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What the New Atheists Donít See
http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_4_oh_to_be.html ^ | Theodore Dalrymple

Posted on 10/28/2007 3:39:04 PM PDT by ventanax5

The British parliament’s first avowedly atheist member, Charles Bradlaugh, would stride into public meetings in the 1880s, take out his pocket watch, and challenge God to strike him dead in 60 seconds. God bided his time, but got Bradlaugh in the end. A slightly later atheist, Bertrand Russell, was once asked what he would do if it proved that he was mistaken and if he met his maker in the hereafter. He would demand to know, Russell replied with all the high-pitched fervor of his pedantry, why God had not made the evidence of his existence plainer and more irrefutable. And Jean-Paul Sartre came up with a memorable line: “God doesn’t exist—the bastard!”

Sartre’s wonderful outburst of disappointed rage suggests that it is not as easy as one might suppose to rid oneself of the notion of God. (Perhaps this is the time to declare that I am not myself a believer.) At the very least, Sartre’s line implies that God’s existence would solve some kind of problem—actually, a profound one: the transcendent purpose of human existence. Few of us, especially as we grow older, are entirely comfortable with the idea that life is full of sound and fury but signi-fies nothing. However much philosophers tell us that it is illogical to fear death, and that at worst it is only the process of dying that we should fear, people still fear death as much as ever. In like fashion, however many times philosophers say that it is up to us ourselves, and to no one else, to find the meaning of life, we continue to long for a transcendent purpose immanent in existence itself, independent of our own wills.

(Excerpt) Read more at city-journal.org ...


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; News/Current Events; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: atheist; atheists; cityjournal; dalrymple; faith; painfulread; religion

1 posted on 10/28/2007 3:39:05 PM PDT by ventanax5
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To: ventanax5

If you cease to exist after death, not much matters as you wouldn’yt know it anyway. Of course it’s a much different story if you do exist after death. Then ya kinda wish you’d done things differently. I think it’s probably better to go prepared.


2 posted on 10/28/2007 3:47:18 PM PDT by umgud (Axis of Propaganda; lib academia, lib media, lib entertainment)
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To: ventanax5
"...what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." Romans 1:19-20, emphasis added

Evidently, Mr. Russell's complaint was baseless.

3 posted on 10/28/2007 3:48:31 PM PDT by Hebrews 11:6 (Do you REALLY believe that (1) God is, and (2) God is good?)
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To: umgud

That was Pascal’s idea, too.


4 posted on 10/28/2007 3:49:38 PM PDT by Hebrews 11:6 (Do you REALLY believe that (1) God is, and (2) God is good?)
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To: ventanax5
He would demand to know, Russell replied with all the high-pitched fervor of his pedantry, why God had not made the evidence of his existence plainer and more irrefutable.

In other words, he wanted belief in God to be a foregone conclusion and devoid of any element of faith. Russell was simply a man devoid of faith and, for that, he deserves our pity.

5 posted on 10/28/2007 4:03:21 PM PDT by FormerLib (Sacrificing our land and our blood cannot buy protection from jihad.-Bishop Artemije of Kosovo)
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To: ventanax5

Eh, time will tell one way or another who is correct and who is not, It seems to me that an Atheist has to take in on faith that there is no God nor afterlife.


6 posted on 10/28/2007 4:14:45 PM PDT by padre35 (Conservative in Exile/ No more miller brewing products, pass it on/Isaiah 3.3)
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To: FormerLib
[Russell]would demand to know...why God had not made the evidence of his existence plainer and more irrefutable.

God made his existence and nature plain in the life, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which are historical facts more irrefutable than most of the vague blather Russell did believe in.

7 posted on 10/28/2007 4:18:24 PM PDT by hellbender
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To: FormerLib
he wanted belief in God to be a foregone conclusion and devoid of any element of faith.

A lot of folks never quite get it. I was always very much a "show me" kind of guy, and I wanted to understand how everything works, and what God was thinking when he did certain things. Then my eyes were opened and I realized that the mind of man cannot hold these things. It's not a matter of reason and understanding. Without the centrality of faith, you can't get anywhere.

8 posted on 10/28/2007 4:21:22 PM PDT by ClearCase_guy (The broken wall, the burning roof and tower. And Agamemnon dead.)
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To: ventanax5

.... Russell replied with all the high-pitched fervor of his pedantry, why God had not made the evidence of his existence plainer and more irrefutable.


Geeze....talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees. The fact is that the evidence for G-d is all around us. I am especially amused when athiests try to explain the Big Bang (an organized universe created out of chaotic nothingness) in one breath and then say there is no evidence for G-d in the next.

Part of the problem, I think, is that people see misery in the world and think G-d must not exist, else why would he allow it. These people fail to see that we are but pawns on a gigantic chessboard. G-d must take the longview required to win the game, even if it means sacrificing some of us pawns.


9 posted on 10/28/2007 4:22:36 PM PDT by rbg81 (DRAIN THE SWAMP!!)
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To: ventanax5

bump


10 posted on 10/28/2007 4:28:30 PM PDT by VOA
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To: ventanax5

The Bible can be proven in one word - Israel.


11 posted on 10/28/2007 4:30:44 PM PDT by aimhigh
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To: ventanax5
He would demand to know, Russell replied with all the high-pitched fervor of his pedantry, why God had not made the evidence of his existence plainer and more irrefutable.

I've always wondered how someone could come to the conclusion that God did not exist.

12 posted on 10/28/2007 4:31:36 PM PDT by oldbrowser (Orwell was off the mark by 24 years.)
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To: ventanax5

“...Bertrand Russell...was once asked what he would do if it proved that he was mistaken and if he met his maker in the hereafter. He would demand to know, Russell replied with all the high-pitched fervor of his pedantry, why God had not made the evidence of his existence plainer and more irrefutable.”

To which He, I hope, replies in a voice quite like Leo McKern’s, “That would be telling.”


13 posted on 10/28/2007 4:39:03 PM PDT by RichInOC (I believe that God exists, that He intervenes in His creation, and that He's a bit of a comedian.)
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To: ventanax5

Theodore Dalrymple (real name Dr. Anthony Daniels) is an amazingly prolific writer. This is the second piece of his I’ve read this week. And it seems I’ve read dozens of pieces by him this year.

Dalrymple is an outstanding wordsmith and a deep thinker. His work, and his biography, is respected by the other side. When he talks, it’s to the advantage of any truth-seeker to listen.


14 posted on 10/28/2007 5:03:31 PM PDT by beckett (Amor Fati)
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To: ventanax5

Odd that Jean Paul Sartre would come up in this discussion.


15 posted on 10/28/2007 5:09:49 PM PDT by TexanToTheCore (If it ain't Rugby or Bullriding, it's for girls.........................................)
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To: umgud

There was a RC priest who put it this way (paraphrased):

If there is no Almighty and just eternal sleep, then when we die, we won’t know anything more.

However, if the Almighty does exist, then when we die, we will surely know it and be judged accordingly.

Now, with this in mind, how would a reasonable person hedge his bets?


16 posted on 10/28/2007 5:14:01 PM PDT by Lord Basil
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To: ventanax5

I once heard an interesting debate on the subject of a personal, versus an impersonal God. It began with the statement: “What good is a god that doesn’t kick your ass?”

The debate began with the description of God as a singularity, which automatically negates His description as “a god”, which implies more than one. A true singularity, God, cannot be compared with any thing or any condition, as there is only one of It. No size, shape, color, sound, etc. compares with anything. It also means that God cannot be a dichotomy, say God and the devil.

But within the singularity, even though everything is of the singularity, things can be compared to other things within the singularity. Therefore there can be “gods” within God, or angels, men, whatever, that while subordinate can be contrasted with each other.

God, the singularity, is so unique that It, or He, is hard to communicate with. Moses found this out when he asked God’s name, and God, rather philosophically, replied, “I AM THAT I AM”. Truly one of the most profound philosophical statements of all time. Trouble is, there is not a whole lot else God *can* say. God cannot describe God. The great Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, made a magnificent short book about these personal pronoun dilemmas entitled “I and Thou”.

Kabbalists point this out as God’s reason for creating the universe in the first place. That is, God wanted to find out if there was anything that was “not God”. So first, He created a true vacuum, an “absence of God”, in which He could put the universe. Then with something like a lightning bolt, he created a single particle within that emptiness, whose purpose was to replicate itself, creating the universe, which would be like a gigantic mirror. And when the universe is “complete”, God will see His reflection, know His answer, and the universe will cease to exist.

In the meantime, how does mankind address God? God took care of this problem by making a series of “contracts” with various figures, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. Conveniently, these were done in the contractual format of the ancient world.

In short, God told mankind, and subsets thereof, of things to do and things not to do. If they obeyed they were to be rewarded, if disobeyed, punished. But it was always as a group, not individually.

In a manner of speaking, after Noah, God even put the rewards and punishments on “auto pilot”, in that if you did what you were told or didn’t the reward or punishment was integral to what you did.

Well, Jesus came along and threw out most of these contracts, and the extrapolated laws, statutes and judgments associated with them, and also created the concept of a personal deity.

The Mohammed came along with a last contractual agreement, making things terribly confusing.

This means that from the Jewish point of view, the original contracts, except Mohammed’s, still apply. Especially the Mosaic (Moses) law, that only applies to them. All other God believers only have to obey the Noachide (Noah) Law, which most people have never heard of, but is not particularly hard to conform to, anyway.

The Christians believe that Jesus is such a significant subset of God that He can alter reality and be a personal savior. And Muslims are only concerned with Mohammed’s contract, generally ignoring the others.

“So what good is Jesus if he doesn’t kick your ass?” This remains a problem with a personal deity, one that Christians accept, but remains a paradoxical problem.


17 posted on 10/28/2007 5:26:37 PM PDT by Popocatapetl
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To: ventanax5

My belief in God has more to do about living this life than worrying about death.

It is a shame that atheists think the whole thing is about the fear of death. It must be an obession with them.


18 posted on 10/28/2007 5:42:21 PM PDT by Raycpa
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To: ventanax5
A good current book to read that encompasses the rise of "the new Atheists" as well as the worldwide spread of Christianity in our time .... (Many get discouraged when we see the culture around us degrading and the churches in Europe so empty....but that is only half the story..)....

is Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity

Am reading it now...Also was able to watch part of Dinesh's debate with Christopher Hitchens (was on Cspan 2) regarding the Atheist position that there is no God.

Could have listened to that for hours....

19 posted on 10/28/2007 5:58:39 PM PDT by Freedom'sWorthIt
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To: ventanax5
I cannot do otherwise than love God. My soul would be nothing without him; He shields me from the world's storms and shows me delight in its beauty. He makes me walk the straight path and avoid the evil ways; my soul takes refuge in contemplation of still waters. For the sake of His Name, he has given me the world and also the world of the life to come. For all these treasures both mortal and immanent, I owe Him my everlasting gratitude.
20 posted on 10/28/2007 5:58:56 PM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives In My Heart Forever)
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To: beckett

Theodore Dalrymple (real name Dr. Anthony Daniels) is an amazingly prolific writer.

Search his books, I have read them all and they are worth reading.


21 posted on 10/28/2007 5:59:49 PM PDT by Chickensoup (If it is not permitted, it is prohibited. Only the government can permit....)
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To: goldstategop

that is beautiful


22 posted on 10/28/2007 6:03:59 PM PDT by ncpatriot
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To: ventanax5

Dalrymple is always worth reading.

He doesn’t usually talk about himself, so I had not realized that he is an agnostic, but a sensible one who knows that he doesn’t know.

He understands the basic paradox—that without some sort of religious account, reasoning has no basis. You need something like the logos of the Greeks, or the Logos of Christianity. If your explanation of “everything” is purely materialist or evolutionary, then, as he says, you’d might as well quit thinking or worrying, because it’s all meaningless and arbitrary, including your thought processes.


23 posted on 10/28/2007 6:54:17 PM PDT by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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To: aimhigh

This is a little off subject , but I got an email today about a new kids movie coming out starring Nicole Kidman called The Golden Compass. It is written by someone that hates CS Lewis and is the anti-Narnia movie where God is killed in the end Here is the link-—http://snopes.com/politics/religion/compass/asp

Has anyone heard of this? They are trying to go after the children.


24 posted on 10/28/2007 7:35:25 PM PDT by dandiegirl
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To: ventanax5
The British parliament’s first avowedly atheist member
Charles Bradlaugh
would stride into public meetings in the 1880s
take out his pocket watch
and challenge God to strike him dead in 60 seconds.

Benito Mussolini used to do the same thing.

25 posted on 10/28/2007 7:38:14 PM PDT by Allan (*-O)):~{>)
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To: Lord Basil

The only problem I have with that thinking is that that line could be used with any religion...

The animists of Africa could argue the same as would Islamists....there might or might not be an after life but its better to be prepared just in case! Worship this stone or chop off the head of the infidel...at the least there is nothing after death but at the most, enjoy your 72 virgins.

With the “just in case” arguement, there is nothing that sets Christianity above any other religion and you might as well worship a case of vodka or a catsup stained commemorative plate of Dale Earnhardt,Jr.!


26 posted on 10/28/2007 7:50:01 PM PDT by mdmathis6
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To: mdmathis6
This discussion wasn't about any religion, but about atheism (whether or not an Almighty exists).
27 posted on 10/29/2007 4:49:00 AM PDT by Lord Basil
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To: Lord Basil

I wasn’t arguing about religions either and I should have elaborated a bit more. An Atheist may very well argue the point that taking that particular line of reasoning puts ones belief in Christ on the same level as those who use that arguement for their “alternate” religious beliefs as well.

Some persons, persuaded that any sort of belief should be worshiped...”just in case its true” may conclude that an Islamic conversion is in order “just in case”. After-all Islamic beliefs accommodate all that can be loathsome(in a Christian sense) with in the human male psyche, they’re a lot more fun...at least for the human male!


28 posted on 10/29/2007 5:31:09 AM PDT by mdmathis6
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To: ventanax5
"However much philosophers tell us that it is illogical to fear death, and that at worst it is only the process of dying that we should fear, people still fear death as much as ever. In like fashion, however many times philosophers say that it is up to us ourselves, and to no one else, to find the meaning of life, we continue to long for a transcendent purpose immanent in existence itself, independent of our own wills."

The universal human dissatisfaction with mortality is forever reaching out for a connection to the eternal:

THE POLITICS OF PROCREATION!

In a secular sense, homosexuality is an idolatry of perversion. It is in no way an anatomical function of the human organism, but a phantasmagoric creation from within the mentally disturbed human mind, a social psychosis, naked and on full exhibitionist display.

Homosexual monogamy advocates seek ceremonious sanctification of their anatomical perversions and esoteric absolution for their guilt-ridden, impoverished egos.

Neither of those will satisfy their universal dissatisfaction with mortality or connect them to something eternal. With pantheons of fantasies as their medium of infinitization, they still have nothing in them of reality, any more than there is in the things that seem to stand before us in a dream.

Homosexual deviancy is really a pagan practice (and a self-induced social psychosis) at war with the Judaic culture over what is written in the book of Genesis (1:27, 2:18).

This is exactly what the National Socialists were at war with... so, when someone uses the term "Gaystapo," they might not realize how close to the truth they really are, especially if you consider the NAZI eugenic breeding programs.

Many will seek ceremonious sanctification and esoteric absolution in some type of marriage rite, but that still fails to give them a connection to the eternal in both a religious and temporal, procreant sense - - the union does not produce offspring.

Dissatisfaction with inevitable mortality only feeds the impoverishment of the ego further. Homosexuals really hate human life; their whole desire is rooted in the destruction of it.

Contemplate the religious fervor associated with the pro-abortion advocacy. The societal practice of abortion is ritual mass murder upon the altars of conceit dedicated to idolatrous vanities, a collective human sacrifice before pagan idols.

It has a similitude to the Teutonic paganism of Adolph Hitler (whose idolatry was the idea of a "master race," among other things). In effect, these genocides are a mass human sacrifice to those pagan idols. The abortionists, like the National Socialists, incinerate the remains of their victims.

Aleister Crowley, who openly supported the National Socialists, was affiliated with Ordo Templi Orientis, Golden Dawn, A.A. (Order of the Silver Star) and other such occult lodges all across Germany. Crowley engaged in all manner of deviancy, homoeroticism, sadomasochism and murder. Much of the occultism in National Socialism is derived directly from there.

Crowley envisioned himself as the Great Beast (Το Μεγα Θηριον ), just as der Fuhrer made himself in that image. Hitler's life as a struggling, inept artist was where that association blossomed.

Crowley's creed, "Do what thou wilt, shall be the whole of the Law," (which is actually from Francois Rabelais) and used by Neo-Pagan nutcases without attribution for obvious politically correct reasons, is with certainty no different than the National Socialist "will to power," or their ubermensch mentality.

It is also no accident Nietzsche's "over-man" and nihilist philosophy and resulting insanity from venereal disease closely mirrors the insanity of der Fuhrer. These occult orders, sex and drug cults still survive today, as do the Neo-pagan, Neo-Nazi groups, black supremacist Rastafarian potheads, prison gangs and other related filth.

PlatoÂ’s Euthyphro is a great illustration. Socrates advances the argument to Euthyphro that, piety to the gods, who all want conflicting devotions and/or actions from humans, is impossible. (Socrates exposed the pagan esoteric sophistry.)

Likewise, morals are such a construction of idols used by the Left as a rationale for them to demand compliance to their wishes in politics, which most often are a skewed mess of fallacies in logic. Morals are a deceptive replacement for the avoidance of sin.

Today, "morals" are a religious pagan philosophy of esoteric hobgoblins. Transfiguration is a pantheon of fantasies as the medium of infinitization. Others get derision for having an unwavering Judaic belief in Yahweh or Yeshua, although their critics and enemies will evangelize insertion of phantasmagoric fetishisms into secular law.

A greater number of "atheists" and "pagans" adopt the same hackneyed tenets of a faux Judaic-Christian ideal (golden calf). They also subscribe to the Judaic fetishism of "sin," but will fight to their death in denial of it. Most of them are so wrapped up in their own polemics that they have become nothing more than pathetic anti-Christians with the same false hypocritical philosophy. They just slap a new label on it hoping nobody will notice - - they replace the idea of "avoiding sin" with "morals."

Morality and all of its associated ideals are rooted entirely in the presupposition some higher power defines what is correct for human behavior.

Sarcasm:

But, since we are all properly obeying the * modern interpretation * of the First Amendment, good & evil isn't the question... Good & bad, right & wrong, etc., etc., ad nausea; are all inherently religious ideals.

The modern interpretation of the First Amendment (according to the liberal-tarians) says government must exorcise all traces of religion and theism from itself. Therefore, government must never consider issues of morality and right and wrong...

So, it becomes a question of benefits versus costs. Fetus killing has its benefits to society, especially if you like to sleep late on Saturdays. But it also has its costs as well. Society (by which I mean, whoever manages to seize power) needs to evaluate these costs and decide accordingly.

The mythical rights of men and women are also meaningless. The very concept of rights is also founded in religion. Since the enlightened person is freed from any superstitions about some "God," they are free from having to worry about "rights." Only raw power counts and humans are just meat puppets for the powerful...

29 posted on 10/29/2007 5:44:39 AM PDT by Sir Francis Dashwood (LET'S ROLL!)
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To: ventanax5

>>>However much philosophers tell us that it is illogical to fear death, ....

Here’s where I think he pitches outside the strike zone. People don’t always just fear death. They fear the knowledge of the opportunity cost of what they could have gotten done, if they’d gotten their butts off of the couch. People fear dying with regrets.


30 posted on 10/29/2007 6:13:34 AM PDT by .cnI redruM (New Republic? Same old Left.)
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To: Cicero

There’s a *BIG* difference between an agnostic, often an honest and deep thinker who honestly does not feel that the evidence supports the existence of God(or the specific God of Judeo-Christianity, in this case) , and the Atheist who, IMHO just has a different religion, and one that is based of ‘faith’ as much as any other (with an apparent concomitant to proselytize in just as annoying a manner!). To the Evangelical Christian, of course *BOTH* are going to hell, but for the purposes of logical reasoning the former is at least an intellectually honest position.


31 posted on 10/29/2007 6:18:12 PM PDT by RedStateRocker (When the government fears the People= Liberty. When the People fear the Government =Tyranny)
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To: ventanax5

A few years back, the National Gallery held an exhibition of Spanish still-life paintings. One of these paintings had a physical effect on the people who sauntered in, stopping them in their tracks; some even gasped. I have never seen an image have such an impact on people. The painting, by Juan Sánchez Cotán, now hangs in the San Diego Museum of Art. It showed four fruits and vegetables, two suspended by string, forming a parabola in a gray stone window.

Even if you did not know that Sánchez Cotán was a seventeenth-century Spanish priest, you could know that the painter was religious: for this picture is a visual testimony of gratitude for the beauty of those things that sustain us. Once you have seen it, and concentrated your attention on it, you will never take the existence of the humble cabbage—or of anything else—quite so much for granted, but will see its beauty and be thankful for it. The painting is a permanent call to contemplation of the meaning of human life, and as such it arrested people who ordinarily were not, I suspect, much given to quiet contemplation.

The same holds true with the work of the great Dutch still-life painters. On the neo-atheist view, the religious connection between Catholic Spain and Protestant Holland is one of conflict, war, and massacre only: and certainly one cannot deny this history. And yet something more exists. As with Sánchez Cotán, only a deep reverence, an ability not to take existence for granted, could turn a representation of a herring on a pewter plate into an object of transcendent beauty, worthy of serious reflection.


32 posted on 10/29/2007 7:44:33 PM PDT by ventanax5
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To: Coleus; firebrand; Clemenza; rmlew; Yehuda

ping


33 posted on 10/29/2007 7:55:43 PM PDT by Cacique (quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat ( Islamia Delenda Est ))
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To: ventanax5

thanks, bfl


34 posted on 10/29/2007 7:58:44 PM PDT by neverdem (Call talk radio. We need a Constitutional Amendment for Congressional term limits. Let's Roll!)
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To: ClearCase_guy
Then my eyes were opened and I realized that the mind of man cannot hold these things.

Just as a parent tells a child not to wander away in the mall.

You would not regale the child in every case about how they might fall into the hands of some molester or murderer, describing in extensive detail the gruesome acts that they would be subject to.

35 posted on 10/29/2007 10:34:29 PM PDT by He Rides A White Horse (unite)
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To: ventanax5
The British parliament’s first avowedly atheist member, Charles Bradlaugh, would stride into public meetings in the 1880s, take out his pocket watch, and challenge God to strike him dead in 60 seconds.

What a silly exercise, on many levels.

36 posted on 10/29/2007 10:38:28 PM PDT by He Rides A White Horse (unite)
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To: ventanax5

Lots of interesting comments on this thread. Bumping for later....


37 posted on 10/30/2007 5:05:42 AM PDT by NewJerseyJoe (Rat mantra: "Facts are meaningless! You can use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!")
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To: Cicero
Dalrymple is always worth reading.

Especially for the Shakespearean allusions. There was quite a lot in this article... but I was hoping for more. I liked his take on Hitchens, who for his drinking and ravings on religion, reminds me of Richard Burton in The Night of the Iguana. In some crazy way, if the drinking continues, Hitch is playing Burton playing Burton.

38 posted on 10/30/2007 7:09:45 AM PDT by Blind Eye Jones
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To: dandiegirl

Yes, that is basically correct. The Golden Compass is a subtle attack on Christianity, which gets less and less subtle as the trilogy proceeds.

Since I’m an SF/fantasy fan, I read it when it first came out. I think the blurbs compared it, utterly falsely, to Lewis and Madeline Engle. False and deceiving.

Pullman is the anti-C.S. Lewis. His God, in the end, turns out to be Blake’s Nobodaddy.

I presume the movie will be similar, since hating and undermining God and Christiandity is something that Hollywood is currently very fond of doing. They especially enjoy corrupting kids.


39 posted on 10/30/2007 9:05:39 AM PDT by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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To: Blind Eye Jones

It’s good to read someone with a little education in this increasingly yuppified world, where the height of journalistic accomplishment is represented by Maureen Dowd.


40 posted on 10/30/2007 9:15:04 AM PDT by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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To: dandiegirl
Philip Pullman

No cheers, unfortunately.

41 posted on 10/30/2007 7:33:42 PM PDT by grey_whiskers (The opinions are solely those of the author and are subject to change without notice.)
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life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in this constitutional republic.
42 posted on 11/05/2007 9:31:11 PM PST by Coleus (Pro Deo et Patria)
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To: ventanax5; Cicero; Chickensoup; Coleus; firebrand; Clemenza; rmlew; Yehuda; Cacique; ...
A Strange Alliance

by Theodore Dalrymple (Nov.2007)

It used to be said that one should not talk of sex, religion or politics in polite company. So much the worse for polite company, I thought in my days of adolescent enjoyment of disputes for their own sake; and certainly there are subjects that a journalist should avoid if he wishes to avoid an angry response whatever he says about them. In my experience, which admittedly is limited, those subjects are modern art, chronic fatigue syndrome and religion: but of these, religion is the greatest.

I haven’t written much about religion, but I have been surprised by the vehemence, not to say the violence, of the response to that little that I have written. This vehemence has been provoked by the fact that, though not religious myself, I am no longer anti-religious as I was when it occurred to me as a child and then a teenager that God might not or did not exist. Indeed, I can see many advantages, both personal and social, to a religious outlook. The usefulness of religious claims is not evidence of their truth, of course, though that usefulness probably depends upon a belief in their truth. Probably, but not certainly. Gibbon tells us that in Rome, religious observance, highly syncretic in nature, was adhered to by people who did not accept the truth of the beliefs that supposedly underlay their observance. They continued with their observance because of the social value of religion: in other words, truth was less important to them than social coherence. Before we denounce those Romans as hypocrites and liars, we should remember how often, for the sake of social ease and convenience, we say and do things that are neither true nor convenient to us personally. Show me a man who is sincere all the time, and I will show you an insufferable boor.

A young and cultivated Dutchman of my acquaintance, appalled by the thinness and superficiality of modern culture and its deliberate disconnection from the glories of the past of our civilisation, recently told me that he was going to convert to Catholicism. He was far from a believer but, rightly or wrongly, he saw the church as the only possible bastion against the tide of cultural barbarism that is engulfing most of Europe.

He told me also that he played the music of Bach (one of the supreme artistic achievements of our civilisation) on the piano every day, and hoped to do so until he died; and this led me to suppose that he did not altogether exclude as a possibility the existence of God, for Bach’s music, which he loved, was surely inspired in very large part by the belief in God, and indeed is inconceivable without that belief. The connection between the music and belief in God was a psychological one rather than a logical one, but was a strong one nonetheless; and, as Pascal said, the heart hath its reasons which reason knows not of. This, after all, is true of most of us most of the time.

And once my young Dutch acquaintance was open to the possibility of the existence of God, I suggested, it was also possible that the belief would come with the observance rather than the other way around. If it did, I could see only advantages to him. It seems to me that a sense of a transcendent meaning or purpose to existence is a great comfort, and something that is sorely lacking for the great majority of young Europeans.

This is not at all the same thing as wishing to live under a theocracy, in which conformity to the outward observances of belief are enforced. But some of the responses I received to an article I wrote recently for The City Journal, in which I suggested that the best-selling books by militant atheists, that have appeared with the suddenness of a change of hemlines in the fashion world, did not advance any new arguments against the existence of God (indeed, you would have by now to be a very great philosopher to advance a new argument either for or against), and that used a historiography of religion that was fundamentally flawed and dishonest, were so vehement that you might have supposed that I was Torquemada or Khomenei rather than a mere scribbler expressing an opinion that was, in effect, a plea for greater subtlety of understanding.

I do not want to repeat my arguments here. Instead, I ask the question why these books - of Michel Onfray, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett - have appeared all of a sudden, and sold so well, when (with the exception, perhaps, of Daniel Dennett’s book, which advances an evolutionary explanation of religion that put me in mind of Marx’s explanation of it, except that it refers to biology where Marx refers to economics), they say little that is new.

Fashions are not unknown in publishing, of course. Often, several biographies of a relatively obscure subject or figure, neglected for many years, appear at more or less the same time, without there having been any collusion between publishers - indeed, such collusion would be against their own interests. For example, several books in Britain recently appeared all at once about the tulip mania in Holland in the seventeenth century; and then there were several books about Eliza Lynch, the Irish consort of the Paraguayan dictator, Francisco Solano Lopez, who led his country in what was possibly the most disastrous war in the history of the world. There is evidently a tide in the affairs of authors and publishers…

Still, something more than fashion needs to be invoked, I suspect, to explain not only the appearance but the success of the new atheistic books. The books about the tulip mania and Eliza Lynch did not become best-sellers. The atheistic books did. Let me here say, to avoid the charge of resorting to ad hominem arguments, that the reasons for the appearance and success of these books is evidence neither of the validity nor of the invalidity of their arguments, which must be assessed by quite other means and on quite other grounds. But this does not mean that the question of the reason for their appearance and success now, at this conjuncture, is unimportant or uninteresting. My speculations are not susceptible to rigorous proof, but if we were allowed to think about only those things susceptible to such proof, our minds would soon be empty.

I think there are two conjunctures, one mainly American, and one global, that explain the appearance and success of these books.

The rise of evangelical Christianity as a political force in America has provoked a reaction by the freethinking intelligentsia that sees in that rise a threat of theocracy. Whether this threat is real and genuinely feared I rather doubt; surely the American political tradition and the Constitution itself are strong enough to prevent a theocracy from ever arising in America. But all intellectuals love bogeymen to shadow-box: I do so myself on occasion.

It is true that the evangelicals exert a strong influence; but that is what democracy is about. There are, after all, a lot of them in the country and they cannot be disenfranchised. No doubt they have a moral vision that they wish to impose on the country, but so does everybody else. To argue that a woman has a right to an abortion because she is sovereign over her own body is no less a moral position than that to kill a conceptus is ethically equivalent to shooting a man in cold blood in the street. Personally I think that both these positions are wrong, and that so long as the debate is posed in these terms it will remain crude and generate a lot of hatred. But evangelical Christian political influence in a democracy in which there are millions of evangelicals is perfectly normal, and implies no slide into theocracy; and it is worth remembering that the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.

The second conjuncture is, of course, the rise of Islam as a global force for a new totalitarianism. This is not the place to argue whether Islam is, or is not, an intrinsically totalitarian religion (though it is worth remembering how few of us gave any attention to it as a serious political force only twenty years ago). I suspect that the downfall of the Soviet Union - which, of course, was also responsible for the ending of apartheid in South Africa - and the consequent destruction of the possibility of socialistic nationalism as a means for poor or desperate countries (poverty and desperation not being the same thing) to escape their predicament, stimulated the rise of Islam to the position of latest utopian pretender. There had been Islamists before the downfall of the Soviet Union, of course, but they offered only one bogus solution among other bogus solutions. After the downfall, Islam had the field to itself, apart from liberal democracy, which is inherently messy and unsatisfying for the lazy and impatient.

Islamism is a real threat, made far worse by the cowardly response to it by most western governments, including that of the United States. From the European perspective, the war in Iraq is but a trivial sideshow by comparison with the Danish cartoon crisis, which was much more significant for our civilisation and way of life in the long run. There the British and American governments failed the test miserably; de facto, they gave aid and succour to the Islamists.

The new atheists are quite right to see the threat of theocracy in Islamism. But in attacking all religion, they are like the French government which banned not only the wearing of the headscarf in schools, but the wearing of all religious insignia whatsoever, despite the fact that wearing a Star of David or a crucifix has and had a completely different social signification from wearing a headscarf. In the name of non-discrimination, the French government failed to discriminate properly: and proper discrimination is, or ought to be, practically the whole business of life. If there were large numbers of Christians or Jews who were in favour of establishing a theocracy in France, who had a recent record of terrorism, and who terrorised each other into the wearing of crucifixes and Stars of David, then the banning of those insignia would have been justified too. The wearing of the headscarf should be permitted again when Islam has become merely one personal confession among others, without the political significance that it has now.

In attacking all religion so indiscriminately, the atheist authors are, I am sure inadvertently and unintentionally, strengthening the hand of the Islamists. In arguing, for example, that for parents to bring up a child in any religious tradition, even the mildest of Anglicanism, is to abuse a child, with the natural corollary that the law should forbid it (for how can the law permit child abuse?), some of the authors are giving ammunition to the Islamists, who will be able with justice to say to their fellow-religionists, See, it is all or nothing. If you give the secularists an inch, they will take a mile. No compromise with secularism is possible, therefore; cleave unto us.

Islamism is a worthy target, of course, but by now one that has been pretty well aimed at (though I recommend very strongly the forthcoming book from Encounter Books, Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan, by Caroline Fourest). To suggest, however, that all forms of religion are equal, that they are all murderous and dangerous, is not to serve the cause of freedom and tolerance. It is to play into the hands of the very people we should most detest; it is to hand them the rhetorical tools with which they can tell the gullible that our freedoms are not genuine and that our tolerance is a masquerade. It is to do what I should previously have thought was impossible, namely in this respect to put them in the right.

43 posted on 11/09/2007 6:40:07 PM PST by Allan (*-O)):~{>)
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To: Allan

Another good one.


44 posted on 11/09/2007 8:01:12 PM PST by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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