The Atheists Are Revolting

The Atheists Are Revolting

I came across a National Post article recently about atheists, agnostics and non-believers rallying, or, if you prefer, revolting, against “religion.”  Headlined by the UK’s very own Richard Dawkins, the high priest among the “evangelists of unbelief”, who told atheists, “We are far more numerous than anybody realizes.”

Apart from adding a “So what!” to that slightly insecure posturing, I want to go through the article and poke it a little.

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Atheists Take Note (this Easter)…

Gralefrit Theology

Top 10 tips for atheists this Easter

church

This is a re-post of Dr John Dickson’s excellent challenge to Atheists to up their game in their critique of Christianity:

There is a dissonance between Christ’s “love your enemies” and Moses’ “slay the wicked”.

Atheists should drop their easily dismissed scientific, philosophical or historical arguments against Christianity, and instead quiz believers about Old Testament violence and hell, writes John Dickson.

As an intellectual movement, Christianity has a head start on atheism. So it’s only natural that believers would find some of the current arguments against God less than satisfying.

In the interests of a more robust debate this Easter, I (Dr John Dickson) want to offer my tips for atheists wanting to make a dent in the Faith. I’ve got some advice on arguments that should be dropped and some admissions about where Christians are vulnerable.

Tip #1. Dip into…

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Oi, Ricky, No!

Oi, Ricky, No!

I recently had a brief chat with a chap about “religion” – which even though I am a church pastor, doesn’t happen very often!  Not like this anyway.

In the course of the conversation we talked about a theological book I was carrying, and he commented that the book will have “religious bias”, and that, by implication, could not really be trusted.

Of course my thought-reply was immediate:  “If by “bias” you mean an unthinking and pre-determined approach of coming to, and understanding, truth, then No.  But if you mean by “bias” that I am seeking truth and understanding through the lens of Christian Theology, a discipline that implodes if without internal and external integrity and disciplines, then Yes.”

Of course, the underlying assumption, as I saw it, was that Christian books of theology are naively enslaved to a bronze-age superstitious worldview, but still seek to peddle their wares to unsuspecting passersby, since everyone knows that science (more accurately, scientism, or “scientistic epistemology”) has put to death once and for all the myth of religion, or more specifically, the myth of Christianity.

Then my friendly interlocutor mentioned something Ricky Gervais had said in a US TV interview a few years ago.  I’ve listened to it and seen it on YouTube a couple of times, and each time I am staggered at how pleasant and wise popular atheist sloganeering sounds, every phrase met with the wide-eyed support and cheering and clapping of gladiatorial spectators witnessing the death of a prize-winning fighter.  Only this time, it is the wise Ricky putting to death the mythical monster that is Christianity.  It reminded me of the marvellous Mark Twain, who wrote in Volume 1 of his Autobiography, “These poor fellows furnish a “comic” performance which is so humble, and poor and pitiful, and childish, and asinine, and inadequate that it makes a person ashamed of the human race. Ah, their timorous dances – and their timorous antics – and their shamefaced attempts at funny grimacing – and their cockney songs and jokes – they touch you, they pain you, they fill you with pity, they make you cry…. London loves them; London has a warm big heart, and there is room and a welcome in it for all the misappreciated refuse of creation.”

Sadly, it is nothing but the poor and pitiful, the childish and asinine quality of the popular new-atheist movement in our day that is wildly unwild, one could say tame.      G. K. Chesterton did:  “It is not the wild ideals which wreck the practical world; it is the tame ideals.”  Is this shallow debate wrecking the world?  Yep.

So what did Ricky say?

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How To Be A Good Atheist

How To Be A Good Atheist

A few years ago, David Bentley Hart wrote a  review of a book called: 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists, co-edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk. On Amazon the book is described thus:

“50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists presents a collection of original essays drawn from an international group of prominent voices in the fields of academia, science, literature, media and politics who offer carefully considered statements of why they are atheists.”

Hart’s original article can be found at the First Things website, but here’s a snippet of his sigh-ings against what he delicately calls the “sheer banality of the New Atheists”:

 

“How long should we waste our time with the sheer banality of the New Atheists—with, that is, their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral “truths,” their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about “religion” in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for? . . .

A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

If that seems a harsh judgment, I can only say that I have arrived at it honestly. In the course of writing a book published just this last year, I dutifully acquainted myself not only with all the recent New Atheist bestsellers, but also with a whole constellation of other texts in the same line, and I did so, I believe, without prejudice. No matter how patiently I read, though, and no matter how Herculean the efforts I made at sympathy, I simply could not find many intellectually serious arguments in their pages, and I came finally to believe that their authors were not much concerned to make any. . . .

I came to realize that the whole enterprise, when purged of its hugely preponderant alloy of sanctimonious bombast, is reducible to only a handful of arguments, most of which consist in simple category mistakes or the kind of historical oversimplifications that are either demonstrably false or irrelevantly true. And arguments of that sort are easily dismissed, if one is hardy enough to go on pointing out the obvious with sufficient indefatigability.”

The strangeness of it all

As I continue my reading journey into the rich and beguilingly complex tradition of Christian theology, I see more and more the inane ‘meh-nes’ of the challenge.  It’s not that I have a silly mentality that says “I have it right and you have it wrong”, irrespective of the facts or the evidence; it’s just that why would I espouse something I didn’t in fact think was right?

Gilbert K. Chesterton was no fool, and even a hundred years ago he recognised the pre-Richard Dawkins/George Bernard Shaw challenge to Christianity.  We forget all too easily that these challenges, if indeed they can be called that, are in fact very old, if not tired and weary challenges, to what is, arguably, a highly sophisticated if not nuanced discussion.  Chesterton made mention of “this halo of hatred around the Church of God.”  Of course there is.  This is a factual, true statement of the fact that where the True Church is, there will be opposition, hatred, persecution or whatever.  The Gospel draws and repels in near-as-damn-it equal measure!

It is not a surprise that Shaw begat Dawkins, in precisely the same way that Ludwig Feuerbach begat Karl Marx; Marx begat Freud and Freud begat Jean Paul Satre.  This begetting is as tedious as the begetting in the bible, but it serves a comparably important point:  We are where we are because of where we have come from.  Kierkegaard challenged the mid-19th century aggressors of Christianity, just as Chesterton challenged (in much funnier terms) the late 19th – early 20th century aggressors.  The point is that they are all of a piece:  a seemless woven thread of enlightenment…..wait…. of toxic enlightenment worldview that is simply blinded to a wider reality of knowing.  That’s why Paul Tillich asks – following Aquinas – why modern man, in this age of technology and specialisation, fails to ask questions about being, or about the God who is the Ground of all Being – a “fragmentation” of thought he rightly says is “symbolised only by the demonic.”

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Getting Stupid:  Confessions of a (former) atheist Philosopher of Religion

Getting Stupid: Confessions of a (former) atheist Philosopher of Religion

“I have already noted in passing that everything goes wrong without God.  This is true even of the good things he has given us such as our minds.  One of the good things I’ve been given is a stronger than average mind.  I don’t make the observation to boast.  Human beings are given diverse gifts to serve Him in diverse ways.  The problem is that a strong mind that refuses the call to serve God has its own way of going wrong.  When some people flee from God, they rob and kill.  When others flee from God they do a lot of drugs and have a lot of (multiple-partner) sex.  When I fled from God I didn’t do any of these things.  My way of fleeing was to get stupid.  Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to achieve.  God keeps them in His arsenal to pull down mulish pride, and I discovered them all.  That is how I ended up doing a doctoral dissertation to prove that we make up the difference between good and evil and that we aren’t responsible for what we do.  I remember now that I even taught these things to students.  Now that’s sin. 

It was also agony.  You cannot imagine what a person has to do to himself – well, if you’re like I was, maybe you can, what a person has to do to himself to go on believing such nonsense.  St Paul said that the knowledge of God’s law is written on our hearts, our consciences also bearing witness.  The way natural-law thinkers put this, is to say that they constitute the deep structure of our minds.  That means that so long as we have minds, we can’t not know them.  I was unusually determined not to know them, therefore I had to destroy my mind.  I resisted the temptation to believe in good with as much energy as some saints resist the temptation to neglect good.  For instance, I loved my wife and children, but I was determined to regard this love as merely subjective preference with really no objective value.  Think what this did to my very capacity to love them.  After all, love is a commitment to the will of the true good of another person, and how can one be committed to the true good of another person if he denies the reality of good, denies the reality of persons and denies that his commitments are in his control?

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(Davidic Aphorisms Pt.1)  “Personally, I prefer the Hegelian distinction between true and spurious infinity.”

(Davidic Aphorisms Pt.1) “Personally, I prefer the Hegelian distinction between true and spurious infinity.”

What follows will not make immediate sense, or even later sense.  But I’ve discovered that comment threads by my brother David on the Guardian newspaper website (no less), are a work of art.  They are (or have become) a bunch of genuine aphorisms that will betray a sense of the sublime in the ordinary.  It’s not easy to say this, since he is my brother after all, but they have made me laugh out loud, despite their often serious points, and they deserve a wider audience…..

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While cooking is a pleasure, and eating it even more so, Ellen is right to highlight the kind of narrowing of horizons that poverty engenders. Clearly many middle-class people work as hard, if not harder, than poor people, but the point is that having access to cash or credit greatly expands the range of options and a sense that life has a purpose for yourself and your family. Being poor strips away many of the motivations for living healthily because, well, what’s the point in trying. It’s not an excuse, but it might go some way to explaining why poor people eat worse more generally.

It’s weird how the most violent people and the most anti-violent people share the common characteristic of having no sense of humour.  The world would be a better place if we just felt freer to take the piss out of each other more of the time.

What you’re saying only makes sense if you thought that religious belief was automatically opposed to evolutionary science, which I don’t think it is. As with Genesis, its the meanings to which it has been put (racism for one) that is important. It’s all about interpretation.

Nietzsche would be disgusted.

And yet, by the same logic, christian bakers are obliged to bake cakes celebrating gay marriage because to not do so is discrimination. It seems oddly inconsistent…

What I love about philosophy is the way it unsettles our commonsense view of reality. Everything, even the most mundane, is up for grabs. If only I could find a way to teach it in schools, colleges or universities! I’d do it for peanuts if I could.

Not being funny, but I’d hazard the guess that you haven’t read much theology, have you?

Hard to know what to think about this, its either an interesting way of revealing unconscious bias towards belief, or completely fatuous. Either way, I wouldn’t say it, not because I have a superstitious belief in the power of words, but because I don’t think it’s a relevant way to pray (mainly because I believe that God is love).

Maybe, but it is possible that you have misjudged the situation somewhat. I’m not convinced that having low expectations/aspiration is automatically connected to a sense of entitlement by virtue of being male and white (that is a bit of a leap, and not one which I feel is justified). Not seeing the relevancy of striving in school could more easily be explained by a sense that striving academically is a potential cul-de-sac career wise. Speaking for myself, it never entered my head to strive for anything beyond factory/shop work because I didn’t know anyone in my social circle who did anything different. My experience may not be exemplary in this, but I think that the idea that white boys have low expectations because they feel entitled (for what and by whom?) simply because of their ethnicity and gender is a bit bizarre and insulting.

Possibly the issue is not so much that you commented on white males being inherently privileged, but that you suggested that young, working class white boys had imbibed this privilege and had a sense of the entitlement which reality failed to deliver on.

In my own experience as someone who grew up working-class, it is the sense of entitlement that I encounter in the middle-class (male and female) which strikes me as the greatest difference between us and them.

To be honest, I see your point, it is repellent, but it accurately describes the reality.

Being poor sucks!

Personally, I prefer the Hegelian distinction between true and spurious infinity (the former being a dialectical relation, the latter a mere endless progression onwards and upwards). Hegel’s true infinity is quite similar to the Kantian infinitude of aesthetic judgement.

One thing I love about Kant is that he was intelligent enough to recognise that the most important questions can be convincingly argued as either yes or no.

I’m a christian, and I have no idea what you’re on about.  I also choose not to wear a poppy because it clashes with my red eyes. Freaks people out.

Well, I enjoyed the article at least. Star Wars may not be Macbeth – and Lucas is no Shakespeare – but as a massively popular story, its interesting to analyse it this way.

I strongly doubt that robots will ever replace humans in any significant way.

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