Monday, August 13, 2012

The itch that can't be scratched.

Christopher R. Beha writes about the “New New Atheists” among whom he places Alain de Botton, Sam Harris [who was also a "New Atheist"], and Alex Rosenberg, author of The Atheist Guide to Reality:
Rosenberg...insists that doing away with religion means doing away with most of what comes with it: a sense of order in the universe, the hope that life has some inherent meaning, even the belief in free will. If it’s true, as Rosenberg insists in contradiction of Harris and Botton, that we can’t have the benefits of belief without belief itself, this raises another question. Setting aside matters of truth and falsehood, are we not better off believing? Broadly speaking, atheists seem to fall into two camps on this matter. There are disappointed disbelievers, those who would like to believe in God but find themselves unable. Then there are those who find the very idea of such a being to be an outrage. ....

I happen to count myself among the disappointed disbelievers, which is why I was interested in the attempts of Harris and Botton to salvage some religious splendor for the secularists. So I was only more disappointed to find Rosenberg’s insistence that such efforts were hopeless far more convincing than the efforts themselves. During an email exchange with Rosenberg, I asked him which camp of atheists he fell into. His response acknowledged my impulse: “There is . . . in us all the hankering for a satisfactory narrative to make ‘life, the universe and everything’ (in Douglas Adams’s words) hang together in a meaningful way. When people disbelieve in God and see no alternative, they often find themselves wishing they could believe, since now they have an itch and no way to scratch it.”

"It's a terrible thing to have an itch you can't scratch." Leon in Blade Runner
So what are we to do about this unscratchable itch? Rosenberg’s answer in his book is basically to ignore it. The modern world offers lots of help in this effort. To begin with, there are pharmaceuticals; Rosenberg strongly encourages those depressed by the emptiness of the Godless world to avail themselves of mood-altering drugs. .... [more]
Wikipedia summarizes Pascal's Wager thus: "...there's more to be gained from wagering on the existence of God than from atheism, and that a rational person should live as though God exists, even though the truth of the matter cannot actually be known." But if you reject that argument there are always "mood-altering drugs" as an alternative.

The Literary Response to Radical Atheism—By Christopher R. Beha (Harper's Magazine)