Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sunday Fish Wrap

In yet another bold stroke against the "new atheism", one Charles Blow, occasionally of the New York Times, has written a little screed which he entitles "Defecting to Faith". Yawn, double yawn. The title itself is a rather non-subtle sniffle in the direction of christian self-pity, and gawd noze we see plenty of that. When they're not excoriating sinners and condemning faggots to hellfire, christians love to beat their breasts at how misunderstood and oppressed they are by those horrible child-eating, Jeezus-bashing secular, rational modernists. That's the subtext of the title, though it is rarely sub at all. So in Mr. Blow's title,"defecting" implies christianity as transgressive when, as anyone with even a passing knowledge of western history knows, christianity has been normative in "our" part of the world since 312 C.E. ... and "faith" is that modern buzzword of overweening nodding and winking. The word nauseates me not only because it implies that belief in some imbecilic superstition is a positive character trait, but also because it arrogates the notion of faith to the suspension of reason.

In a greater sense than that religious arrogation, I am a man of faith. I have faith that notwithstanding that the human species will always produce a bumper crop of morons, it will also produce enough transcendental genius to make the entire enterprise worthwhile. I have faith that the Sun will rise, although I also know that my faith is completely irrelevant to the Sun's project. I have faith in the loyalty of friends, and I have faith that my dog will come when I bark at him.

None of this has anything to do with the suspension of reason.

Back to Mr. Blow who postures a self-styled courageous stance against an implied antagonist cabal of rationalists that read atheism into recent reports about the growth of religious non-affiliation. In other words, he argues that recent reports of a statistical drop in religiosity need to be buffered by his particular insights. It turns out that good science has discerned that a greater number of Americans state they have no religious denomination (I will endeavor to find a link when I have a little more time than right now when I am into my second Manhattan as R, my sainted roommate, friend, and bartender, has just lowered the once weekly beef onto the grill.) So he boldly adduces an increase in religiosity in the evidence for its statistical decline. This is typical, to quote the television. Ideologues find evidence of their immanent perfection both in victory and defeat, in affirmation and abnegation.

So it turns out that some children of agnostics turn religious, and lots of folks still end up in the bosom of holy mother church. Whoddathunkit?

But Mr. Blow misses a significant point. Let him speak for himself; I quote at length, notwithstanding the ellipses:

While science, logic and reason are on the side of the nonreligious, the cold, hard facts are just so cold and hard. Yes, the evidence for evolution is irrefutable. Yes, there is a plethora of Biblical contradictions. Yes, there is mounting evidence from neuroscientists that suggests that God may be a product of the mind. Yes, yes, yes. ... But when is the choir going to sing? And when is the picnic? And is my child going to get a part in the holiday play?

Dale McGowan, the co-author and editor of the book “Parenting Beyond Belief” told me that he believes that most of these people “are not looking for a dogma or a doctrine, but for transcendence from the everyday.”

Churches, mosques and synagogues nurture and celebrate this. Being regularly surrounded by a community that shares your convictions and reinforces them through literature, art and ritual is incredibly powerful, and yes, spiritual.

My mouth is agape. It turns out that religion has nothing to do with god, but is simply an excuse for a good picnic. Mr. Blow, have you let old Pope Ratzinger in on your little insight? If the only reason why people are getting involves=d with churches is that they like the tea parties, is this an argument for a transcendent god who controls everything?

If people want a transcendence from the everyday, how about spending a little time with a good book, or perhaps working on an environmental project with fellow citizens? Why would superstition be the first resort here?

This is the stuff of your critique of atheism? He carries on:

As the nonreligious movement picks up steam, it needs do a better job of appealing to the ethereal part of our human exceptionalism — that wondrous, precious part where logic and reason hold little purchase, where love and compassion reign. It’s the part that fears loneliness, craves companionship and needs affirmation and fellowship.

We are more than cells, synapses and sex drives. We are amazing, mysterious creatures forever in search of something greater than ourselves.

Good lord, what a pile of twaddle. Let's get some things straight. Atheism is not a religion. It is the recognition that there is no god. That's all it is. There is no god. No old man with a big beard, not Jesus in sandals and a curiously Germanic face. No Allah thundering and condemning. There are no virgins waiting for the faithful, there is no hellfire, there are no pearly gates. It's all a crock.

Once you recognize that, you are not thereby charged to fill in for the role that churches like to pretend that they invented. You know, labor unions have picnics, atheists go to bars, agnostics have wedding parties. The god bit is completely irrelevant to human existence. It is a thick overlay of ignorance and fear and oppression.

Religion is the root of all evil.

Not so for Mr. Blow, who ends his little piece wit this pearl:

The nonreligious could learn a few things from religion.

If the only argument for religion is that people would otherwise be lonely and would not have picnics to go to, then religion needs some better defense.

So this is it. The only real argument for religion is that there is a god. But there is no god. So religion is a cruel imposition that condemns our species to ignorance. We don't need it. Even if it makes Mr. Blow feel good about himself and his tawdry little piece and his easily dismissed excuses for superstition.

So that is the Sunday fish wrap.

Photos by Arod of local religious sites; no picnics that I could discern.

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