Filed under: Religion
There really isn’t anything at all interesting to say anymore about atheism vs. religion, and hasn’t been since at least the 1950s, if not the 1850s. So instead I’m going to catalog a few of the more spectacularly uninteresting things people are saying on Andrew Sullivan’s atheism vs. religion thread. From Patrick Appel’s post today, reporting some reader responses:
Lots of atheists broadly reject the existence of any God, but casually embrace concepts such as ‘luck’
I have seen people who were losing or had just lost loved ones, and been with them when they heard words from their faith tradition that spoke of all things being in God’s hands, and seen them draw strength from that to deal with their loss. So, yes, religion has to answer for the crusades. And atheists have to answer for having no meaningful words of hope to provide in crisis.
Funny, my dad is an atheist, and I’ve always found him to be full of meaningful words of hope in times of crisis. I mean, I think he’s an atheist; I actually don’t know. Put it this way: Both of us are occasionally practicing but non-believing Jews, and in all the conversations we’ve ever had about moral significance in life, never once has any mention been made of the will or existence of any kind of supernatural being.
I’ve always had room in my head for the acceptability of belief in the existence of some kind of deity, as long as one doesn’t believe that deity has any actual physical influence on the really existing material universe, which would just be ridiculous and superstitious. But recently I was taking a shower, and it occurred to me that saying you believe in the existence of something that doesn’t have any material reality or observable consequences is a pretty empty statement. If something has no effects whatsoever, if its absence would have no consequences, what does it mean to say it exists? One might I suppose place it in the category of values or qualities, which are things we believe in that often have no material existence and in a sense no observable consequences. “Nobility,” for instance, is something I believe in but that doesn’t have any material existence, and one could imagine people from other cultures who didn’t even understand what you meant when you said “nobility”; the world they see is no different from the world I see, but they are not wrong when they fail to perceive any such thing as “nobility”, nor am I wrong to perceive it. In a slightly different way, there are people who argue there’s really no such thing as “altruism” on various emotional or philosophical grounds, whereas I believe there is such a thing. This is an interpretive difference about the nature of the world, and one can argue for the existence or non-existence of these qualities without having to believe in a different material reality, much in the same way that I believe there is much that is good in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut while others deny the existence of anything good in the same movie. But I’m not exactly sure what a belief in God as a value or quality would look like, and I really doubt it would look much like the religious faith practiced by 99% of the people who identify themselves as believers. Another plausible option would be to believe in God as a fictional character, which is I think what a lot of people are doing when they ask themselves “What would Jesus do?”
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