Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Arrested development

You often meet them for the first time at secondary school. The typical teenage atheist is more likely a boy than a girl, stronger on science than the arts, and at the high-ish end of the academic spectrum. He tells you that he has studied the nature of matter, the universe etc, and can prove that God does not exist.

Already, you are plunged into the thick of the problem, which is one of category. The teenage thinker treats the existence of God as a scientific matter, but it isn’t. Science can certainly disprove some claims that believers make about their God – or, to be more exact, it can prove that these claims are incompatible with science – but it can have nothing to say about something that lies outside its realm.

In the current era of Richard Dawkins and the New Atheism, many atheists call themselves the “Brights”, pleased to make the rest of us out as dullards. ....

Some atheists – Dawkins, Sigmund Freud, AJ Ayer – resemble, in essence, that clever young schoolboy. They believe they have brilliantly proved religion to be a load of hogwash. In their minds, it seems an advantage that their creed does not appeal as much to women or the poor and ignorant. Indeed, Friedrich Nietzsche saw more deeply how European society’s moral order would collapse with the destruction of faith – but welcomed it. Christianity was a “slave morality”, he said, celebrating weakness and preserving “too much of what should have perished”. People such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Hitler took up such thoughts with deadly enthusiasm.

But precisely because religion, though theologically grounded, is much deeper than an intellectual theory, it tends to regenerate when attacked. The author quotes one Soviet persecutor of Christianity: “Religion is like a nail, the harder you hit, the deeper it goes in.” ....

This leads to the question: “Is atheism parasitic on religion?” There is something unsatisfactory about building your thought around an anti-faith. .... Hamlet says: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Any imaginative atheist must sometimes be troubled by this thought, and worry that his ideas are so dependent on the very thing he opposes.

It is as if someone were to devote his energies to telling people that they did not really love one another. He might be right, of course, but it would be a sad business. .... [more]