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Anti-Theism and Fundamentalism in Symbiosis

January 27, 2010

Fundamentalism begets anti-theism begets more fundamentalism. Ross Douthat is exactly right:

So is it reasonable to believe that [the Gospels] “speak more clearly” than, say, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to the question of whether Christians should interpret the events in Haiti as God’s punishment for some (spurious) 18th-century sin? I think it is. So do many theologians, ancient as well as modern, Protestant as well as Catholic, And the fact that Richard Dawkins and Pat Robertson both disagree tells us something, important, I think, about the symbiosis between the new atheism and fundamentalism — how deeply the new atheists are invested in the idea that a mad literalism is the truest form of any faith, and how completely they depend on outbursts from fools and fanatics to confirm their view that religion must, of necessity, be cruel, literal-minded, and above all, stupid.

It sounds, to me, like a FoxNews or CNN “debate” between Robertson and Dawkins might be in the works here. Fundamentalist Christianity and the new atheism are, after all, the only conceivable alternatives — right?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 29, 2010 11:59 pm

    how deeply the new atheists are invested in the idea that a mad literalism is the truest form of any faith, and how completely they depend on outbursts from fools and fanatics to confirm their view that religion must, of necessity, be cruel, literal-minded, and above all, stupid.

    Hmm. I didn’t realize this was a trend. I sympathize with this group of so-called “new atheists.” The reason I sympathize with them is because I don’t understand the opposing side’s validity. While science hasn’t found an answer to our biggest questions about life and death and the universe, they are the group that has been actively seeking the answers. Religious groups, for the most part, either believe that they already know (without evidence to prove their knowledge to skeptics or those without an automatic faith) or they discourage the questions that could begin the process of finding the answers.

    I’m skeptical of any group or organization that actively seeks to remain stagnant, or encourages ignorance. It’s a vast generalization, of course, and I wouldn’t presume to believe that all religious people or communities discourage knowledge, or that all atheists or agnostics necessarily seek knowledge.

  2. innocentsmithjournal permalink*
    January 30, 2010 4:48 pm

    If by “the opposing side” you mean fundamentalists like Pat Robertson, I agree. I do not consider “valid” a faith that demonizes evolution, interprets natural disasters as a sign of God’s punishment, and yokes itself to a politics of free market individualism.

    I sense, however, that you are defining “the opposing side” as the religious mainstream. I cannot speak for other faiths, but here’s what I know about Catholicism. Catholicism does (contrary to your assertion) actively seek the answers to “our biggest questions about life and death and the universe.” But it doesn’t accept that science alone is capable of discovering these truths. The Church teaches, rather, that science is complemented by divine revelation — truth discovered through tradition and the scriptures, and refined through theological reflection.

    What Catholics often fail to realize is that there is no good reason to accept religious dogma (a point on which you and I agree). Certainly one can evaluate the philosophical basis for a belief in God or the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. But an agnostic has no basis for agreeing or disputing with the Christian who says to her “the godhead consists of three mystically conjoined persons.” Indeed, it makes no difference to the agnostic whether she is told that “the godhead consists of three persons,” or “Poseidon rules the sea with his mighty trident,” or “King Arthur is the once and future king.”

    You are speaking from a tradition of Enlightenment rationalism, in which all valid knowledge is necessarily propositional knowledge. From this standpoint, Catholicism looks like a fairy tale at best, and a positive danger at worst. I, on the other hand, do not consider fairy tales untrue — since I do not require that all truth be propositionally true: measurable, repeatable, provable. (On the other hand, as a Catholic, I don’t believe all fairy tales indiscriminately, which would amount to polytheism.)

    While I admire the Enlightenment tradition, I am not sure that rationalism passes its own tests. It is not possible to measure or weigh the claim that all truths can be measured and weighed. Nor could you or I logically prove the claim that all truths can be logically proven. What you end up with is skepticism, not just about faith, but about reason itself. Voltaire sets us on the road to Derrida; from Kant, it is a short distance to Foucault.

    What the postmodernists came to realize — rightly in my view — is that truth is, to a significant extent, culturally conditioned. (Postmodernism has problems of its own, despite its authoritative status in most English departments.) Americans tend to assume that liberal democracy is natural, inevitable, and above all “reasonable”. Yet many in the Middle East would beg to differ. Propositionally speaking, who’s right? Is it possible to prove culturally held assumptions without falling back on the very assumptions we are trying to prove?

    Americans (liberals especially) also tend to assume that science alone should enjoy the status of truth. It may, of course, be the case that Catholicism and other religious traditions are simply “irrational” — just as the Muslim world may be simply irrational in rejecting Western norms (gender equality, freedom of speech, and so on).

    But what if there is more to the story?

  3. January 31, 2010 8:16 pm

    I really appreciate this articulation. It savours of cooperation.

  4. April 11, 2010 1:33 am

    Since the question “what is an atheist?” frequently comes up, and since there seems to be some confusion, here are a few basic facts.

  5. innocentsmithjournal permalink*
    April 12, 2010 9:13 am

    joyworldyet: what are those facts?

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  1. A Commentary on Doubt, Round Two « The Innocent Smith Journal

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