Tuesday, September 01, 2009

More thoughts on atheism

Following on from this post and its comments. These are mostly disorganized notes.

Writing in the 1950's, French Catholic theologian Henry Duméry wisely observed, “On ne repousse l’Absolu qu'au nom d’un Absolu meilleure.” ("One does not reject the Absolute except in the name of a higher Absolute.") In other words, one needs to have some ultimate concern or ground from which to orient one's world view. If one does not believe in a traditional God-image as it comes through a tradition, then one replaces it with some other ideal.

He also observed that atheism criticizes caricatures of God rather than the real God. ("L’athéisme critique plus des caricatures de Dieu que le vrai Dieu."). Quite often these caricatures are served up by believers themselves who are still on a very literal and childish level of comprehension of their own system. In other words, whatever ideals are presented as the "absolute" -- even if they are consciously self-created -- still point to an Absolute.

These two statements pretty much summarize how I feel about atheism. The Gita states that God reveals himself to each differently. God is experienced subjectively, and if we must define him (or it) in secular terms, it still points to the existence of some meaning or purpose that ultimately takes us to God. Does it not then make more sense to give credence to those who have studied this question through tradition than to start from scratch ?

A friend wrote, "Science is more rewarding than religion."

This assumes that the two are mutually incompatible. Science and religion are like science and philosophy. In both case, the latter changes with changes in knowledge, evolves with the evolution of knowledge and the onset of new moral and ethical challenges. But they belong to fundamentally different domains.

This leads to scientism or the belief that scientific empiricism can provide the answers to all questions about life and meaning. Religion is considered less satisfying to the rational man because it belongs to a prelogical mentality and thus holds back the evolution of humanity. It is thus a process of infantilization: science is about truth without recourse to the supernatural or magical thinking.
Atheism is an effort to free mankind from guilt, the disease that keeps him from being himself, to make him responsible for the entire world by work and commitment, change the world. Atheism is not or no longer purely a negation of God, but an effort to get all the consequences of the negation, which is the liberation of humanity. In other words, atheism is seen as a supreme value.
Religion is also an effort to free mankind from guilt, through character transformation. Religion "alienates" human beings because it postulates an absolute moral authority. Does such moral absoluteness exist?

If we look at the Bhagavad-gita we can see that there is more nuance there than religions are generally given credit for. The idea of a "categorical moral imperative" is integral to religious faith.

Can there be an anomic state that we can aspire to without internal reform? I don't think so. And a society that has no sense of guilt or shame is not particularly desirable. In fact, in today's society, there is a concerted effort to shame those who believe in God, or in absolute moral values of any kind, especially where it interferes with the unrestrained pursuit of pleasure, in particular sexual pleasure.

There is a moral "atheism" which requires self-discipline. Some atheists don't want to be accused of looking for an easy way out. So Marx idealizes a “new man,” Sartre believes in human “transcendence” without God, and Camus even talked occasionally about a “sanctity without grace.” And Nietzsche of course talks about the “superman” who must find his own truth after killing the God who infringes on his freedom by teaching virtue, love and non-violence.
“Where is God? I will tell you. We have killed him, you and I. Is this glorious deed not sufficient for us? Do we not have to become gods ourselves in order to be worthy of ourselves? There has never been a more glorious deed and those who are born after us will, because of this deed, belong to a more elevated history than any period that has gone before.” (Ecce homo)

Sartre laments that it is “inconvenient that God doesn’t exist because there are no ready-made values” [for the atheist]. In other words he has to make it up as he goes along. Which means of course asceticism and sacrifice, St. Paul's “putting away the things of a child.” So what is the difference? Is it not possible to have an intelligent religion that sees past the children's stories to the substance at the core?

What irritates atheists most about believers is what they think is a kind of dishonest argument. A believer will say that the atheist is engaged in a kind of religious search by negation. Indeed, I did that myself when I said that God is meaning or existence. If you find meaning, then in some way you have found God. This is what our Iconoclast is reacting to when he says that “true atheism” is complete indifference to God.

Knowing God is more than having some ideas about him.

Let us say that true knowledge of a person is love.

The problem of the psychological locus of God: Is Man created in the image of God or God in the image of man? "The wise man points to the stars and the fool sees only the finger.”

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