Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hitchens v Wilson: Collision Failure

After reading the below-mentioned link, I found myself less informed about Atheism, Reason, Religion and Faith than I had been before. Therefore, I'm responding, in order to purge the bad taste. Frankly, it was like biting into a much-anticipated chocolate to find a center composed of treacle and old pencil erasers.

Nobody seems to understand that in order to actually have enough of a "meeting of minds" in order to arrange the mere possibility of a "collision," first we must agree on a "definition of terms."

Despite the citation, there was no collision.

Christopher Hitchens: Collision: Is Religion Absurd or Good for the World?

The problem here is that religion is an attempt to assert that a totally subjective, individual experience has a definable, uniform, objective Reality to it.

And Atheism (or at least Hitchins) persists in confusing Religion with Faith.

Perhaps this is true and I happen to have faith that ultimately we will be able to determine the right questions to ask, but the wide divergence of doctrines and belief structures would argue that there is currently no single answer to the question. And religion's answer seems to be to simply assert some simple moralistic solution to any complex question loudly and insistently.

I happen to believe what I do as a result of direct, non-ordinary, non-reproducible experiences that I have had. The difference between me and Saul of Tarsis is that I don't feel that such revelations give me a position of authority to argue from.

But far more importantly, I see religion, in general, to be a substitute for any authentic, personal spiritual quest.

And as such, I see it as being indistinguishable from any other form of Identity Politics.

Hitch has many convincing arguments - but you could simply swap "GOP" for "GOD" and the argument could, in most cases, be just as telling.

Hitchins disbelieves in a particular sort of God image - and I happen to think that it's exactly the same sort of God Moses disbelieved in when he had his well-recorded tantrum.

Hitchens fails to distinguish - or apparently even discern the need to distinguish - between the validity and ethical deficits of what religious people say and do and whether or not there might be "something or someone out there." But they are quite separate issues - and anyone who has either read Dune or the history of the Jesuit order knows that Religion and experiential, personal faith have at best a coincidental relationship.

Wilson, on the other hand...

What an exercise in smugness, presumption and head-patting! If this is the best the intellectual religious community can provide to justify it's existence - mark me down for atheism.

At least they don't send me begging letters.

However, in all honesty, Wilson is not the best example. However, MOST religious intellectuals and certainly mystical types such as myself already know it's a compete waste of time. Either you "gno" or you don't. Eheh.

The only thing about a religion that can be judged objectively, even by the faithful members, is what it does on behalf of individuals and what benefits that brings society as a whole.

As for the particular "believe it or don't" aspects of the faith; if the moral structure dictated by "revealed truth" requires members to do things that people who do not accept that revealed truth would consider to be some combination of immoral, unethical or dangerously stupid, then it's wise to consider if there is some question as to the authentic and genuine nature of the "revelation." Or if you prefer the question as to whether the "truth" may exist primarily for the convenience and profit of the Prophet is an important matter to consider!

(See Also Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, Sun Myung Moon & Ayn Rand)

Religion is a social institution with certain inherent goals, promoted by people to people in order (usually) to improve people, make society work better (for some value of "better") and therefore it is possible to have a meaningful discussion as to whether or not Religion in general or indeed any particular religion is performing as promised, and whether a good outcome from their perspective is good for anyone else.

These issues can be discussed and determined. Really. By their fruits ye shall know them. It ain't rocket science, people. There IS an objective component.

Now, on the other hand; Hitchens, other atheists and various other atheistic social movements (Marxism, Maoism, for instance) assert that it is quite possible to construct workable ethical systems without any divine authority or fear of hellfire.

And to varying degrees, they have, although one might wryly observe that what they have created looks remarkably like a religion without any of the fun parts.

Again, by their fruits, ye shall know them. It should be possible to evaluate these competitive ethical systems in terms of outcome. And a real argument might commence.

But that will not occur; because a real argument includes the possibility that one might risk being persuaded that the other fellow has a point, and both are clearly as convinced of their own essential infallibility when speaking Ex Cathedra as is the Pope his Pointy-Hatted Self.

As for myself, I dismiss the authority of anyone unwilling to risk the perception of their Infallible Authority by contact with grubby reality, and I see various degrees of this conceit in both. It's all too human, completely understandable, a failing of my own more often than not.

But then, I don't pretend I'm being intellectually honest in public in collusion with another person for money. And if I were to indulge in that form of meaningless entertainment, Coulter v. Mahr is a far better model for meaningless spectacle.


Justin Q said...

Rationalists like Hitchens and company confuse spirituality with pre-formal religiosity. The atrocities of the pre-rational world such as the inquisition were blamed by the enlightenment thinkers squarely on ethnocentric, sub-rational religious fervor and the enlightenment was correct to place that blame there. What the advancement of rational science has done is to leave spirituality in the dust, condemning it to remain a childishly immature mythic belief set by disallowing spirituality a venue through which to grow into a rational state and beyond. It is unfortunate that these otherwise brilliant thinkers have fallen prey to this confusion, thereby forcing the continuation of what they profess to oppose. If modern discourse allowed spirituality a path to grow from silly, childish stories about magic gods who grant wishes into a more modern spiritual philosophy which is compatible with rational truth, this conflict could disappear.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. Reminds me of two smilar quotes:
"Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it." ~Andre Gide
"Anyone who tells you they have the birds-eye-lowdown is trying to sell you something."


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