everybody’s writing…

Going through book catalogs the other day, I noticed that Chris Hedges has a new one coming out. Now normally, this would seem a good thing. As he is both from the town in Vermont where I plan to live, but also his books (none of which I have read) seem to espouse values that I support: opposition to the misdeeds of the Christian right, opposition to war. But his new book, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, I don’t know.

First off, I find the title a bit snotty (not that I should complain after supporting the title of Hitchens’ new book) but also, some of what I read in the catalog rubbed me the wrong way. Seemingly accusing Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, etc, of having some kind of evil agenda. At least that is how I remember thinking it. Of course, I haven’t read any of those either, but still, it seemed a bit misleading.

In curiosity I looked him up and stumbled upon his column for Truthdig. This entry was his opening statement for a debate with Sam Harris and it is quite thoughtful and well done, but it has some of what I would consider inaccuracies that I feel need addressing… He seems to imply that these authors are narrowly (and inaccurately) categorizing religion, but then he does the same. In defense of religion he states:

God is the name we give to our belief that life has meaning, one that transcends the world’s chaos, randomness and cruelty. To argue about whether God exists or does not exist is futile. The question is not whether God exists. The question is whether we concern ourselves with, or are utterly indifferent to, the sanctity and ultimate transcendence of human existence.

While that is a nice sentiment, it is plainly not true. While for some folks “God” may mean the notion of “what is” or some other nature-oriented thought, it is an undeniable fact that for a great deal of people “God” means something different. “God” is a force, a power with specific desires and opinions, and who communicates and enforces these. Atheists are not challenging the notion that people can worship “reality” as being great because it is our reality and labeling it “God”, no, I think most atheists are challenging the notion that there is a conscious force that has some connection to creating the worlds, the people and the events of our lives

He also states:

Faith allows us to trust, rather, in human compassion, even in a cruel and morally neutral universe. This is not faith in magic, not faith in church doctrine or church hierarchy, but faith in simple human kindness.

That isn’t “Faith” so much as it is humanism, which should not be construed as any kind of belief in a “God” concept. There is a big difference to saying that people are here and are inherently good and have great potential (what it sounds to me like he is saying) and calling that religion (which Websters defines as: “the service and worship of God or the supernatural”). Sadly, I have that faith, but that isn’t what a good deal of religious folks mean when they say faith. To them, faith actually means that some magical, unprovable and thoughtful thing is watching their decisions, is judging them and that it will have an effect on them after they die.

Anyway, he says some good things about people, and I believe in the goodness of people quite strongly, but I believe that the image of religion that he is using to challenge these atheists is not the same image of religion that most religious people hold and is also not the notion of religion that is being challenged by these books.

Faith is not in conflict with reason. Faith does not conflict with scientific truth, unless faith claims to express a scientific truth.

Well, I would have to disagree/agree, in regards to each. In my experience, Faith does claim to express a truth. A truth about how everything got here, about what for, and about what one should do. Faith isn’t a feeling that people are good, so much as a feeling that people are beholden to some great alien force, and one not nearly as exciting as the Great Cthulhu, but still with powers of creation and destruction. I think that notions of faith and God run completely contrary to science, to nature, to humanity and to my notions of goodness (being well-behaved in the absence of coercion). Saying, in this situation, that “God” is everything and calling out those authors for disbelieving everything is a cop-out, inaccurate and misleading.

2 Responses to “everybody’s writing…”

  1. Kurty on September 27, 2007 21:28

    Not only are you one complex, intelligent and thoughtful dude, you can also bust out with a zinger like: ‘and one not nearly as exciting as the Great Cthulhu’


  2. Ashley on September 28, 2007 00:32

    Well bugg-shoggog, Kurty! Thanks for the kind words… I never miss a chance to announce The Great Cthulhu! It’s my little insurance policy…

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