Spritzophrenia

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There’s Probably No God: Redux

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 3, 2010

One of my first posts on Spritzophrenia was about atheist bus ads, so I was interested to read Eric Reitan’s take on them while surfing through old posts on his site. Reitan admits he writes very long posts, here’s the bit which resonated with me:

“My context is a progressive religious one. I live in the hope that the universe is fundamentally on the side of goodness, rather than being “pitilessly indifferent” to it as Dawkins maintains. And I see, in my inner spiritual experience, evidence that this hope is not in vain despite all the horrors in the world.

What does the atheist slogan on this bus mean to someone like me? As I read it, I find it jarring. Not because it’s offensive, but because the first sentence is so incongruent with the second. Given what I mean by “God,” I wouldn’t follow up the first sentence with “Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” I’d follow it up, instead, with something like the following: “So the crushing horrors of history will never be redeemed, and those whose lives have been shattered by suffering and loss and brutality, and who have no prospects of transcending their miserable condition in this life, should just give up hope.”

Not that this would fit on the side of a bus.”

atheist bus

Reitan continues…
But, of course, for me “God” refers to that reality which, if it existed, would fulfill what I call in my book “the ethico-religious hope”—that is, the hope that the universe in some fundamental way is on the side of the good, so that when we live out lives lovingly we are actually becoming attuned to the deepest reality of all.

And so, when I read the atheist slogan on the side of the bus, here is what I read: “The universe probably isn’t on the side of justice. It’s just as pitilessly indifferent to the good as Dawkins claims in his book, River Out of Eden. When evil shatters human lives in Rwanda, leaving people utterly broken until death, there will never be for them any redemption. It will be permanently true that it would have been better had they never been born. And in the world in which we live, such life-shattering events can happen to anyone, including you. And if they do happen to you, don’t look to the transcendent for hope, because there is none to be had. Your life will be decisively stripped of meaning. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE.”

This absurd juxtaposition of messages might usefully be contrasted with one offered by philosopher Walter Stace, who before becoming interested in mystical experience was very much an atheist in Dawkins’ mold, but with an important difference. In his famous essay, “Man Against Darkness,” Stace discusses what he thinks is the demise of religion in the face of science, but he doesn’t present his atheist picture of the world as a reason to “stop worrying and enjoy life.” Instead, he presents it as a grim truth that we need to confront. It is, in effect, one of the painful discoveries of growing up as a human species.

In Stace’s view of things, the universe doesn’t care about us. Those of us who die in despair and hopelessness will have lived lives without meaning, and no cosmic redemption can be hoped for. The truth as Stace sees it this: There is no God. Now brace yourself and try to make the best of things.

A few weeks back I commented on Marty’s blog about a reference to Nietzsche, and his view that if the world is only material then we have no value. Stace’s view, mentioned by Reitan is similar.

Marty responded with a post on Nietzsche which I still haven’t got around to answering. This is because I’m not sure how to answer. I am not sure I can say something with enough clarity to make my point. This has led me to wonder if people with different worldviews actually can’t see another point of view. I am wondering about the psychology of how we change beliefs, about paradigm shifts a la Thomas Kuhn, about how beliefs are a “way of seeing” and similar. I haven’t come to the point of being able to articulate this clearly.

Are you able to shed any light on this?

Respond

Are different worldviews actually not able to communicate? Is changing one’s mind a lot harder than just “being rational”?

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15 Responses to “There’s Probably No God: Redux”

  1. As unsavoury as it may be for a human to think of their lives as but a flicker in the cosmos, this unpleasant is the way things are. You can wish and wish all you like to have some sort of predetermined outcome for the universe, but there are no signs to point that this is the case. We are so human-centric in our appraisals of the universe that we constantly blind ourselves to the very apparent truths of our existences.

    “So the crushing horrors of history will never be redeemed, and those whose lives have been shattered by suffering and loss and brutality, and who have no prospects of transcending their miserable condition in this life, should just give up hope.”

    well, if you want to be needlessly overly-dramatic about it, sure, this is true. But I take issue with this idea in that, just because we are sentient beings and we are able to assess our situations, that we deserve dome sort of redemption. Sure, it would be nice, but i just cannot see how this can be the case.

    Let me think about this, and get back to you.

  2. Lydia said

    Are different worldviews actually not able to communicate?

    They can…it’s just very difficult to step outside of one’s own opinion and actually hear what the other person is saying.

    I also think that most of us aren’t used to critically thinking about what twe believe and why we believe it. It can be pretty scary to have your ideas questioned and only then realize that you don’t have the answers or that the answers you do claim make no sense to the other person.

  3. meryl333 said

    How does one talk/debate about something that must be experienced. To experience what we call God is to get beyond Mind (and good/bad). To get beyond mind, we need to see that the benefit is enough to ask “How do I do that?”. The seers tell us. They are not religious dogmas, but practices of of various yogas. If someone says ” I don’t want to do that”. Then there is nothing more to discuss. Don’t do it.

    • I think I can understand the call to experience something. However, I wonder *which* experience I should choose?

      I realise that some people think all experiences ultimately lead to the same thing, but I’m not convinced? What if I spend my whole life pursuing an experience that leads nowhwere?

  4. “Are different worldviews actually not able to communicate?”

    You should read “Solaris”, by Stanislaw Lem. Deals with this exact issue. (…but don’t watch the movie. It sucks).

    • Hmm. I watched the movie, and thought it was great. One of my favorites (the George Clooney one). I’m sure the book is better, they always are, but I really thought the movie was good. Great soundtrack, visually beautiful – very reminiscent of 2001.

  5. leesis said

    “Are different worldviews actually not able to communicate? Is changing one’s mind a lot harder than just “being rational”?”

    If there is one thing I know for sure is that we humans learn from experience. Sharing stories, beliefs etc allows us to ponder others experience but it is not till WE experience things ourselves that we truly go through any paradigm shifts. Anyone who raises children learns this truth when they realise no amount of words on their behalf really impact…the child must experience ‘hot’ themselves before they will agree not to touch it.

    When Thomas Aquinas was being nagged to finish his Summa Theologiae by his secretary he replied “Such things have been revealed to me that now all I have written appears in my eyes as no greater value than straw”. This was after personally experiencing a profound mystical insight. He still published because he was expected to but from this moment he lost all interest in intellectuality.

    Be we on the religous side or the atheist side experience is what counts and I think in sharing experiences we, rather than change anothers mind, simply offer other possibilities. Whether another choses to explore these possiblities is up to them.

    • Thanks Leesa. I’m certainly interested in experiences. And that Thomas Aquinas story is one I’ve just recently come across.

      I think the problem comes if our experiences actually differ significantly. Whose experience do I follow? Perhaps I am putting the cart before the horse, and all “higher” mystics don’t have this problem?

      • leesis said

        strange question Jon…you follow your own experience. if you are interested in anothers you seek to experience the same.

        Its not about ‘higher mystics’…its about experiences that blow away all doubt and thus experience becomes a knowing. these experiences also transcend words so the best one can share is the search rather than the find.

  6. The atheists have reconciled themselves to their mortality in a way that Christians cannot. They cling to the hope of life beyond the grave, more than likely because they went through a mind control program as children. I was not indoctrinated as a child and I was encouraged to think for myself as I was growing up. Accordingly, I could assess the truth claims of religion in a fair and impartial manner. Anyone who can do this will see that religion is just a highly evolved method of controlling the illiterate masses.

    The indoctrination process has key components that work to cripple the mind of children who are not permitted intellectual autonomy (personal independence). Most children are raised under a system of heteronomy (the condition of being under the domination of an outside authority, either human or divine).

    People who are taught in childhood to think dogmatically will usually have difficulty even comprehending the possibility of intellectual autonomy. It is that simple. Childhood religious indoctrination is an unethical abuse of vulnerable children.

    • Mmm… I’m curious as to how dogmatic religious homes are. Some are, certainly. My own upbringing never discouraged curiosity or learning. Quite the opposite. So although I held a belief in God at one point, it was never with the kind of dogmatism that would brook no questions.

      I also don’t think it’s possible to have a truly neutral view on anything, so that bringing up a child without a belief is also a kind of dogmatism. It’s still teaching a point of view.

      Hmmm… Still pondering.

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

    • Mmm… I’m curious as to how dogmatic religious homes are. Some are, certainly. My own upbringing never discouraged curiosity or learning. Quite the opposite. So although I held a belief in God at one point, it was never with the kind of dogmatism that would brook no questions.

      I also don’t think it’s possible to have a truly neutral view on anything, so that bringing up a child without a belief is also a kind of dogmatism. It’s still teaching a point of view.

      Hmmm… Still pondering.

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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