The final essay in Antony’s Philosophers Without Gods is Jonathan Adler’s “Faith & Fanaticism.” We’ll talk about that in A&P today, and anything else anyone proposes. Maybe sample some “Why I’m an Atheist” posts at Pharyngula, or some Hitchens…
It’s still hard to comprehend The Hitch’s permanent departure. “You may not see the point of all this faith now,” one of his early religious teachers instructed. “But one day you will, when you start to lose loved ones.” His 12-year old self reacted admirably:
I experienced a stab of sheer indignation as well as disbelief. Why, that would be as much as saying that religion might not be true, but never mind that, since it can be relied upon for comfort. How contemptible.
It’s not the comfort that’s contemptible, but the lying. Hitch combined a deep love of humanity with a hatred of deceit and (one of his favorite words) servility.
We do not believe in heaven or hell, yet no statistic will ever find that without these blandishments and threats we commit more crimes of greed or violence than the faithful… We are reconciled to living only once, except through our children, for whom we are perfectly happy to notice that we must make way… We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion.
Hitch anticipated de Botton’s “religion for atheists”:
There is no need for us to gather every day, or every seven days, or on any high and auspicious day, to proclaim our rectitude or to grovel and wallow in our unworthiness. We atheists do not require any priests, or any hierarchy above them… To us no spot on earth is or could be “holier” than another… God is not Great
What a gift of unflappable fluency that guy had! Those of us who miss him most should get together to appreciate him properly, in the company of his friend Johnnie Walker. He never varnished the truth about fanatics. As he said of his friend Rushdie,
it is not the job of writers and thinkers to appease the faithful. And the faithful, if in fact upset or offended, are quite able and entitled to explore all forms of protest. Short of violence.
Adler’s thesis is straightforward: “faith is fertile ground for fanaticism.” True believers obey religious commands “even when they violate basic ethical prohibitions.” Abraham, no Kantian, would have murdered his son.
Well, what of James’s vaunted will (or right) to believe? This only goes for “beliefs whose content could not be established by reason or evidence,” and it presumes that “what is believed is (believed to be) true.” We have every right to our own beliefs, but not to our own facts. C.S. Peirce, the “pragmaticist,” usefully supports this view. “It is the world that determines what I am to believe,” not personal fiat.
W.K. Clifford said believe only what the evidence compels. We don’t know a thing about tomorrow or the day after. And yet, I insist on believing that I and we have a future. I must believe that. Why else haul out of bed at 5 am on a cold and dark winter’s morn? A belief is a platform for action, and I want to act prospectively. So, I form beliefs embodying expectations and hopes. They may be confounded, I may be disappointed, but at least I won’t be a mere spectator of my own life.
Next up: 50 Voices of Disbelief, which picks up where Adler leaves off.
Religious fanaticism seems to have become ever more successful in preventing even multicultural societies from discussing the merits, or otherwise, of religious ideologies versus humanist alternatives. Cartoonists and authors of books critical of religion have become popular targets for death threats by religious fanatics. Each week, it seems harder to keep the candle of reason alight. Yet, “respect” for the intolerant ideologues’ teachings has, it seems, become the order of the day, when intolerance of intolerance would arguably be a more appropriate response to religious fundamentalism…
And that’s the spirit of Mr. Deity and the Quitter, with all due respect.
Speaking of Mormons, did you hear the NPR story yesterday about posthumous Baptism? No personal disrespect intended, but how silly can religion get?
But we can’t just laugh it off. There’s nothing funny about hell to a child. This is my answer to the question posed last time, about whether it’s unfair to moderate theists not to let the “nicer” versions represent all of religion: it’s more unfair to the mentally (and sometimes physically) abused victims of hell on earth to give cover of darkness to those who would instill irrational fear in innocent children.
Thankfully, we can give children a much better story. This View of Life, of “anything and everything from an evolutionary perspective,” is full of the magic of reality. To hell with fear: I think I’m going to be a little more strident about that. As The Hitch’s pal Julian Barnes said, the undiscover’d country is nothing to be frightened of.
Philosophers Club… force for good (Hitchens-Blair debate)… alive (Gerson on Hitch’s “joy & juice”)… this dishonest American life (“the voice of reason, which sounds like Christopher Hitchens”)… portable atheists… Hitch (defending his subtitle)… Mr. Deity (evil, Pythons, Carlin, Adams)… Coming Soon (Woody on immortality etc.)… Hitch alive… Wright vs. Hitchens… Four Horsemen… more Hitch links from DS