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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

"In archaeology you uncover the unknown. In diplomacy you cover the known." - Thomas Pickering


A comment on another book deriding Richard Dawkins (among other things, for the familiar sin of being a "pseudo-intellectual" - seeing this term is a good indicator that nonsense is coming up):

Same ol' Lame 'ol

"I wish Salon would think twice about joining with the other liberal attacks on Dawkins, Hitchens, and the "New Atheists." At the least, wait for a champion who makes a minimal amount of sense and is not coy about his position. When O'Hehir admits that Eagleton is "cagey" about his own beliefs, he glances lightly over a major difficulty: Eagleton affirms Christianity without ever affirming a single concrete proposition connected with it.

I'm not in the Dawkins camp and yes, the case against theism was made eloquently by a number of great writers of the past. But since the latest surge of yahoo religion has occurred in spite of the best that Nietzsche and Shaw could do, you can't say that the job is finished.

It is a cheap shot by O'Hehir to call Dawkins and Hitchens "self-appointed." Who was supposed to appoint them? Their pastors? They wrote books that expressed their opinions and those books became best-sellers.

It is true that they did not take on the authors of sophisticated medieval theological tracts. It is another cheap shot, by Eagleton this time, to suggest they do not or would not understand those tracts. Be that as it may, they set themselves a different task, for which debating Thomas Aquinas would be irrelevant: they went after the popular forms of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity that today have swept aside liberal Protestantism, "mainstream Christianity," and sophisticated medieval theologians and become the unofficial social doctrine of the Republican Party. The leaders of mega-churches don't know Thomas Aquinas any better than Dawkins does. It may seem to Eagleton that Dawkins makes it easy on himself by attacking the "stupidest and most literal-minded form" of theistic belief, but that is the form that dominated our politics for eight years. And you can't call that form a straw man or a caricature: today the belief in biblical inerrancy is the true mainstream.

Eagleton's Christianity, about which he is by turns reticent, inarticulate, and evasive, but which we gather is VERY sophisticated, is, by any objective yardstick, NOT mainstream. So Dawkins and Hitchens have every right to ignore it. Yes, Eagleton is right that "There is a long Judeo-Christian theological tradition that bears no resemblance to the caricature of religious faith found in Ditchkins, and atheists tend to take the most degraded and superstitious forms of religion as representative." So what? In point of sober fact, the most degraded and superstitious forms of religion ARE representative, at least today in America. Eagleton looks down his nose at these degraded and superstitious forms, disapproves of them, and then writes an attack on . . . OTHER CRITICS of these forms.

O'Hehir poses Eagleton's challenge this way: "How is Western capitalism, agnostic and relativistic down to its roots, to confront a 'full-blooded "metaphysical" foe' (Islamic fundamentalism) that has no problem believing in absolute truth?" Speaking for myself alone, I'll just say that, of all the ways I can think of to answer that question, last on my list is the attempt to confront that foe with a rival monotheism also claiming to possess absolute truth.

Finally, Stephen Jay Gould and his misbegotten attempt to make peace by means of the two non-overlapping Magisteria: he was wrong in both directions. He was reckless and short-sighted to propose that scientists leave the moralizing to the theologians, because human morality has to fall into line with human possibility, and the churchmen – setting aside for the moment their record of susceptibility to every human evil – have shown themselves to be resolutely ignorant of what sort of creature they and their parishioners are. We need our social scientists to continue the scientific investigation into human nature and to try to acquaint moralists with their findings. But Gould was even more pie-eyed when he imagined that religionists would or could reciprocate and keep their hands off science. Revealed religion by definition establishes not only eternal truth but a limit to truth (since the revelation contains all of it) and imposes a duty on its adherents to resist, as forcefully as circumstances require, any incursion into its precincts – and its precincts extend to the edge of the visible and invisible universe.

The big lie of all these purveyors of Soft Christianity, like Eagleton, is the claim that serious believers are not hung up on the propositional truths of the creed. Serious believers take it all symbolically, don't you know. Such people there may be. But the fundamentalists who believe in the physical and historical reality of the Incarnation and the Resurrection have by far the greater right to say what Christianity is and has been. Any reader of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15, can discover for himself exactly what orthodox Christians do and pretty much must believe in order to get their ticket punched at the door. My guess is that Eagleton would choke on the words of the Nicene Creed taken literally. If so, he is manifestly unqualified to say what Christianity is for anyone other than himself; and he has no right to complain when writers like Dawkins get THEIR idea of Christianity from those who ARE qualified to say."

In fact, I don't think this person goes far enough in rejecting the politically-correct version of religion and pointing out that the version that many people currently, and most people have historically, believe(d) is closer to what "Ditchkins" deride than the God(s) of the philosophers.

The god of classical theism is nothing at all like what Eagleton portrays it to be.

Other comments (the damn thread is 86 pages long, so I barely skimmed it):

"The book is nothing but a long-winded God of the Gaps argument, which does nothing but try to morph "god" and "religion" into whatever form will make them immune from criticism or factual inquiry, even if that form bears no resemblance to the way many people actually think about them."

"If you claim that God has or had any real affect on the physical world, then that is a scientific hypothesis, potentially subject to scientific scrutiny and comparison with accepted scientific theories. If God is just a "state of mind/consciousness" or whatever, then it is just an exercise in mental masturbation.

Eagleton goes even further, and claims that it is silly of atheists to imagine that Christianity takes it as important that you must believe that God actually exists. If it is not a necessary part of Eagleton's religion to believe that God exists, then that leads to the apparently absurd conclusion that one can be
simultaneously an athesit and a Christian."

"To me this is like climing that people can't reasonably say "I don't believe that Zeuss exists" without delving into a level of scholarship about the mythology he sprang from equal to those who have studied such things for their whole lives."

"Eagleton is free to pat himself on the back over his subtle and refined form of Christianity, but what he's describing is not religion at all, it's literature. If, as the article states, "He freely admits that what Christian doctrine teaches about the universe and the fate of man may not be true, or even plausible," then he might as well be getting his life lessons and warm fuzzies from Shakespeare or Tolstoy or any other teller of tales."

"There were so many insulting yet unsupported claims against anti-theists/atheists/elitists/scientists (are we speaking of Dawkins and Hitchens together? specifically? or all atheists? I couldn't be sure) I expected somewhere in this two-pager to find some examples of how these miscreants were "ill-informed"... O'Hehir just cheered and jeered while Eagleton threw spitballs at the back of Dawkins head and called it "philosophy." A lot of invective and defensive mush but no meat. Can't any defenders of the faith do better than this?"

Eagleton also got slammed by A. C. Grayling and James Wood, hah.
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