Archive for February 2nd, 2012

This we believe

February 2, 2012

We begin Louise Antony’s anthology Philosophers Without Gods  in A&P today, with her introduction and a couple of her own essays (one a “Stone” piece in the Times) and three others.

Th  2 Antony (Shapiro, Levine, Garber, Antony,  Antony- “Good Minus God

I’m glad we’re expanding the circle, getting many more voices into our conversation. That’s the great challenge of our course, and of atheism in our culture: learning to really listen, to take one’s turn, to admit the admissibility of multiple voices and visions. All of Antony’s authors are atheists, but many weren’t always. Their combined testimony is to the variety of human experience, and of the wisdom of curious civility (not dismissive censure) when encountering alternative reactions to life. We should aspire to be better than the plurality of our countrymen, in this respect. Antony begins by noting that

”Atheists are at the top of the list of groups that Americans find problematic in both public and private life.”  Forty-seven percent of those surveyed said they would  ”disapprove” if their child ”wanted to marry a member of this group.”

Harummph! Honestly, we’re (mostly) harmless and unarmed.

We have no sacred texts, no authorities with definitive answers to our questions about the nature of morality or the purpose of life, no list of commandments that cover every contingency and dilemma… We have no fear of eternal punishment, but no hope, either, of eternal reward.  We have only our ideals and our goals to motivate us, only our sympathy and our intelligence to make us good, and only our fellow human beings to help us in time of need. When we speak, we speak only for ourselves—we cannot claim inspiration or sanction from the Creator and Lord of the universe. What we offer here, then, are not manifestos or creeds. We want simply to explain what we believe.

We want one more thing, too: we want to be heard.

So we’ll try not to talk all at once, we’ll resist the temptation to heap scorn and ridicule on those for whom a religious interpretation of their own experience is irresistible, and we’ll accentuate the positive elements of our worldview. We’ll be for humanism and naturalism more than against religion.

Won’t we, A&P?

Antony invokes Plato’s Euthyphro in her essays and in the public debate forum below. Some say that’s an abused horse. I say she’s not flogging, just sitting tall in the saddle and riding. Yes, it’s an overly-familiar trope for philosophers, admittedly, but you’d be surprised how many “regular” folk have the hardest time grasping the simple point of Plato’s question. Do the gods love it because it’s good, or is it good because they love it? What’s the difference, I’ve been asked by so many Intro students. Well, it’s the difference between reason and authority. And what’s that? Sigh. We should have been teaching this stuff in elementary school. Atheist parents, attend!

I do have a quibble with her formulation here:

There are things one loses in giving up God, and they are not insignificant. Most importantly, you lose the guarantee of redemption.

You can’t lose a guarantee you never had. But of course she means you lose false comfort, which (false or not) IS a comfort. That’s why A.deB. wants temples for atheists: he shares B.Russell’s pity for human suffering & wants to help.

And wants to sell some books too.