Thoughts on People’s Thoughts on my Salon Post

So I figure I should start using this like an actual blog and responded to criticism. PZ Meyers has responded to my piece in Salon. Let me first concede something. I think my intro paragraph was too strong. I don’t think that “New Atheists” and their ilk believe that eliminating religion will solve all of the world’s problems. The main thrust of my argument, however, that the NA crowd often imputes to religion events that are caused by socio-political factors, I think, still stands.

So, I’ll skip over the nastier stuff and move to an argument:

I’d also agree that abolishing religion (wait, does any reasonable atheist propose abolishing religion?) would not fix everything, but educating people away from irrationality would certainly fix some things.

Good. Here is something we disagree on. I think it would fix nothing. Because religion exists to meet a demand. The fact that our lives generally suck and we don’t understand the world. Religion has also been co-opted by political figures to advance their agenda. As long as the political and economic truths remain, and as long as their is pain and suffering, there will be religion. I don’t think religion is inherently irrational. Is Gandhi irrational? MLK? Al-Afghani? Tolstoy? Chesterton? My argument is that true religion has been co-opted by political radicals.

Here’s the kicker:

So religion is just like philosophy and literature, and philosophy and literature are just instances of this peculiarly vague monstrous amalgam McElwee wants to call “religion”? Do science, philosophy, and literature have at their heart an unevidenced concept that defies everything we know of reality, an elaborate and ultimately nonsensical premise around which theologians build intricate fantasies that contradict one another and all human experience?

The man libels philosophy and literature, and puffs up myths and lies with a credibility they do not deserve. For shame.

Again, let’s cut the bullshit and get to the point. Do I think that continental philosophy, literature and religion are all aimed at the same questions. Yes. That’s why Tolstoy’s philosophy, religion and literature were all combined. Religion is just people thinking deeply about the moral and ethical dilemmas we face. Science is about investigating the natural world.

Below is a quote that was in the first draft that I think has a lot of power here. It’s from Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet, and I think it helps us understand what drives the East toward religion, “When organized national selfishness, racial antipathy and commercial self-seeking begin to display their ugly deformities in all their nakedness, then it comes tie for a man to realize his salvation is… in a transformation of life, in the liberation of consciousness in love, in the realization of God in man.”

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on People’s Thoughts on my Salon Post

  1. crd

    Hitchens? You seek to criticize Hitchens?
    Your piece on atheists, Hitchens, etal. is yet
    another “personal” response to both apologize for and defend- based on numerous unexplored or discussed assumptions- your description of the world and, more broadly, life. Condemnation of atheistic thinking, which you are happy to catalogue- insightful of you- leaves any pagan wondering why you simper so noisily; perhaps you should “search for meaning” in Sartre- oh, wait…he mind also unwind and challenge your tidy little, self-congratulatory analysis. Give atheists a chance, and their due:) Your truth-seekers have, so far- politically motivated, or NOT, only fucked-it-up! Better, I think, you ask your Dad, Alphie. Also, proofread better- pronoun-antecedent agreement error at end of your pretentious piece.

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  2. Adam

    I would love to respond to your argument, but I have already popped my sleeping pills and my peepers are about to close shop. First on the list in the morning though! Night Night!

    -A-

    Reply
  3. Ron

    Help this feeble mind, please.

    “Religion has a tendency to reflect political and economic realities. ” Isn’t it also true that… Political and economic policies tend to reflect religious ideologies? Pretty sure I could come up with a few.

    “Without religion, will everyone living in Pakistan shrug off drone strikes and get on with their lives?” Shrug off…probably not. However, Hiroshima seems to have served its purpose without the aid of colonization. Not saying colonization is more powerful than the A-bomb, but one could easily argue that it has long(er)-term effects. Also, what’s the impetus for the colonization? Spreading of dogma, perhaps?

    “Religion is both a personal search for truth as well as a communal attempt to discern where we fit in the order of things.” C’mon… you can’t be serious? First of all, a personal search for truth doesn’t require a religious vessel. (That’s what makes it personal) — 2nd No one’s attempting to communally discern anything…just the opposite…religion simply (yet emphatically) perpetuates ancient tenets and typically admonishes any deviation along that dogmatic path. Simply put… There’s no seeking, just affirmation.

    “But any critique of religion that can be made from the outside (by atheists) can be made more persuasively from within religion.” How about Atheists such as myself: Born, baptized and raised in the (southern) church. Sang in the adult choir until the age of 30. Would it stand to reason that my “been there, done that” perspective carries even more weight than those inside the god bubble? Or is that merely the same as your run of the mill born again scientist?

    “…within the church there are modernizers and reformers working to quash the Church’s excesses, no Hitchens, Dawkins or Harris needed.” Okay, either the purported modernizers and reformers are pathetically inept or this statement is total bullshit. Sorry, but from whence I come (South), the Atheists are the only modernizers and reformers to be found.

    “When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.” You know… the same can be said about unicornology. Labeling a topic doesn’t substantiate a topic.

    “It (Religion) is an attempt to explain the deprivations of being human and what it means to live a good life.” Wrong. It’s not an attempt to explain…it’s a definitive explanation, complete with after-life repercussions for failure to conform, dispute or question.

    “Humans will always try to find meaning and purpose in their lives, and science will never be able to tell them what it is.” This is a nice twist, albeit flawed. First of all, it implies that religion will be able to tell humans the meaning and purpose of their lives. (How much more time does it need?) 2nd, One could stand on the fringe of a college campus and contemplate why they are about to attend classes….or one could actually attend those classes. The first scenario is credible, but the second scenario is fruitful.

    “Certainly German philosophy was distorted by madmen just as Christianity has been in the past, but atheists fool themselves if they try to differentiate the two.” Personally, this atheist wouldn’t try to differentiate the two….both being misguided, and assuredly so.

    “I would like to suggest a truce …Science, the study of the natural world, and religion, the inquiry into the meaning of life (or metaphysics, more broadly) constitute non-overlapping magisterial.” – NO. SUCH. LUCk. Religion does not get to (not that it’s capable) retract its poisonous tentacles from every realm it’s ever had the disruptive pleasure to contaminate…and recoil into the protective enclave of respected study. Fuck that. (It’s not a death row inmate.)

    “Any theologian or scientist who steps out of their realm to speculate upon the other is free to do so, but must do so with an adequate understanding of the other’s realm.” Uh…Hate to give you a bumper-sticker response to this proposal, but when does this start? ‘Cause I’m seeing a shit-load of dogma creeping into the Texas School Board, but I ain’t seeing a whole lotta evolution being propagated by my local pastors.

    “But abolishing religion is not only unfeasible, but it would ultimately leave us no closer to truth, love or peace.” You’re right, it will never be abolished. But try to imagine a world without “faith” in an after-life (2nd chance / get out of Hell free card). How ’bout a world wherein we treat each other as if all we have is each other? How ’bout a world that requires us to think rather than follow? All of that just a fairytale? Okay, place your bet: The world we have today vs. the one I just described… Which has the most death and destruction?

    I seriously appreciate your work and humbly yield to your superior acumen… Still, I think you woefully underestimate the unfortunate ramifications that religion embodies. Let’s commune down south sometime.

    RH

    NC License # NONBLEVER

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