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.”
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?
Are different worldviews actually not able to communicate? Is changing one’s mind a lot harder than just “being rational”?
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Are we spirits in a material world? Or are we nothing?
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