Changing the date on this because of renewed relevance.
October 18, 2010
John Haught says, in God and the New Atheism, that gnu atheists get faith all wrong, at least from the point of view of theology, which
thinks of faith as a state of self-surrender in which one’s whole being, and not just the intellect, is experienced as being carried away into a dimension of reality that is much deeper and more real than anything that can be grasped by science and reason. [p 13]
You know…there’s a problem here. I would like to say something sober and restrained about that; I would like to give a cool, sarcasm-free account of what I think is wrong with it, for once; but I find it very hard to do that, because it seems so babyish. I can’t get past the babyish quality, because if I do, there’s nothing left. It’s babyish all the way down. And that’s typical of Haught, at least in this book. It’s just packed with baby talk.
But I’ll give it a shot. The trouble is (obviously) that “a state of self-surrender” is indistinguishable from a state of self-deception, and is the sort of state to invite self-deception. An experience of being carried away into a gurgle-gurgle sounds just like either a hallucination or a powerful daydream. Period. There’s nothing else to say about it. That’s what’s so babyish – Haught has dressed it up in the usual boring purple language to make it look significant and meaningful and maybe even true, and that’s just silly. He’s also installed a handy device for forestalling the question “yes but what exactly do you mean by ‘a dimension of reality that is much deeper and more real than’ yak yak?” by making it the faculty that asks the question the comparison. That question is an emissary from science and reason, and the dimension is much deeper and more real than that, so the question is by definition not answerable, so ha.
…there are many channels other than science through which we all experience, understand, and know the world…To take account of the evidence of subjective depth that I encounter in the face of another person, I need to adopt a stance of vulnerability. [p 45]
Bollocks. He’s talking about unconscious processing, among other things (like empathy, intuition, and the like), but those are not dependent on adopting “a stance of vulnerability.” He uses sentimentality to persuade, and it’s a babyish trick.
…if the universe is encompassed by an infinite Love, would the encounter with this ultimate reality require anything less than a posture of receptivity and readiness to surrender to its embrace?
Same thing – attempted persuasion via sentimentality. Why infinite Love? Why not infinite Hate?
Well we know why: because when you go limp and let yourself go off into a lovely fantasy, you don’t fantasize about infinite Hate. But Haught’s confidence that his fantasies reflect reality (and indeed are realer than anything else) is…foolish.