This one’s by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie from the Huffington Post.
The God Wars mostly bore me. In my younger days I enjoyed, at least for a while, the intellectual back-and-forth of the God debates. For me, these exchanges had a game-like quality, and it was fun to play the game. How can a student of religion ignore the rational argumentation of Nietzsche or the psychological insights of Freud? And from time to time, I still find myself intrigued by the God-debunking that serious atheists offer. When Richard Dawkins claims that biology and evolution demonstrate that God does not exist, I must take notice, even if his arguments do not work for me.
I don’t think Richard Dawkins has ever claimed that biology and evolution debunks the existence of a god. All biology and evolution do is state that there is a mechanism to life and how life works. What that also means is that human beings function along entirely natural processes.
It’s very hard to believe in a divine man when you know how poop is made. The magic of humanity is gone when you know what a spleen is and how it works. But we see a new sort of magic. A magic of mechanism. Of electron transport chains. Bones don’t stop working if you know about osteoclasts and osteoblasts, what they lose in magical power, they gain in the capacity to be fixed. The moon being a celestial body that doesn’t affect our future doesn’t stop being beautiful. Neither does Neil Armstrong’s footprint or the science that put it there detract from the joy of a full moon lit landscape.
The world is a happier place where people do not make personal decisions on love, business and education based on the moon.
Advocates of atheism continue to appear, each new wave of thinkers reshaping what has come before. An example is Philip Kitcher, a professor of philosophy at Columbia University, who has written Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism. While the book will not be out until October, Kitcher offered a preview of his thinking in an interview that he gave to the New York Times in May. The interview had its interesting points, and I look forward to reading the book. Still, what Kitcher has to say is ultimately neither new nor convincing. He makes the same mistakes that most others make who argue the case for atheism or secular humanism, and I hear in his words a tone that is closer to defensive desperation than confident conviction.
In the Kitcher interview, we see the three most common mistakes of those who argue for atheism.
Sure, let us look through them.
1. They dismiss, often with contempt, the religious experience of other people.
It is fine to use critical thinking and unalloyed reason to argue against God. Such arguments are legitimate, but they tell us nothing about the way that much of humankind experiences God, either in the course of regular religious observance or as an exceptional occurrence.
According to Professor Kitcher, research demonstrates that what people refer to as religious experience is either a psychiatric matter or a general feeling of uplift that is then related by the person involved to a religiously entrenched myth. What it is not, Kitcher affirms, is an encounter with the divine. Yet on what possible basis can he make such a claim? The professor has obviously never had a religious experience; but given that 85 percent of people on earth identify with a religious tradition and most believe in God, there is something both sad and arrogant about non-believers asserting with certainty that no one else is capable of a God encounter rooted in transcendence and holiness.
As do you. The good rabbi clearly doesn’t believe in the gods of other faiths. The personal experiences of those people are ignored by the Rabbi as much as we ignore his god. Are we to understand that he thinks those gods are just as real as his god but willingly ignores them? Or perhaps he simply doesn’t believe in the gods of other faiths and thinks them as imaginary or made up in the same way that we don’t believe in his god.
There is a secular event that I am part of that provides a near religious fervor to its adherents. Ally Fogg also is an adherent to my cult. Fights have broken out. People have died. Yet this is an entirely secular thing we both follow. I am talking about football.
Being part of something bigger, chanting for the men on the pitch kicking a ball around just feels good. You feel a rush through you as you chant the songs and elation when they score and depression when they lose. But this doesn’t mean there is a god of football or that the experience of elation is somehow lessened. I have had these quasi religious experiences through music, art and indeed football but I simply do not attribute any of those feelings to a divine being.
How you spin it is how your readers see it. You spin it as sad that we atheists cannot see behind the veil. That there is amazing and wonderful creature of love and light (and occasional atrocity) who we could detect if only we truly opened our hearts to his grace.
Just because 85% of people believe in something doesn’t make that real. Particularly since you are co-opting all religious belief under your banner when you know as well as I do that Hindu religious belief is considered as fake by other religious groups.
I mean the newspaper carries astrology sections, but that doesn’t mean that the moon being in uranus has any effect on your love life.
I repeat. There is no evidence for an actual god being responsible for whatever emotions a believer feels during a “divine encounter”. The Good Rabbi is aware of Jerusalem Psychosis which is a form of mental illness brought on by someone who is mentally ill being subject to the ideas and influences of religion and believing. I mean really believing that they are on a mission for god. Part of the religious faith of Islam, Judaism and Christianity is it’s “messiah” figures and Jerusalem being central to them gives a large number of people who have this disorder a drive to go to Jerusalem and “do things” thinking they are the next messiah.
Yet I see no drive among the three religions of Jerusalem to embrace these messiah figures. Surely these people are touched by the same god? Or is it because they are mentally ill that their religious experience is so callously ignored.
The reality is that we like religious influences in our life as long as they are harmless and don’t change the status quo. We want to keep rehashing the 10 commandments. We want to keep hating the gays and stopping women from being independent. What we don’t want are these 1200 wannabe Messiah from telling us something new. I think the religious have realised that the difference between prophet and psychosis is just the presence of healthcare.
We aren’t saying that everyone who has a religious experience is mentally ill. We are just saying that people tend to have religious experiences that are rather normal. I was down, angels lifted me up. I was desperate, something lucky happened to help me out. Here is the thing? The good rabbi forgets the number of people who never have the luxury of such religious experiences. The humans who never get lifted or flee their desperate situations. Often it is humans who are the angels who deliver humans from their demons.
And some people? Never get any such luck. For every young westerner whose prayers are answered with regards to winning an Oscar there are countless people across the world whose prayers for clean drinking water and food are ignored. The gods move in mysterious ways. Probably due to all those holy spirits they are involved with.
2. They assert that since there are no valid religions but that religions do good things, the task of smart people is to create a religion without God — or, in other words, a religion without religion.
Kitcher is here saying the kind of things that we have recently heard from Alain de Botton and Ronald Dworkin. His argument is that since religion does a good job in promoting values, it should not be abandoned; instead, it should be “refined,” eliminating fundamentalist doctrines and transcendent facets of reality. What will remain is “soft atheism,” a system of advancing enduring values without the need for a belief in God, redemptive elements, or any of the mysteries that religion promotes.
Philosophers have made such proposals before, of course, but what they all have in common is that they do not work. Philosophy can do many things, but it cannot create deep loyalty, profound engagement, or a willingness to sacrifice for one’s beliefs. Religion, whether of the liberal or orthodox variety, does precisely that. And it does so by retaining those things that Kitcher proposes to jettison: a community of believers connected to the holy and convictions rooted in both ritual and faith. What Kitcher is offering is a vague kind of do-gooder’s club, and not only that but one based on fundamental dishonesty. While asserting his commitment to “refined religion” as his starting point, Kitcher admits that his goal is for the religious dimensions of his system to gradually disappear. But who would ever be interested in a religion that is not really a religion at all but, in his words, “a halfway house”? For Kitcher, the “religious” part of his secular humanism is mostly a marketing device, intended to recruit the masses but not to endure, and what it demonstrates is a profound disrespect for the intelligence and sensibilities of ordinary people.
Religion does good things, but one can be good without a religious belief.
And many “good” acts of religion have caused incalculable harm. Just look at the effect of Catholic and other Christian pro-life and pro-abstinence groups in Africa on the HIV epidemic. Or indeed in creating a paranoia of witch hunts.
It’s a mixed bag, the Rabbi doesn’t realise that. That there are religious charities that cause incalculable harm. With his Jewish roots? There is one he must know about.
Hamas. A lot of it’s popularity is due to the charity work that it does. You can do good things while doing bad things at the same time. After all? It’s members are deeply loyal, have a profound engagement with the faith and the people and are legendary for their willingness to sacrifice for their own beliefs.
We all admire the martyr burning at the stake for his intellectual beliefs or the paladin holding back the horde of immoral heretics. But we forget that one man’s paladin is another’s suicide bomber.
The problem with religion is that people can do evil while believing that they are good.
What we suggest is that we can do good things. We can provide the social safety net through secular social programs and the sense of community via other means. See the difference between me and the Rabbi is I think the imaginary being who tells us to kill gays is not integral to the system.
3. They see the world of belief in black and white, either/or terms.
Kitcher is struck by the incredible diversity of religious doctrines. A reasonable person, he suggests, would recognize that there is no way to distinguish doctrines that are true from those that are misguided. His conclusion is that religious doctrines have become “incredible,” and must be rejected in their entirety.
If there are 10,000 contrary religious doctrines, it does not follow that they all are false. But what is most important is the mindset that underlies his thinking: According to Kitcher, either you are a believer or you are not, and given the abundance of conflicting traditions, it is non-belief that makes the most sense. When it comes to religious doctrine, Kitcher, like others in the atheist camp, sees the world in terms of dichotomies: You are a theist or a non-theist, a religious person or a non-religious person.
But, of course, this is not the way that most people function. Some religious people are fanatical, but most are not. The world of belief, which includes a majority of the human race, consists of people who believe but are not always sure; who accept God some of the time but not all the time; and who know that theology is a matter of questions and uncertainties, painted in hues of gray.
Professor Kitcher offers a challenging thesis, but in the final analysis, he — and others like him — simply do not understand a central fact of human history: Drawing on their deepest experiences, most people instinctively reach out to God, and God in turn reaches out to them.
Which is bizarre since atheists are often associated with looking at the world through greys.
What the Rabbi forgets to understand is that “god” is just an entity used to explain away a difficult or inexplicable thing. Why do things fall to the ground? Gravity Fairy. What’s fire? A gift from a god.
The Rabbi’s god is the last voice that we heard in the dark. The rest are dead. Killed by light. By science. By education. Hell, we live in a modern world and we still have people who roam around abandoned houses claiming ghosts exist and running around on night vision cameras looking really scared of each other. All the science we have and some dumbasses still think ghosts exist. We landed on the moon and people still think that it has a magic effect on their love life.
For the majority of history people were ignorant and uneducated. With rising education we find a fall in belief and adherence to organised superstitions.
We get it. Most people who follow a religion are harmless but they do prop up systems of harm. And in the right situation, religion turns harmless people into a deadly force. When you think of Hinduism, you think of Gandhi, not the massacres of the riots of Hindutva. Those were ordinary men and women too.
You paint your theology in grey because it helps hide your god in uncertain terms. He cannot be nailed down and so is safe.
The fact is that we never needed a god to be good. We needed people. Your faith is built on people and a combined belief. If you think the bonds you made would not exist if not for a mythical being then I feel sorry for your friends.
Have faith in humans, we are real and we tend to be the ones who do the good things in life.
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