Cheers, St. Pat, and happy birthday to my little sister. I didn’t know that Patrick’s design of the Celtic cross “incorporates the Irish sun god into the Christian symbol.” (WA) Or that the pubs in Ireland used to be closed on this “fairly somber” holiday, before Americans (mostly) turned it into an occasion of “boisteroius excess.”
Not much boisterous excess in today’s CoPhi subject, John Locke. But Bishop Berkeley (speaking of Ireland) was an excessive youth, apparently, if you can believe the story that in his student days he hung himself just to see what it felt like to lose consciousness. He’d already taken esse ist percipi to heart. Not much common sense there, the Scot Thomas Reid would have said.
In Atheism we turn to Philip Kitcher’s Life After Faith, his published Terry Lectures delivered eighty years after his hero John Dewey’s own Terry Lectures that became A Common Faith. Making the case for “soft atheism,” he (like Alain de Botton, with a pragmatic twist) “sympathizes with the idea that secularists can learn from religious practices and recommends sometimes making common cause with religious movements for social justice.”
I’m a humanist first and an atheist second. Because I’m more sympathetic to religion than the prominent new atheists, I label my position “soft atheism.” But perhaps I’m a more insidious foe than Dennett and Dawkins. For instead of ignoring important species of religion, I want to prepare the way for their gradual disappearance…
I think religion at its best — the religion that prompts my admiration and sympathy — detaches itself from dubious metaphysics and from speculations about a “transcendent” to which our concepts are surely inadequate. It focuses on human problems, attempting to relieve want and misery, to provide opportunities for worthwhile life, and to deepen and extend important values… The atheism I favor is one in which literal talk about “God” or other supposed manifestations of the “transcendent” comes to be seen as a distraction from the important human problems — a form of language that quietly disappears.
In Bioethics we take up Eula Biss’s On Immunity, a smart and conscientious young mother’s attempt to separate wheat from chaff in the vaccination “debate”. Of course one must “enact and embody one’s beliefs,” but what if one’s beliefs imperil the public health and safety?
And I’ll prompt the class to begin thinking of questions for the birthday girl, who’ll be visiting us soon to talk about her experiences as an E.R. social worker.
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