Atheism and Other Religions (10.04.08)
I am not surprised that militant atheists have become just another angry victim group, because that is what they have always been, starting with Grandma O'Harebrain. Please bear in mind that I am specifically referring to the easily offended activist kind of atheist who wishes to rewrite history and efface the Judeo-Christian heritage of this country, not to the person who is really and truly just indifferent to God. I have no quarrel with the latter kind of atheist, nor should they with me. While our respective philosophies are no doubt bizarre to one another, I am fully cognizant of the fact that it takes all kinds to make a world, and that a good atheist will contribute much more to the world than a bad theist. It’s a non-issue to me that there are good and decent atheists.
Nor do I have any problem whatsoever with agnostics. While I regard militant, or “positive” atheism as the commonest form of philosophical stupidity (i.e., the affirmation that God definitely does not exist, as opposed to mere disbelief in God), I would never say that of agnosticism. For one thing, simple common sense and intellectual honesty compel agnosticism, and I would never denigrate common sense, being so uncommon and all.
There are several ways to end up being what I call an obligatory atheist. Like every other human capacity--from math to music to hitting a baseball--the ability to intuit the divine runs along a continuum. Frankly, there are a few people for whom the realm of the sacred really does seem to be a closed book, but I actually focus a lot of my writing on trying to give these good folks a hand up, a way to "get" religion. On the other hand, a larger percentage of atheists have been traumatized or repulsed by a dysfunctional version of religion as a child. They are the ones who can get more angry, obnoxious and militant.
Another segment of the atheist population consists of the “not smart enough” who are nevertheless extremely proud of their intellect. This in itself is a contradiction, for they have great faith in the intellect’s ability to know reality, and yet, place an arbitrary limit on what the intellect may know. The placement of this limit is not a result of logic or reason. It is actually more of a religious inclination, for it is an absolute statement about what the human mind may or may not know. And once you are in the realm of the absolute, you are reflecting one of the attributes of the divine mind.
I do not know the first thing about wine. And yet, I know that I do not know, and I also know full well that there are enologists who do know what I don’t. In fact, I am one hundred percent certain both of my ignorance and their expertise in this area. But since I am ignorant, how do I know this? Among other reasons, I know it because it would be absurd to deny the testimony of thousands of enologists who have trained themselves to make subtle discriminations in the realm of wine. If I were to object and tell them that they are fooling themselves and that there is no empirical proof that one wine is any better than another, they would properly regard me as a gustatory moron with a boorish and cretinous palate.
While numbers aren’t everything, needless to say, the numbers are on my side, in that billions of human beings have personally experienced the Divine, whereas atheism is an absurdity that makes no sense to all but a few eccentrics and misfits. More importantly, there are any number spiritual geniuses who have left maps of the domain of spirit that are every bit as subtle and detailed as the maps of science. I have been guided by these maps, so I know the territory they describe is ontologically real.
One atheist yesterday took me to task for “trashing” atheism because I hadn’t personally experienced it, but that is false. There was a time that I was an atheist, but I eventually found its philosophical foundation to be utterly lacking. When I wrote yesterday that positive atheism was naively self-contradictory at every turn, I meant that literally, not as an insult. Most bad metaphysics can be dismissed with a single insurmountable sentence or two, and atheism is no exception. To declare that it is absolutely true that only relative truth exists is nonsensical. And to declare that absolute truth exists is to make a statement so pregnant with metaphysical implications that one could write a whole book on the subject, which I done went and did.
One commenter proclaimed yesterday that “I am an Atheist because the universe makes perfect sense to me without putting God in the equation. You say God is easily provable. That is horse manure. There is absolutely no evidence God exists. God is nothing but a manmade idea in order to give one hope for meaning and even everlasting life.”
He dismisses all religion as an “invisible myth that you cling on to. In fact, I now have as much justification that there is an invisible man living under my bed, as there is a God. In other words, I have no reason to believe in either, as no evidence exists that either God or the invisible man under my bed exists.”
How does one respond to such invincible ignorance? “There is no evidence that God exists.” Of course there is evidence. It's just that he is either unfamiliar with the evidence or has chosen to reject or ignore it, which he is naturally free to do. As for the statement that religious belief is an “invisible myth,” the reverse is true: it is only possible to cling to the invisible myth of atheism in a hermetically sealed environment of fellow fervent believers who are similarly innocent of any direct encounter with transcendent reality. They are free to insist that “all wines are identical,” just as I am free to dismiss them as possessing barbarous palates.
Yesterday I pointed out the truism that “Human beings are much more difficult to account for than God--in fact, impossible for materialistic science to explain. Of this I am certain.” An atheist responded, “Then I respectfully advise you read more books on science, & a few less on iambic pentameter.”
For the record, I have read thousands of books on the former and none on the latter, but somehow I must have missed the scientific breakthrough that has explained human consciousness. In fact, in the course of obtaining a Ph.D. in the field, it somehow eluded me that materialistic science has fully accounted for all of the miraculous properties of human consciousness. I’m sure I must have been absent that day. He specifically recommends Julian Jaynes’ Origins of Consciousness In the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, which I read when it was published 25 years ago. What his speculations have to do with the topic at hand is anyone’s guess.
Again, atheism is pure postmodern mythology. As this atheist just demonstrated, it has nothing to do with an honest assessment of the evidence, but, like so much bad metaphysics, is simply an assumption dressed up as a conclusion. On the other hand, my theistic belief is based, among other things, on personal experience that I would no more doubt than I would doubt the fact that my eyes see or that I love my child.
One of the reasons I wrote my book is to give sophisticated and ironized readers "permission” to take religion seriously. As a result of mindless repetition, secularists have made significant inroads to the undermining of rational religious belief, which will have catastrophic consequences for the future evolution of mankind, which we can already see with regard to spiritually exhausted old Europe. For a person who is alienated from his own soul and intellect properly so-called is like a disabled person with missing limbs, except that he doesn’t know it. Better yet, he is like a leper, in the sense that lepers suffer from nerve damage that causes them to be unaware when they are injuring themselves. To the extent that one is unaware of one’s soul, one will engage in more or less spiritually self-injurious behavior. (No different, really, than the neurotic patient who suffers because he is ignorant of his unconscious motivations.)
The effectiveness of one’s “thinking about God”--that is, thinking metaphysically--always depends upon two factors, neither of which falls strictly within the realm of rationalism. First, there is the depth, breadth and profundity of the intelligence involved. Obviously there are plenty of smart people walking around. College campuses are full of smart people. But they are hardly profound, deep, or wise thinkers. For example, there are presumably thousands of musicologists with Ph.D.’s, but who would pretend that their words are remotely as deep or profound as one of Beethoven’s late string quartets? There are many books on iambic pentameter, but only one Shakespeare.
The second thing that limits the mere rationalist is an arbitrary restriction on what is taken as evidence. The rationalist limits himself to empirical phenomena (or something reducible to it). But this limitation is not something that can be justified by reason. Rather, it is a pre-logical, a priori assumption.
The religious metaphysician is not hindered in this manner. He does not arbitrarily stop at the external senses, but considers other sources of information, most notably, divine revelation, the testimony of the saints and sages, and one’s own personal experience. The rationalist merely defines these realms out of existence, and as a result, is unable to reason about God at all. Or we can say that his reasoning will be limited to mundane facts of common experience, not to that which transcends them. They will simply project onto God their own limited understanding, like a two-dimensional circle pronouncing on the nonexistence of spheres. Of course spheres do not exist for such a square. They can prove it with ironclad logic.
This is what happens when reason detaches itself from the intellect, which is the realm of pure, unencumbered intelligence. Properly understood, reason is a tool of the intellect, not vice versa. Something is not true because it is logical, but logical because it is true. The rationalist confuses truth with method.
One of the monumental lies of our age is that the intelligence is inherently limited, so that the realm of ultimate issues must be left to faith alone. Who said that intelligence is limited? If so, how do we know that that statement is not equally relative and limited? Who said that human beings are intelligent enough to pronounce on the limitations of intelligence? Either intelligence is in principle unlimited, or else it is arbitrary, relative, and illusory, incapable of saying anything with certitude. But the shallow contemporary thinker wants it both ways: the omnipotent ability to know where to place an absolute line between what is knowable and what is not.
But reason is not autonomous, and cannot reason without data being supplied from elsewhere. As Schuon writes, “Just as it is impossible to reason about a country of which one has no knowledge, so also it is impossible to reason about suprasensory realities without drawing upon the data which pertain to them, and which are supplied, on the one hand, by Revelation and traditional symbolism, and, on the other, by intellective contemplation, when the latter is within reach of the intelligence. The chief reproach to be leveled against modern philosophy and science is that they venture directly or indirectly on to planes which are beyond their compass, and that they operate without regard to indispensable data...”
Bottom line: I would not presume to get into an argument with Van Gogh about what he saw with his eyes. I’d rather just enjoy the depth of his vision. But if you don’t believe in depth of artistic or spiritual vision, then a Van Gogh is no better than a Thomas Kinkade purchased on QVC, and atheism is just as profound as the Upanishads.
For what it is worth, the wisdom of one of the world's leading atheists (HT Jewish Atheist):
Regarding the accusations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, deplorable and disgusting as those abuses are, they are not so harmful to the children as the grievous mental harm in bringing up the child Catholic in the first place. --Richard Dawkins
He has a point, because inculcating a child to believe lies and fantasies is without a doubt abusive. This is what I mean when I say that intellectually consistent militant atheism amounts to strict foolishness.