Posts Tagged ‘Atheism’

Truth Value

September 24, 2016

zzzzsciencedudes

Science is a tool
That advances certain tasks
But you won’t find the Truth
In a beaker or a flask

Science is a tool
It’s a process or technique
But science makes a fool
When it’s wisdom that you seek

Science is a tool

Like a hammer or a knife
Not a creed, nor a school
Nor a philosophy of life

Science is a tool
That can foster gross infection
In the minds of crazy ghouls
With dreams of mass perfection

by Richard W. Bray

Angry Atheist Syndrome

May 1, 2016

wwwangry

 

The following exchange from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five takes place in a  WWII POW camp between a German guard and an American prisoner.  It highlights the arbitrary and capricious nature of human existence.

An American had muttered something which a guard did not like. The guard knew English, and he hauled the American out of ranks, knocked him down.
The American was astonished. He stood up shakily, spitting blood. He had meant no harm by what he had said, evidently, had no idea the guard would hear or understand.
“Why me?” he asked the guard.
Vy you? Vy anybody?” he said.

“That’s not fair” is a common kid complaint, to which parents in Southern California sometimes respond “If you want fair, go to Pomona.” (Pomona is where the LA County Fairgrounds are.)  In other words, “Life ain’t fair, kid; you better hurry up and get used to it.”

Human beings (and at least some of our poop-flinging primate cousins) are hardwired by evolution to seek fairness and equity. So a big part of the human struggle consists of coming to terms with a world where, as poet Robert Pinsky notes,  “nobody gets what they deserve more than everybody else.

This is something that Christian and nonbeliever alike must deal with. Theosophy is the branch of theology devoted to answering the following question: How can a just, merciful, and loving God allow so much suffering to exist in the world? Here are some stock answers: God is a mystery beyond human comprehension; God will mete out perfect distributive justice in the afterlife; humanity is “fallen” (it’s Eve’s darn fault for eating that blasted apple.)

As a devout deist, I also believe that God is beyond human comprehension. But unlike Christians, I refuse to anthropomorphize God in order to reduce the incomprehensible chasm between God and humanity. And I think it’s extremely unlikely that God gives a rat’s patootie about me or about anything else for that matter. (Caring about things is a function of possessing a physical body; I really can’t imagine that God has one. Besides, the universe was around for a long, long time before humans showed up, so existence obviously isn’t about us.)

So how do I face life each day despite all of the suffering and injustice in the world? By constantly reminding myself about everything that is good and beautiful in this world, especially Love.

Unfortunately, not all atheists are as well-adjusted as I am. And many atheists fall into the trap of hating God and religion because it’s so much easier than confronting the font of anger which dwells within their breasts.

Such God-hating atheists as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Wright, and Bill Maher come off as pathetic, bellowing fools.

The subtitle of a book Hitchens wrote about organized religion is How Religion Spoils Everything.  Everything?  Talk about your unsubstantiated sweeping generalizations.

Like Hitchens, Richard Wright is incapable of appreciating anything that is good or beautiful about organized religion. In his memoir Black Boy, Wright heaps scorn on the African American church, a great and lovely institution which, in addition to offering succor to so many in pain, has also been at the forefront of the heroic struggle for civil rights.

Wright is “disgusted” by the “snobbery, clannishness, gossip, intrigue, petty class rivalry, and conspicuous displays of cheap clothing” which he encounters in church. Of course, with the possible exception of “cheap clothing,” these phenomena are apparent in all human institutions. It is disheartening that Wright’s quest to slay all dragons prevents him from experiencing the virtuous aspects of organized Christianity. He is absolutely blind to the worldly fellowship, charity, comfort, hope, and spiritual fulfillment religion has to offer. And the immense beauty of religious art and music are completely lost on him. As Wright sees it, “(t)he naked will to power seemed always to walk in the wake of a hymn”.

Bill Maher called religion a “neurological disorder” Of course, Bill Maher also said that children are “assholes” (presumable because they disturb him on airplanes.) And Maher also said that women are liars because he once gave his date twenty dollars to pick up something at the store and she forgot to give him change. Critical thinking is obviously not Bill Maher’s strong suit. (Arianna Huffington suggested that her friend Bill Maher needs to start dating a better class of women.)

 

by Richard W. Bray

This Business of Saving Souls

April 20, 2012

Richard Wright

This business of saving souls has no ethics“, writes Richard Wright as he recalls how the entire weight of his community was brought down upon him for rejecting Christianity. Wright is certainly not the first person to point out hypocrisies committed in God’s name, and the cogency of Wright’s irony exposes his utter contempt for organized religion. As the author sees it, Christianity is merely one of several methods which society employs to enforce submission upon the masses in general and upon Richard Wright in particular.

Black Boy is overflowing with social forces designed to break Richard Wright down—domestic violence, white terrorism, the media, the school system and the black church all conspire to bridle his spirit. This only makes him angrier and more productive.

For a man who wears the scars of nonconformity as a badge, Wright’s unwillingness to submit to God is perfectly consistent. Like any memoir, Black Boy is an amalgamation of fact, fantasy, and recollection. But this particular autobiography has a remarkably consistent theme: Always the rebel, Richard Wright heroically reveals all forms of human hypocrisy and confronts every injustice perpetrated against him. The institutional repression of the church is just another cross for him to bear.

Wright’s descriptions of the black church seethe with hostility as he chooses to see only the most negative aspects of religion. He is “disgusted” by the “snobbery, clannishness, gossip, intrigue, petty class rivalry, and conspicuous displays of cheap clothing” which he encounters in church. Of course, with the possible exception of “cheap clothing,” these phenomena are apparent in all human institutions. It’s just the way people are. And this vituperation for the church is a function of Wright’s deep–seated misanthropy.

It is disheartening that Wright’s quest to slay all dragons prevents him from experiencing the virtuous aspects of organized Christianity. He is absolutely blind to the worldly fellowship, charity, comfort, hope and spiritual fulfillment religion has to offer. And the immense beauty of religious art and music are completely lost on him. As Wright sees it, “(t)he naked will to power seemed always to walk in the wake of a hymn”.

But this cannot be dismissed as a simple outgrowth of Wright’s Marxist/humanist philosophy. Many confirmed atheists are willing to concede that organized religion can be beneficial to society in various ways despite the plethora of grievous wrongs committed in its name. (Full disclosure: I am a devout deist, but I reject the smugness with which many of the so-called New Atheists attack religion.) The roots of Wright’s profound enmity towards the black church stem from the part of him which could never find solace in groups, not even in a political party which reflected his beliefs.

Richard W. Bray

Some Thoughts on The God Delusion

April 22, 2010

Richard Wright

Some Thoughts on The God Delusion

After patient and painstaking work he convinced his friend that his former beliefs were untenable, that science was indeed queen. But to his horror, Krummie had to confess to me, he soon discovered that he had succeeded only in making his friend supremely unhappy. He thought at first that this might pass, but when, after a year, the man remained miserably depressed, Krumwiede resolved, he told me, never again to tamper with a man’s hereditary convictions (89).

The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams

I’m a devout deist, and I’m generally happy about the recent trend of books promoting atheism. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins is an erudite argument cogently delivered with much wit, and Dawkins is less overtly hostile to religion than many of the other purveyors of Atheist Manifestos recently on the bestseller lists.

Here’s Dawkins quoting Einstein (a great deist who is often mischaracterized as a theist):

I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony that exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings (18).

If I could pick any creed, I would be a Liberal Secular Jew, but I’m not sure how to make that conversion. This brings me (sort of) to a friendly argument the author had with Robert Winston, whom Dawkins describes as a “respected pillar of British Jewry.”

When I pressed him, he said that Judaism provided a good discipline to help him structure his life and lead a good one. Perhaps it does; but that, of course, has not the smallest bearing on the truth value of its supernatural claims (14).

Goodness, Gracious, Sakes Alive, Mr. Dawkins! People, even scientists, believe all sorts of wacky things, so I’m not even sure how we could ever come to a consensus on what a “truth value” is. Mr. Winston’s personal beliefs about a deity neither pick my pocket nor break my leg. I’m glad to hear that he’s a decent bloke.

When Dawkins looks for “Direct Advantages of Religion,” he doesn’t see much, although he does concede that it has inspired much great art. But Dawkins does not believe that people should be comforted by mere beliefs which are obvious poppycock to the trained scientist. Dawkins quotes ardent atheist George Bernard Shaw:

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one (167).

Dawkins makes no effort to hide his condescension, which is a common trait among the New Atheists. Denis Dutton, another God-wrestling scientist, believes that nonbelievers should refer to ourselves as “brights,” an appellation which clearly implies that those who don’t agree with us are stupid. (And there’s nothing wrong with the word Freethinker.)

Lots of good and wonderful and beautiful things come from organized religion, and I’m not just talking about Verdi, Take 6, and El Greco. Organized religion promotes fellowship and improves people’s lives in various ways.

But some people just can’t stand it. Richard Wright, for example, was “disgusted” by the “snobbery, clannishness, gossip, intrigue, petty class rivalry, and conspicuous displays of cheap clothing” which he encountered in church (151). The beauty of the music and rituals is completely invisible to him. As Wright saw things, “[t]he naked will to power seemed always to walk in the wake of a hymn” (136).

I’ll bet Christopher Hitchens wishes he’d said that.

by Richard W. Bray