June 2, 2010

A Lament of Superficial Opposition

Justin Katz

David Hart is, above all, disappointed at the recent wave of "New Atheists" — at their superficiality and intellectual laziness, at the way (in essence) they present themselves as petulant adolescents still impressed with the fact that God does not strike them dead when they turn mom's crucifix upside down. Hart mainly wishes for some sense of profundity, and all believers should be keenly aware that it is more difficult to grow in faith when the faithless don't rise to the challenge of initial responses.

Contrast the current debate with Nietzsche, about whom Hart writes:

Because he understood the nature of what had happened when Christianity entered history with the annunciation of the death of God on the cross, and the elevation of a Jewish peasant above all gods, Nietzsche understood also that the passing of Christian faith permits no return to pagan naivete, and he knew that this monstrous inversion of values created within us a conscience that the older order could never have incubated. He understood also that the death of God beyond us is the death of the human as such within us. If we are, after all, nothing but the fortuitous effects of physical causes, then the will is bound to no rational measure but itself, and who can imagine what sort of world will spring up from so unprecedented and so vertiginously uncertain a vision of reality?

For Nietzsche, therefore, the future that lies before us must be decided, and decided between only two possible paths: a final nihilism, which aspires to nothing beyond the momentary consolations of material contentment, or some great feat of creative will, inspired by a new and truly worldly mythos powerful enough to replace the old and discredited mythos of the Christian revolution (for him, of course, this meant the myth of the Ubermensch).

Current atheists are right to shy from t Nietzschian project; the notion of an Ubermensch wrought a great deal of death and destruction in the last century. So, those who disclaim God based on their gut impressions of reality have little to offer beyond sniping as a means of ignoring the reality that, even if God were a created concept, He has served a purpose. Hart cites New Atheist A.C. Grayling as an example. The atheist points out, in his writings, that he prefers a painting of Aphrodite to those of a crucified Christ, and Hart responds:

Ignoring that leaden and almost perfectly ductile phrase "life-enhancing," I, too—red of blood and rude of health—would have to say I generally prefer the sight of nubile beauty to that of a murdered man's shattered corpse. The question of whether Grayling might be accused of a certain deficiency of tragic sense can be deferred here. But perhaps he would have done well, in choosing this comparison, to have reflected on the sheer strangeness, and the significance, of the historical and cultural changes that made it possible in the first place for the death of a common man at the hands of a duly appointed legal authority to become the captivating center of an entire civilization’s moral and aesthetic contemplations—and for the deaths of all common men and women perhaps to be invested thereby with a gravity that the ancient order would never have accorded them.

As a passing fancy, sex from the sea may be more compelling, but at some point lusting after a naked deity has to give way to the question of what the image indicates for humanity. One doesn't have to come to my conclusions, at that point, but the alternative is hardly life-enhancing if it eventually requires the suppression of our intellectual faculties.

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The concept of "God" serves a useful psychological purpose for humanity. We are reluctant to concede that we have little control over our universe, that we are powerless within circumstances created by forces outside of our control. So we create in our mind an omnipotent God which can be petitioned to change those forces if only one prays enough, does enough good deeds, or perhaps if God simply wills something so out of his benevolence. It brings order to chaos, creates a glimmer of hope where there otherwise might be none. This is why government is so often used as a replacement for God by progressives, liberals, moderates, even some conservatives. Government serves a similar function by creating an illusion of control and hope, through the election of a supposed intellectual elite of politicians and organizations, which can then also be petitioned for change. If something is wrong with your job, your health, your family - if you only pray to government hard enough, petition your representatives by letter, vote the right way, or if the political winds change because government simply wills it so, then you may be lifted out of your despair and given a new opportunity out of its benevolence. Of course government has no more power to change our reality for the better than the original God construct and has been abused by human beings seeking control over others in exactly the same way that religious organizations have done so. Still, it is a part of our collective humanity, and can be used to inspire and do good works as well, however flimsy the basis is for it. If it brings the truly desperate some comfort and doesn't warp reality to the point where they are unable to function, it can be a positive.

Posted by: Dan at June 2, 2010 2:48 PM

I guess we all need something to believe in.

Excellent commentary.

Posted by: michael at June 2, 2010 3:38 PM

In general, the more words the less spirit.

What more than "do under others" does one really need? This post reads like mental masturbation to me.....

As we used to say about sex, those who talk about it the most tend to do it the least. Same is probably true of spirit and enlightenment.

Posted by: Stuart at June 2, 2010 9:57 PM

You must do and comprehend very little then, Stuart, since your daily posts often take up four or more massive run-on paragraphs and are full of unsupported declarations about all sorts of things.

Posted by: Dan at June 2, 2010 10:04 PM

Stuart-people like you who smygly prattle about being "enlightened"or Nancy Green at Kmareka who goes on about how much "lovingkindness"she has for everyone(except anyone to the right of Bill Ayers)are generally full of it.
I would not discuss my religious beliefs because they can't possibly interest anyone but myself.
Dan is right Stu-you have serious diarrhea of the keyboard seasoned with condescension and self-righteousness.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 3, 2010 6:54 AM

I don't know why you always bring up Nancy? Has she ever posted on this site? I can understand going after Stu, but bashing a woman who seems to have nothing but good intentions seems strange. Although I am not all that familiar with her work or writings you seem oddly fascinated with this woman.

Posted by: swazool at June 3, 2010 10:27 AM

Fair question Swazool.I used to post on Kmareka.
I have also met Nancy a few times.I have to say her propensity for signing onto every left wing cause imaginable turns me off.she also has a mean streak cleverly hidden by soft words.
I don't hold back on the net or in person.
I was censored on Kmareka for saying that Steve Brown and Art Handy were enabling pedophiles by opposing Jessica's Law.
I did not in any way suggest they were of that persuasion,but that their opposition had consequences.Nancy and Kiersten Marek thought I was out of line.i posted for awhie longer and then said the hell with it.
On one occasion Nancy told me in person that illegal aliens were being treated as "outsiders" and it was sooo unfair.
Newsflash: They are intruders.Period.Doesn't mean that they are personally any worse people than me,but they came here in defiance of law or remained after their authorized stay.So yeah ,they are outsiders I guess,and too bad.
The two ladies who run Kmareka are bleeding heart liberals.They're probably decent people-as a matter of fact I'm sure they are.
however,I just can't stand their selective posturing.
Thanks for bringing this up.Your type of challenge deserves a respectful answer.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 3, 2010 1:28 PM

It is sort of Ironic for one to preach fairly tales, heaven above the clouds, jesus in grilled cheese sandwiches and then say that philosophy is a stretch for those DON'T clearly see that all that crap is true!

Obviously, any intelligent person must know that a book of stories from thousands of years ago combined with papal decrees must be the tomes to base life on, right! Heck, it's a lot easier than thinking for yourself...

Posted by: Stuart at June 5, 2010 8:19 AM
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