We've gotten into a little discussion of the new atheist movement, an area well covered by other podcasts (meaning we likely won't devote substantial time to it on our podcast, though we'll certainly discuss religious philosophy).
To get clear on one of its key arguments, that it's religious moderates that create a climate where extremism can exist, I'll point to a short interview with A.C. Grayling on the excellent Julian Baggini podcast: http://julianbaggini.blogspot.com/2009/07/july-podcast.html.
Graying (who I've never read and had not previously heard of) sets out the relationship between the extremists and the moderates in a way that resonated with me: Growing up as a church-goer, I recall thinking that tolerance is inconsistent with what belief: If you actually believe, literally, that everyone who doesn't believe would go to hell, and you've got a Christian duty to help people out, then you shouldn't sit quietly by and let others burn, but should do whatever possible to get other people converted, i.e. loud proselytizing is the logically coherent position. What Grayling says here is more extreme: he says that if casual churchgoers actually took what was being preached to them seriously, then they'd become fundmentalists, and hence dangerous a la suicide bombers, which I don't think is a claim that one should make without very specific evidence.
While I personally have some sympathy for this new atheism business as a political movement (i.e. I think fundamentalism is not harmless and wish we lived in a climate where an avowed atheist had a greater chance of obtaining national political office than a convicted child molester), the spirit of our endeavor here is fun, cooperative, and exploratory (I hope), and though we all have political beliefs, the podcast itself has no other political agenda beyond trying to get people interested in and reading philosophy. If someone who thinks about things finds value in theistic beliefs, I'm not going to dismiss them, and non-philosophical people can unreflectively believe all sorts of stupid things, only some of which have anything to do with religion.
I had a listen to this one and also went back and listened to Grayling on Atheism from an episode of Philosophy Bites episode form 30 July 2007. http://philosophybites.com/atheism/
As I have stated clearly in a previous rant, I have little time for the so called ‘New Athesism’, and listening to Grayling really gets my back up. The second half of the pod was less irritating as a) it wasn’t about atheism in particular and b) Grayling didn’t sound like a teenager reeling of the standard arguments and getting worked into a frenzy. It is the general tenor of the NAs that galls me ie. if you don’t agree with my over simplified version of history and how religion has ballocksed it all up, then you arer, indubitably, and idiot.
I don’t take issue with the usual arguments for and against god. It’s not like they are new.
One thing that galls me is the reference to the “Wars of Religion” and the “Crusades” as evidence for the vile nature of religion. As if it is beyond historical doubt that the ultimate cause of these horrific events is what is contained within the bible and the participants faith in the existence of God, and these factors alone. I don’t expect that everyone has the time to investigate these periods of history at length. But what seems apparent to me is, that while religion plays a role, it is not the role that Hitching post and Dorkins and the assorted Brethren of Holy Atheismo believe it to be.
Oh and thanks Mark for posting this link. It is a podcast I had not listened to before, and am finding quite enjoyable.
Jon Nixon says
Grayling is very well known here in the UK – He’s the one the BBC go to when they want a philosophical opinion on almost anything. I’ve read a couple of his books and I like him a lot. He talks common sense and he clearly values restraint and respect.
I really don’t hear the same intolerance when I listen to Grayling (or Dawkins etc). They believe that religious faith is mistaken and shouldn’t be granted automatic respect, but they don’t think all religious believers are “idiots”. If we label all criticism as intolerance we’ll end up with no debate at all. We should respect individuals, but it’s impossible to respect an infinite number of diametrically opposed beliefs, and if we try to do that we end up with a relativism which justifies the extreme.
I have a friend who is a member of something called the “Aetherius Society” who genuinely believe that Jesus was an alien and the Star of Bethlehem was his spaceship. Lots of people believe that Jesus’ mother was a virgin at the time of his birth. A few people believe that if they die while killing unbelievers they will go to paradise. None of these beliefs seem more reasonable than the others to me. I could say that the first two are weird but harmless and the third is weird and dangerous – but I don’t see a problem with saying all three are just weird.
The new atheists don’t believe all religion is equally bad and that all conflicts are caused by religion and not politics, tribalism or secular dogma. What they do believe is that blind faith *is* part of the problem (even when it’s just being used as a political tool) and that while we keep up an unquestioning deference to religion nothing will change.
I think the danger that being confrontational about this might alienate some reasonable people of faith is nothing compared with the advantage of telling people who disagree with religion that it’s OK to say so.
I did have a hard time listening to this. Grayling has an arrogance to his philosophical opinions that rivals the religious opinions of Pat Robertson…. Maybe only insofar as both make statements that are too brash for me to palette easily. Germaine to pragmatism, Grayling seems to suggest that because an individual holds any religious (Christian) beliefs they should therefore subscribe to every text included in the New Testament – in specific he mentions the virgin birth which is included in 2 of the 4 gospels.
But is a pragmatist’s view, which perhaps feels those verses or even those gospels hold no water for their functional belief, ridiculous in “cherry picking” their orthodoxy? If the New Testament is viewed as a fallible work of mankind rather than absolute divine orthodox for all Christian faith, is that cherry picking? Does cherry picking orthodoxy and orthopraxy, so long as it accords some hermeneutical basis, from the New Testament diminish the validity of one’s faith? Doesn’t a skeptical view of biblical text allow me to hold off on founding my beliefs on those parts that I really feel skeptical about without making me either an atheist or a fundamentalist in the meantime? What about a Universalist’s view which finds wisdom in what can be considered a deeply flawed text (the Gospels) but which nevertheless encourages a deeper revelation for the possibility of God’s existence… or faith in their spirituality? I think Grayling overextends his opinion by invalidating spiritual belief on the hinge of some of the more sensational New Testament verses as an attempt to discredit the viability of a pragmatic philosophical approach to religious belief.
I do think that there’s a pragmatic view of the New Testament that could afford the pragmatic believer with the impetus for humility, or charity, or Christian orthopraxy without having to swallow verbatim the orthodoxy for which they ‘have no use’. Grayling comes off just as close-minded as a zealot in claiming a corner on the faith-market. Just because Grayling suggests that because I believe in a God related to the New Testament’s Gospels, or Luke and John, where God is revealed in some way, I must therefore also believe in the virgin birth doesn’t make it so.
There is one big problem with A. C. Grayling: he is boring. Why should I waste my time with a supposedly more sophisticated ‘new atheist’ when there are many people with much more interesting things to say? He seems like another one of those silly pop philosophers (like Alan De Botton) with a hippie haircut and a fancy name to boot. Go read John Caputo or Alaisdar MacIntyre, or hell take a dip in secularity studies and go for Charles Taylor. Stop wasting your time with silly concepts, like moderate vs fundamentalist or secularisation theory (which literally no reputable cultural anthropologist takes seriously) or God forbid this idea that so called fundamentalists are an inevitable dangerous threat to society which is as ridiculous as Victorian ideas of a heredity biology of criminality. Stop reading pop books, they only make you dumber *insert Adorno here*.