Archive for February 7th, 2012

Godless heretics, platonists, strangers, & fundamentalists

February 7, 2012

We continue in A&P with more of Antony’s atheists this afternoon.

Daniel Farrell (“Life without God: Some Personal Costs”) says the religious impulse for him was Platonic.

Why did I take Christ to be talking about how to get to heaven, when what he’d actually been talking about was how to achieve perfection?


why is this world not enough for some of us?

Walter Sinott-Armstrong (“Overcoming Christianity”) was a Tennessee boy, before landing at Dartmouth. “Memphis was overflowing with Christianity.” It flows west to east here. He says

the tendency to accept religious traditions without questioning seemed closely allied with the conservative tendency to accept the Southern tradition of segregation without questioning.

Faith in God shouldn’t automatically mean faith in tradition or faith in UT’s athletic program, but I’ve observed the connection too. But I’m not picking on my adoptive state, the same formal equation obtains all over. In my birthstate God’s a Mizzou fan. (They’re coming to the SEC next year, so God’s  gonna have to choose.)

He also asks why God didn’t tell Noah to make room for some kids on the ark, and notes that “Professors don’t put up with beliefs in ghosts.” Some do. Dualists don’t automatically fail in my classes.

Edwin Curley (“On Becoming a Heretic “) cites one of my favorite novels, The Razor’s Edge (its protagonist Larry is reading James); and notes as I did in class yesterday that “it’s absurd to claim that infants in their cribs are sinners.” Why don’t all parents know this? Why are there still Calvinists?

Marvin Belzer (“Mere Stranger”) takes on C.S. Lewis’s strange claim that Jesus was either a lunatic or Satan. “You must make your choice.” My choice is to reject false dilemmas, especially silly ones. By all accounts Jesus was an exemplary mortal, with some  great ideas about brotherly love and humility (etc.) and some other ideas about faith, belief, and immortality. The “lunatic or Devil” premise is loony.

James Tappenden (”An Atheist’s Fundamentalism”) says we need to get the Christian story right, though it be “literally incredible.” Unlike his and his wife’s matrimonial minister, for whom it’s enough to call yourself a Christian if you simply profess the leading “Christian values” (as if  a non-Christian espousing kindness and brotherly love were necessarily oxymoronic), he insists that “secularized Christianity  is fundamentally untrue to what it is to be a Christian.”

But that doesn’t make him an “atheist fundamentalist,” does it? When I hear that expression I think (for instance) of P. Zed Myers. That’s not what Tappenden intends, I’m sure. So: let’s distinguish between “being a Christian” and simply sharing humane values with Christians (and Muslims, Buddhists, et al).

We really should avoid saying things like “I am a fundamentalist” when we really just mean to say “I am an atheist, and so I reject Christian fundamentalism.”  There’s no good reason for atheists to court deliberate confusion on this point, or to endorse Christianity’s false proprietary claim to peace, love, and understanding.

Time permitting, we may also discuss:

Alain de Botton follows up on his ‘temple of atheism’ (thanks for the link, David)…. The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: An interview with Alex Rosenberg… WHO NEEDS GOD? Kenan Malik – he’s an atheist but says it IS harder to be good without God… Dawkins on Darwin in The Blind Watchmaker: “I said I could not imagine being an atheist at any time before 1859, when Darwin’s Origin of Species was published.” My thoughts… And perhaps the “aiding and abetting” charge against moderate nonbelieving “accommodationists”…