Saturday, August 08, 2009

More thoughts about atheism

My basic idea here is simply this: I don't think that after Marx, Nietzsche, Huxley, Spenser, Freud, Sartre, Camus, and the rest of the 19th and 20th century's giants of atheistic thought, that there will be much new to be said. I have read most of these authors and also responses to their thought by Christian authors like Borhnoeffer, Tillich and Niebuhr.

Nevertheless, I think that there is value in the contribution all these thinkers made, and atheism had a strong influence on the development of Christianity in the post WWII period, both as a transformative in liberal mainline Protestantism as well as in the reactionary fundamentalisms. Of course, I find liberalism more attractive, and that is one of the reasons I appreciate the atheist critiques of fundamentalist thought.

In India, the influence of Buddhism meant that the most basic arguments of atheism were given much more credence philosophically and theism could not credibly grow in India without the intermediate step of Advaita Vedanta. Basically, when I brought up my sat-cid-ananda argument and called it progressive. I am simply trying to follow the progression from Brahman to Paramatman and then to Bhagavan.

Progressive might be the wrong word, since in fact, there is an eternity and infinity in each of those levels, and there is also a unity of personal and impersonal, etc. Nevertheless, it is my feeling that the most complete concept of God is personal. But since Western atheism is specifically a-theism, or rejection of a personal God, we have to establish a general concept of transcendence through negative terms before we can establish the positive attributes of the deity.

When we do go from defining God as pure existence, or as Tillich calls it, "the Ground of Being," we have to deal with the basic psychological problem in atheism. In the last couple of days I have been thinking about left and right brains a little bit, mainly because it seemed to me that most atheisms claim to be purely rational. Indeed, the jnani tendency of the via negativa is the fundamental tendency of all atheisms.

This is why in India, for instance, Vaishnavas have opposed Shankarite monism, because they feel that, as Mahaprabhu said, "By denying God's attributes, they are trying to cut him to bits, i.e., to kill him."

But the difference between Shankara and modern atheists is that for the latter, the act of "killing God" is seen as a necessary step in the emancipation of Mankind. That by subjugating ourselves to the Idea of a supreme master, we diminish ourselves as human beings. We limit our potential by always considering the will of a higher being. Not only that, but it seems laughable that a "supreme being" should expect servile adulation from an infinite number of slaves for any reason whatsoever. I could go on, but why multiply examples?

The point I am making in everything I say is to examine the evolutionary character of a debate. Whether one is an atheist or a theist, the basis of one's attitude is ultimately irrational. To think human beings are purely rational is itself an irrational idea. To think that the ideal human being would be purely rational is also irrational. It seems to me that when it comes to the matter of happiness itself, the affective and intuitive portions of the brain (the bhakti portions) have a more ultimately decisive role. Reason is its servant. And that, in one respect, is also what we are saying about the relation of Radha to Krishna.

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