Archive for the ‘Dawkins’ Category
It turns out, Pope Benedict was not so wrong after all.
Excerpts from “A Rescue of Religion” by John Gray, The New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 15 · October 9, 2008 – reviewing “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?: 23 Questions from Great Philosophers” by Leszek Kolakowski, Basic Books:
It is part of Kolakowski’s achievement as the greatest living intellectual historian to have tracked the ways in which religion has shaped Western thought. His work is, in effect, a sustained argument for the irreducible presence of religion in intellectual life and in society. In Kolakowski’s view the secular movements of the last century, such as communism, […] deployed categories of thought, including a view of history as a narrative having a consummation or end-point, which are inheritances from Western monotheism. […] Religion was not in truth superseded, either in Marx’s thought or in the movements Marx inspired. Instead, the promise of salvation reemerged as a project of universal emancipation.
The renewal of religious categories of thinking in avowedly secular systems of ideas […] continued in the ideology of neoconservatism. The notion of the end of history […] derives from religious traditions of apocalyptic myth. […] Presupposing as they do a teleological view of history that cannot be stated in empirical terms, all such theories are religious narratives translated into secular language. […]
Religion has had a formative influence on our categories of thought, which it is the task of philosophy to examine. Excavating the archaeology of our concepts is a part of philosophical inquiry. For us, that inescapably involves tracing their debts to Judaism and Christianity. Any way of doing philosophy that neglects these traditions is unhistorical and impoverished.
There are some philosophers for whom the only place for religion in philosophical inquiry is that of a bogey, a specter of irrationality that must be exposed and expelled so that philosophy can be an entirely secular discipline. As Kolakowski has argued, however, a good deal of secular thought has been shaped by Western religion. Exorcising religion is harder than it seems.
There is plenty of people more qualified than me to debunk yet another “contribution” to the Atheism-Faith debate, just published on Italian Sunday newspaper “Domenicale Sole24Ore” (Maurizio Ferraris, “Not knowing What To Believe“, October 29)
Anyway, here I propose a classification, from the point of view of the Person of Faith, of Contemporary Atheism in four categories: Indifferent, Devout, Faraway and Economic
(1) Indifferent Atheist is a person with no interest whatsoever in the Divinity and Religion: and with whom the only meaningful dialogue for the Believer will be about sport, cinema or television
(2) Devout Atheist sees religion as a series of moral precepts useful to manipulate this or that social reform: in a sense, the Devout Atheist resembles more the Antichrist than a person with whom to start a serious conversation on Religion
(3) Faraway Atheist thinks like Ferraris, and whilst not possessing faith, pretends to reduce it to a fairy tale for children and/or idiota. This view of the world makes no distinction between Jesus Christ and Father Christmas; comes out with monstruosities such as “He who believes in an Infinite God, believes in everything“; reduces religious tradition to an accountant’s sheet of dogmas to follow in order not to be “heretical” (a naive point that will sound ancient to Roman Catholics, and completely stranger to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc etc). One would expect Ferraris to burst into laughter at the mere presence of a Person of Faith in the same room as him: hardly the best and most rational attitude (Ferraris is obviously not alone: see Richard Dawkins in “The God Delusion” and Daniel C Dennett in “Breaking off the Spell: Religion as Natural Phenomenon”)
(4) Economic Atheist finally, understands that a serious non-indifferent Atheism that aims at least to understand the why Believers exist, must learn from the recent revolution in Economics: where the hyper-rationalist Homo Economicus of the old theories has been replaced with a person who follows a systematic logic, simply not mathematical logic
And it is only with the Economic Atheist that there is any meaning, for the Person of Faith, to discuss Religion. Not having the prejudice of considering Faith as synonymous of irrationality, the Economic Atheist will indeed be open to an exchange of ideas (sadly, not a given as it should be)
Facile discourses in religious topics by Atheists of other types, are worth as much as a women-only bathroom on Mount Athos, the famous Greek monastery on whose territory only men are allowed
Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and Daniel C Dennett “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon ” are both works of awowed atheists somehow intent to speak out about “religion”
And it appears that in both cases, the message is an exhortation to get rid of the divine and the religious sides of one’s life, in order to walk positively free and serene towards a bright future without the weight of legends and superstition
This over-reductive vision of the idea of the Myth (not to mention of the Rituals) is not absurd, is inhuman: because to consider religiosity as a child’s play of fantasies and personal and collective delusion, means to deny the existence not just of a God, but an important part of our human nature
Does anybody really live without a myth? “Myth” in a positive sense, even just the archetypal symbol of our hopes for being or having something better
To those that think that rationalism is the only logical way forward I want to say: even Voltaire had his share of petty behavior: who knows what, perhaps he kept picking his nose
Does that mean that those that want to be guided by Voltaire’s thought, are also all nose-picker? Of course not
The “guide” is not the “true Voltaire”: it’s Voltaire-the-Myth. And that’s just about right. He may never had spoken the famous utterance about fighting to the death to defend somebody’s else right of free speech: who cares? Those words are an integral part of the myth of Voltaire
Paris, was it really worth a mass? Was a kingdom given given away for a horse? To spend time trying to verify those and any other “myth” is an interesting historical exercise but makes one lose sight of the original meaning
Would it not be stupid to throw 2001 – A Space Odissey in the bin because there is no black monolith orbiting Jupiter?
The fantasy of a certain contemporary attitude, hyperrealist to the point of being completely imaginary, was already underlined by Piero Manzoni in his bizarre 1961 “Merda d’Artista”
I am sure even the ancient Greek myths, obscure fairy tales for us, had in origin important meanings and messages
It’s therefore a pity that to the word “Myth” and to the idea of the Divinity, it is now customary to associate the concept of the Great Unwashed, uncultivated, lazy, stupid and easy to fool: “And so from now on we can do without that”
On second thought, that’s a Myth too
UPDATE: There is a nice review of Dawkins’ book on the New York Times / International Herald Tribune:
A passionate atheist’s case against religion By Jim Holt The New York Times – Published: October 20, 2006
Grab it while you can
I particularly like this passage: “Despite the many flashes of brilliance in this book, Dawkins’s failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions about religion can be makes reading it an intellectually frustrating experience“