the room.  On the other side of the class, then, is the theists or deists.  Then he asks the theists to argue against the existence of God and the atheists to argue for the existence of God.  Without fail, Kreeft says, the theists offer the best arguments one can come up with against the existence of God.  Also without fail is the atheists who tend to offer the weakest possible arguments for the existence of God.  In short, Kreeft says, the theist has thought out his position, while the atheist has tended to not really give it the thought it deserves.

I bring this up because I have discovered that this tends to hold true in much of my discourse with atheists.  Reading Karl Rahner for one of my courses – as painful as it was – reinforced in me an idea that has been germinating in my mind for quite some time.  I have come to realize that the god of the atheist is a god I don’t believe in either.  I too want to do everything I can to destroy the idol of that god in the world.  However, unfortunately, the atheist tends to equate that god with the God of the theist or the Christian, and it is in no way the same as the Christian God.

For Christians, God is completely Other.  He is completely transcendent to all creation.  We cannot grasp Him, we cannot put Him into a box, we cannot define Him completely.  For everything we do say positively about Him, we must hold that these words are insignificant in comparison to the reality that is God.  If God is love, He is ever more than our understanding of love, for example.  Yet when you talk to an atheist, they look at ‘god’ as some figure who can be examined, dissected, and parsed.  In short, their ‘god’ is one who is completely comprehensible to the human mind.  And they impose this idol as the god of all theists.  But this is not our God.  God is completely other.

Where is the proof of this?  The most common version is their equation of the Christian God with Thor, Zeus, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc.  In short: the gods or God: they are all part of our order of things.  They do not see God as completely other.  If God is not completely other, then I don’t believe in Him either.  A great proof of this is found in Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion”.  He says “the problem about a designer is this: who designed the designer”.  What we see in this is a subtle problem: Dawkins is equating the Christian God as simply the first thing in reality.  The whole of the cosmos and God are in the same reality: God is just the greatest thing of our reality.  But that is not the Christian claim.  Dawkins (and most atheists) set up a straw man.  They rightly destroy that idol.  But they have not ridden us of the Christian God because they have never taken Him seriously.

Yet when we look at Scripture, we see a very different understanding of God.  When Moses encounters God in the burning bush he asks Him a name and God refuses to give Moses a name; He simply says “I AM WHO AM”.  God refuses to give a name because to give a name means you can be manipulated.  Job’s search for meaning in his suffering is also a demonstration of God’s complete Otherness: “My ways are not your ways”.  God is infinitely more than anything in the created realm.  God transcends all that is: He is completely, totally, and irrevocably OTHER.  Thus, when people like Dawkins make the claim “who designed the designer”, it is a demonstration that they are unable to grasp the totality of the mystery, transcendence, and otherness of God.

This brings me to a second point on the topic.  We live in a culture which states that you have to try everything in order to make an informed choice.  My first reaction to this is simply “well, do I have to try murder to see if it’s wrong?”.  It is a rather extreme statement to make, but it is hyperbolic in order to demonstrate the absurdity of what Blondel calls “dilenttantism”: the need to try everything because that is what life is all about.  I bring this up because it leads me to the important of Blaise Pascal’s arguments for the existence of God.  Though I don’t have the space to go into detail about what he says, I simply want to emphasize his idea that it is the most reasonable thing to believe in God because it is the statistically best idea to embrace in virtue of his four possibilities.  What we tend to do is think that belief is purely in the mind.  It is an assent, and that is it.  But Pascal means something by belief.  He means that we ought to live as if God exists.

What does this mean?  It means that our life is formed by God: action is what is primary.  If we live as if God exists, then our minds will be formed to embrace the total Otherness of the reality of God.  What does this mean?  It means that it tends to be the case that those who are atheists have never actually given theism a shot because they have never lived according to what that entails.  Some may have been raised in religious households, but I have found that what they have been raised in tends towards superstition.  Some legitimately reject God as He is.  But my question to atheists is “Have you actually lived as if God exists?”  If not, then their statements are futile and what they say is not based on reality as such.  I would be much more willing to listen to an atheist who actually takes reality seriously.  Unfortunately, I have yet to meet one.

in Christ

-Harrison

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Daily Roundup – November 29, 2011

Here’s your daily round-up.

The picture to the left is of Taya Kennedy, a Down Syndrome baby who is taking the child modeling world by storm.  There is a great bit on her over at The Anchoress and there you will find a link to the full story along with more beautiful and radiant photos of this beautiful child of God.

I have long argued, since the release of Summorum Pontificum, that the purpose is to create a sort of liturgical dialogue between the two forms of the Roman Rite.  It seems that this is the view of Cardinal Burke as well.  Please give it a read here.

Over at the ever-interesting First Things, there is an article which briefly discusses two atheist philosophers of science and their defense of the possibility of Intelligent Design and their offering of a critique of neo-Darwinism.  What I found interesting is that in regards to a law case cited in the article, the judge ruled against presenting ID as an option because “any notion of the supernatural is a religious opinion.”  This is interesting because Blondel, in his book L’Action, argues that science is limited by the very fact of reality, that what is positive knowledge is limited and, in the end, does not give an answer to life, but that it encounters the supernatural and cannot account for it because it is not quantifiable.  In short, science necessarily must point to the religious question if it is going to be science at all.  I am discovering, more and more, how brilliant Blondel is and how neglected he is in the English speaking world (mostly because, I believe, most of his works are still in French).

There is an intriguing post at Shirt of Flame about Catholics in the literary world and the connection to the Mass.  While I agree that there is a certain formulation from the Mass for Catholics, I don’t know if I agree that the extraordinary form is the only means of creating enrichment for Catholics and forming their literary worldview.  I think the advent of the new translation will begin to re-form that imagination of the Catholics again.  What is intriguing about the article is the absence in our world of Catholic artists and the attraction of artists and intellectuals to the Catholic Church: when they think about Christianity, it is Catholicism and not any other form of Christianity that is considered.

George Weigel has an interesting article over at the National Review about America and Catholicism, about the contributions of the Church to American civil society and the impeding conflict between the Church and the government over conscience.

The always engaging Fr. James Schall, SJ, has an excellent article over at The Catholic Thing.  He speaks about how people are only attempting to bring unity by destroying distinction.  The beautiful thing about the Catholic perspective is that unity and diversity co-exist: they are not antagonistic towards each other.  Only a Catholic ethos and worldview can allow for these two realities to co-exist equally, and our human nature seems to demand it.  Yet without the synthesis of Jesus Christ, we see them as competitive.  In Jesus Christ, they exist in perfect harmony.

Finally, if you have never encountered it, I highly recommend the following: C.S. Lewis’ Introduction to Athanasius’ ‘On the Incarnation’.  In it, he recommends the old books as a means for constantly correcting our perspective in the here and now.  It is a defense of a classical education.  I must say that I can’t help but agree with Lewis.  One can get tired of reading academics who talk about so and so in conversation with some obscure academic who no one has ever heard of, but is apparently useful (though if he is useful, why have we not heard of him?).  What makes Lewis a great academic is that he is, in the end, an academic against the academy.  One only needs to read The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength to encounter his contempt for the modern university!  Please give it a read, you will not be disappointed.

in Christ

-Harrison

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The Gnosticism of the Atheists

I invite you to watch this first:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/video/2011/oct/24/richard-dawkins-video-interview

 

The Dawkins interview begins at 1:50.  The funny thing, everything he describes religion to be can be attributed to atheism, demonstrating it to be just as religious as any religion.

But that is not the point of this post (though I find it funny that he says he never said that religion is pernicious, though he thinks it is…the illogicality of his arguments are not worth the time here.  Though his criticisms of the business element of religion in America is, I think, spot on).

The audio interview (which is 30 minutes long) is here where he made is famous statement:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/audio/2011/oct/24/john-harris-national-conversations-podcast-richard-dawkins

My point is the comment he makes about the fact that Jesus would have been an atheist.  Here is the excerpt:

“I wrote an article called ‘Atheists for Jesus,’ I think it was… Somebody gave me a t-shirt: ‘Atheists for Jesus.’ Well, the point was that Jesus was a great moral teacher and I was suggesting that somebody as intelligent as Jesus would have been an atheist if he had known what we know today.”

It is this comment that I have a beef with, but not the fact that it has anything to do with Jesus.  Silly remarks like that are not worth anyone’s time and are non-offensive to me.  The interesting comment, rather, is the idea that Jesus was “too intelligent” to be a theist.  In other words: only smart people are atheists, anyone who believes in God is stupid, irrational, and not part of the special “intelligentsia”.

When I heard this, the first thought that popped into my mind was the ever-ancient (and therefore ever-present!) heresy of Gnosticism.  What is Gnosticism?  Gnosticism is, in a certain sense, a difficult heresy to pin down.  A common overarching feature of many Gnostic movements, however, was the concept of a secret knowledge.  If you were one of the select few to have access to that secret knowledge, then you would be among the “saved” and “enlightened ones”.  In short, many atheists (though not all) fall into this category: if you were just smart enough, you would be an atheist too.  In short, only smart people are “the saved” of the world according to the new atheists, while the rest of us are still “ignorant and in our sin” of theism.  I don’t have much more to say about it, except for the utter arrogance of such a position.  It also demonstrates how evolution is no longer simply a science for them, but a way of life with the Origin of Species as their bible.  I am not contra evolution as a science, but I am contra evolution as a philosophy.  In short, they are the dominant ones, the ones who have the surest hope of salvation.  And what is their salvation?  The enlightened position of knowing the truth.  That is all.  There is nothing more afterwards, no immortality.  In fact, there is no meaning, no purpose and, therefore, no rationality and reasonableness to the world.  Their salvation is nihilism, though most refuse to admit this aspect because the dreadedness of nihilism is too much for most people to bear, save people like Nietzsche.

My point is simply that the arrogance of some atheists as enlightened and smarter than all the rest who are not enlightened because they aren’t smart enough is really just a logical conclusion of evolution as a philosophy (NOT a science: I am not arguing against the scientific merits of evolution, and need to state that again to ensure no one misunderstands me).  It is they who are the new breed of humans, the next stage in the evolutionary ladder, and we are the ones who will eventually be kicked off and into the past to be forgotten.  It is arrogant in so many ways, and most of all because it has no basis in reality. Man is religious by nature and looks for religious expression.  The New Atheists are no different: their’s is a religion with no god or gods, yet it is a religion in every way many other religions are religion: it is a submission of self to a system of beliefs that require faith in something ultimately and purely unproveable by reason alone.  You cannot argue for the non-existence of God: it is logically impossible.  Dawkins is one to equate God with faeries, goblins, unicorns, etc.  However, this is a non-starter and really quite silly since the concept of God – just as a concept, not necessarily as a reality – is of a totally other order than faeries and unicorns.  The fact that he equates the concepts of God and faeries demonstrates his inability to think subtly and logically about logically different things.  So, as I was saying, it is logically impossible to argue the non-existence of God and, I would say, it requires just as much belief, if not more, to believe in the non-existence of God than His existence.  (And note, I used the term belief there, not faith, for they are different things, something for another post).  The atheists are religious and their religion is gnostic atheism.  They will shout and scream and tell everyone to be enlightened like they are, but one day their light will dim and will be a blip on the screen of history, while faith in God manifested in Christ Jesus will reign on in the world.

On a final note, I want to take one more point to task against Dawkins and the New Atheists.  Many of them – and Dawkins does in the interview – mistake religion to be a moral enterprise.  They think that religion is only about morality, that people become or stay religious because of its moral principles.  I have heard many people say that they appreciate Christianity for that reason, but nothing more.  However – and I can only speak for Christianity here and am about to be hyperbolic to prove a point – Christianity has nothing to do with morality.  Obviously, morality is a part of the Christian life, but people do not become Christians to be moral people.  That is, actually, quite a boring reason and will ultimately not hold up.  People become Christians because they believe that Jesus is Who He says He is.  Moral actions follow, but they are not the raison d’etre of Christianity.  They are secondary (and important) and not primary.  Thus when he talks about morality and religion, he misunderstands Christianity at the very least and other religions as well I am quite sure.  It plays into a common misconception of religion, and it is partly the fault of people who used religion to promote their own moral values.  Moral values are important and essential, but they are not the basis of religious life.  This is why I must admit frustration when people say “I’m a good person, isn’t that enough?”  It is not enough because it is not what religion and especially what Christianity is about in the first place.  It is about falling in love with Jesus Christ and encountering and loving Him in others.  Jesus doesn’t care if you are a good person (though, obviously, he does to an extent): He cares about you loving His Father and serving Him in others because we are made for Him.

I also think, as a sidenote, that he completely misunderstands faith.  I have not had a chance to read it, but I recommend Avery Dulles’ book “The Assurance of Things Hoped For: A Theology of Faith” where he demonstrates the Christian concept of faith as being very different from the atheistic perspective of Christian Faith.

http://www.amazon.ca/Assurance-Things-Hoped-Theology-Christian/dp/0195109732/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1319906605&sr=8-3

 

in Christ

-Harrison

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Christianity and Europe

I offer for you the following article by the ever prescient Fr. James V. Schall on Europe and its basis in Christianity:

 

http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2011/bellocs-infamous-phrase.html

 

 

The first element of the article that I found intriguing was his almost passing comment about Luther and Aristotle.  If, indeed, Europe is the result of the amalgamation of Judeo-Christianity with Roman and Greek culture, then the quip about Luther’s issue with Aristotle is quite enlightening.  An attack on Aristotle is not so much an attack on the past philosopher, that is not the significance of Luther’s objection.  Rather, the significance lies in the fact that Aristotle = Greek Culture.  Luther was claiming to be at issue with the very foundation of Europe.  What we are seeing today is the natural progression of Luther’s initial quip with Aristotle: to deny any element of the fourfold basis of Europe is to destroy the integrity of the European project itself.  Ultimately, Luther’s critique failed.  An attack on the Hellenism of Europe is an attack on reason itself, and the Church would have no part in the denial of reason, no matter how much trashy scholarship attempts to convince us otherwise.  Reason would prevail, both in the Church and in Europe.  Unfortunately, the Church focused so much on Protestantism for such a long time that it forgot to dialogue with the remainder of the world.  What the Church used to be in terms of her ability to engage the world she lives in is only beginning to come to life again, and thank God for that!

And that leads me to my second point.  The end of the article deals with the concept of reason, citing Pope Benedict’s increasingly important “Regensburg Speech” (Link is in the article).  The Church has never denied the importance and centrality of reason.  She has, in fact, exalted it and it is because of the exaltation of rationality that things like modern science were able to birth forth from it.  But, at the same time, she realizes that the Logos of God, the Reason of God, is deeper and a greater mystery (in the ineffable sense: there are always richer depths to go into).  Thus what is in man must be – due to the fact that sin so readily exists in the world – purified by the love of God so that the rationality of man becomes like the Creator in Whose image he is made.  In short, the rationality of man becomes love and is purified by the encounter with the God Who is Love.  Thus, when the Church enters missionary territory, she affirms what is good, but she also challenges what is false because it does not hold up to the reality of Love, it does not hold up to the reality of God and therefore denigrates the dignity and beauty of man.

As a last note, if you wish to read an excellent book on the clash between Christianity and Secularism in Europe, I can recommend to you George Weigel’s “The Cube and the Cathedral”.  It is a fantastic read and gives one great insight into the challenges we as a Western society are facing against the growing claims of secularism.

in Christ

-Harrison

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