Saturday, October 20, 2007

Reflections: Atheism and its Discontents

I was planning to write a reasoned, well-constructed, rhetorically air-tight little essay contra atheism this weekend. But I’m not gonna do it. I’m just not in the mood. What I need to do instead is go into my room, shut the door, get down on my knees, and ask God…WTF!?! Or else punch a hole in the plasterboard.

A fundamental characteristic of atheism is it's banality. Compared to the intellectual and spiritual richness of myth, religion and theology, it is simply boring. The last really interesting atheist may well have been Nietzsche. Most atheists, regardless of the complexity of their presentation, or the opacity of their academic jargon, have but two messages for the world: 1) There’s no God, and you can’t prove that there is one; and, 2) Religion is responsible for everything that’s been wrong with the world since before the dawn of history.

Okay. Fine. Messages received. What else you got?

What originally set me off on this little rant was being faced with the fact that my latest literary love, Rebecca Goldstein, has hooked up with a professional atheist named Steven Pinker. I had been informed of this anecdotally already, by Madscribe, but I didn’t allow my mind to dwell upon it at that time. Then I came across this article, and all possibility of denial went down the proverbial drain. That Rebecca Goldstein is, herself, an atheist did not so much surprise me, although I would have guessed “agnostic.” But that she would join forces with a preening professional blasphemer was a hard blow.

Right now there are at least three other "intellectuals" making a good buck as professional atheists. You’ve got Richard Dawkins. You’ve got Sam Harris. (“Sam” for chrissake?) And then you’ve got pathetic, drunken Christopher Hitchens. Obviously the times are ripe for a resurrection of the spirit of Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Organized religion is undergoing a period of global resurgence, whether it be in the form of Protestant fundamentalism, or of Muslim militancy. We know from Brother Ike Newton that for every action there’s an opposite reaction, striving to become equal. Steven Pinker is among the strivers.

Dawkins I can ignore. He’s Brit, and we all know about them, don’t we? Eccentric though they are expected, almost obligated, to be, they automatically sound intelligent, even if slightly cockney in their delivery. All of which explains why they are more and more in demand as spokesmen in American TV commercials. But I’m not buying. Dawkins is an evolutionary scientist, so he’s got a professional axe to grind. And he has mouth-breathing mobs of bible banging, fundie adversaries, ready-made to attack him and thereby juice the sales of his books and elevate the price of his speaking fees. Next, please.

Ah. Sam Harris. What can I say? Follow the link, read his bio, and then try to find it in your heart to practice a little charity, preferably in the form of pity. The guy is obviously all jacked out of shape and striking back blindly at those forces, far beyond his control, which have left him in the shape he’s in; forces which he mistakes for the God whose existence he denies. Atheism is, after all, every bit as subjective as religious faith. One can no more prove that God does not exist, than one can prove that He does. Pro- and con-, it’s all faith-based. All of it.

Christopher Hitchens…my, my, my. Through a boozy haze, Mr. Hitchens now squanders what’s left of his talent, and formerly fine intellect, by railing mean-spiritedly against the obvious. By “obvious” I don’t mean that he’s obviously right, but that he sets up every obvious straw man in the atheist arsenal and then kicks it to pieces for the delighted amusement of his adrenaline-pumping audiences in an alcohol induced frenzy of over-the-top wrath. Poor Hitch! Butch as he is, he has yet to realize that since death is inevitable, to die tough is nothing. Oh, yeah--it takes a real mensch to diss the memory of Mother Teresa.

Finally, Steven Pinker. Or should we call him “Little Steven” Pinker, since he’s doing his best to be taken seriously as an intellectual, while simultaneously looking like the foal of Kenny G. out of Adam Ant?

I just don’t know. Becky! Becky! Where did it all go so terribly wrong?

9 comments:

Madscribe said...

Banality, Rob? Really? Hell, Christopher Hitchens is the Britney Spears of Rationalism!

On another note, if you call lving a rational life without the crutch of phantasms, mythology and hopes and wishes and recognizing the real, natural universe for what it is (and for what man is yet to discover) then give me "banality" over the mass-murdering "excitement" of religion in its multi-racial, multi-ethnic horrors any day of the week.

A response to your accusation of banality:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5015557

Madscribe said...

"Dawkins I can ignore. He’s Brit, and we all know about them, don’t we? Eccentric though they are expected, almost obligated, to be, they automatically sound intelligent, even if slightly cockney in their delivery."

Ahhhhh, religion. Gives you a perfect right to be a bigot, eh, because God and theism makes you superior. At least I make no claims to Hitchen's newfound neo-con fascism as being "justified" because "atheists are never wrong and morally superior to others."

My prejudices need no imaginary God to justify them. They are my own, weak, faulty, and wrong though thay may be. How many of your "theistic bretheren," be they boy-buggery priest, bow-tied wearing nationalists, gas-chamber managing extremists, abortion clinic torching, hatchet-wielding Africans, or bomb-toting turban types would look in the mirror and stop using a non-existing metaphysical crutch and admit their own smallness?

Rodak said...

Yeah, well...Mr. Gillette is exactly as deep as it can get with that little essay.
Western civilization is so entirely suffused with religious thought that it is simply impossible to imagine what the world would look like if belief in the Transcendent had ended with animistic shamanism back in the Stone Age. Art emerged from religion. Science emerged from religion. And, most likely, music emerged from religion. And all of those things were sponsored by, and evolved within, religion. The Greek dramas, which still today have the power to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, were written for a competition that was part of a religious festival. I could go on.
Who is the more brilliant and challenging philosopher--Kierkegaard or Sartre? The former made the latter possible.
As I said, Nietzsche is probably the only modern atheist with something challenging to say that hasn't already been said better by a religious philosopher.

Madscribe said...

Ahh, we owe the whole world to theism? I think not, Rob, and you know better than that, just like I know better than to say that there were no rational, good-hearted theists. Just can't admit your prejudices, can you? ;)

Speaking of theism and prejudices, put Goldstein and Weil down for a hot minute, read this, and get back with me for an explanation on why this author is wrong:
http://www.amazon.com/God-White-Racist-William-Jones/dp/0807010332

Rodak said...

That religion has been misused and abused is not an argument against religion per se, but only an argument against some of its organizers and corporate establishments. I won't defend that, nor do I have to to defend the argument that I am defending.

(Also please note that this post was delivered with a wink and a grin, as should have been obvious, I think.)

Madscribe said...

Being a rationalist, I'm not able to pick up on the wink and grin unless it was explicitly expressed (LMAO).

Rodak said...

Q: Is God an old White racist with a long white beard?

A: No. She's black.

LYL said...

and ask God…WTF!?!

hehehe! Now there is an honest prayer if ever I heard one!

LYL said...

Ahh, we owe the whole world to theism? I think not, Rob, and you know better than that, just like I know better than to say that there were no rational, good-hearted theists. Just can't admit your prejudices, can you? ;)

And the great civilisations which were founded upon atheism would be...?

Actually, I'm at a loss to think of any civilisation founded by atheism.

Obviously, this is an old post, so the comment here is merely for the purpose of venting my spleen!

Atheists are such a pain in the neck. They effectively tell people there is no meaning in the world and then wonder why suicide rates are up!