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The edification of both sides

The chief rabbi and Charles Taylor got together recently to say stuff about “The Future of Religion in a Secular Age.” Both are big fans of religion, so the stuff they said was in that vein.

For Taylor and Rabbi Sacks, religion should act as a counterpoint and antidote to the rampant solipsism and breakdown of sociality that characterize the secular world. Religion, unlike the market, science, or politics, exists in its own realm beyond materiality and simple solutions, and even beyond the self. According to Taylor, religious practice entails a transcendence of the self that is desperately needed in a culture as self-obsessed as our own. Rabbi Sacks added that on one hand, religion must stand at the vanguard of the “redemption of solitude” and on the other, strive to establish real community beyond the alone-togetherness of this virtual age.

But religion isn’t the only counterpoint and antidote to self-obsession, and it also isn’t necessarily a very good one. All too often it’s just a thinly-disguised way of arranging things to benefit some people by subordinating others; I’m thinking here (you’ll have figured out) of men and women respectively. Patriarchy doesn’t look to me like a good counterpoint and antidote to self-obsession, and a lot of religion is basically a justification of patriarchy and not much else.

As for Sacks’s on one hand and on the other, how is that not just having it both ways? Religion is good for solitude and real community while secularism is bad for both – really?

Much of the evening’s conversation was dedicated to addressing the ideas and popularity of writers like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. Rabbi Sacks argued that these men over-simplify religion, producing critiques that are, in Oxford terms, superficially profound and profoundly superficial. He distinguished these tone-deaf atheists from “atheists with a soul,” those intellectuals who see the failings of religion and want something better for humanity. (A false dichotomy, in this writer’s opinion, because it implies that the rejection of religion necessarily results in the adoption of nihilism.) Conversation with these humanist atheists, Sacks argued, results in the edification of both sides, and Taylor added, “We people of faith need atheists.” If that is indeed the case, one cannot help but wonder why an atheist was not invited to participate in this panel.

Well when he says “need” he means…well he means we need atheists off in the background somewhere, but we certainly don’t need them on panels with us or selling more than twenty copies of their books, thank you very much.

 

Comments

  1. Inflection says

    Religion isn’t even much of a counterpoint to self-obsession. God is just whatever most people want to do anyway at any given time. You don’t reduce self-obsession by ascribing some of your desires or principles to an entity you made up for the purpose of shelving responsibility.

  2. sailor1031 says

    “…and Taylor added, “We people of faith need atheists.”

    In the same way and for the same purpose that Mussolini needed the communists?

  3. Sunny says

    In fact religion is the highest expression of vanity. To think that someone up there is so interested in you that he is busy pressing a button with your name on it is nothing but naked self-absorption.

  4. sailor1031 says

    Right on Sunny. Another thing is that if it were really possible to affect the course of events by praying to doG, causality would become meaningless leading to who knows what consequences for the multiverse and everything in it, including the maroons doing the praying..

  5. MosesZD says

    In all regions, the country appears to be safer. The odds of being murdered or robbed are now less than half of what they were in the early 1990s, when violent crime peaked in the United States. Small towns, especially, are seeing far fewer murders: In cities with populations under 10,000, the number plunged by more than 25 percent last year.

    And yet we’re becoming more and more godless/secular. And we, somehow, need religion to be moral?

    Now, I’m not saying that becoming more secular caused the incredible drop in violent crime over the past 20 years. But I am saying that this result is entirely contrary to what the Pat Robertson/Jerry Falwell crowd have preached since the 1980s as they’ve railed against the decline of religion and faith.

  6. says

    …and Taylor added, “We people of faith need atheists.”

    How nice for you. What for? We atheists don’t need people of faith, as far as I can tell.

  7. Dorothy says

    Sorry, yes, we do need people of faith. Who else would believe the claims of advertisers, or support homeopaths, or any of the other jobs which take advantage of the creduluous.
    After all, there is a limit to the nunber of ditch-diggers that can be employed – if they weren’t there, then what.
    I would rather a life where all could reason, but we don’t live on that planet. Early training in belief in Dog encourages belief in low cost land in Florida, or time-sharing schemes, or . . .

  8. says

    Religion regularly puts humans smack at the center of all-importance and somehow secularism is a solipsism.

    I wonder what color the sky is on their world.

  9. says

    Ah, Dorothy, surely homeopaths could make a decent living with just ordinary credulity, without having to use religion as a credulity-injection device. They mustn’t be greedy!

  10. says

    Rabbi Sacks added that on one hand, religion must stand at the vanguard of the “redemption of solitude” and on the other, strive to establish real community beyond the alone-togetherness of this virtual age.

    Interesting to observe that theologians are trying their best to do lawyers out of a job when it comes to pure obscurantism.

  11. 2-D Man says

    Rabbi Sacks argued that these men over-simplify religion, producing critiques that are, in Oxford terms, superficially profound and profoundly superficial.

    This is actually true. Nothing, absolutely nothing, that one can express is more superficially profound and profoundly superficial than religion. As a result, all critiques of religion will carry the same quality. So will the critiques of the critiques. But, as silly as it may seem, sometimes you need to point out that religion is stupid.

  12. Snoof says

    …religion should act as a counterpoint and antidote to the rampant solipsism…

    Antidote? The creationist movement regularly _practices_ solipsism, with their “different worldviews” somehow permitting them to ignore perfectly good data.

    …and Taylor added, “We people of faith need atheists.”

    How nice for you. What for?

    Convenient scapegoats. Threats to scare the flock. Target practice. You know, the usual.

  13. Ruth says

    Most religions are indeed the ultimate in self-centredness. Believers cast everything that happens in the light of how it affects them, personally.

    The one time I was moved to actually respond to the BBCs execreble ‘Thought for the Day’ was when a god-botherer quite seriously suggested, in an attempt to explain why God allowed a woman with cancer (who was in the news at the time because she was campaigning for the right to assisted suicide) to suffer so much pain, that God had made her suffer so that he, the god-botherer, could give thanks for his own blessings!

    Even the quote in the story, ‘We people of faith need atheists’, is a perfect example of this. Presumably, in their view, it is a bad thing to be an atheist, for the atheist, but that doesn’t matter if it somehow benefits the believer.

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