Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Preaching atheism

Harold Pollack in the Washington Monthly makes more sane points about living as a non-believer, and reaching out rather than pushing back.
Drawing on Darwin and the rest, new atheists inherited an intellectual arsenal sufficient to win many arguments with religious believers. They have proven less adept in genuinely persuading or learning from other people. That’s too bad, because atheists, agnostics, and people of faith struggle with similar basic questions about how to live our lives and what these lives are really for.

To embrace our common humanity, we must do a better job of crossing boundaries between believers, non-believers, and doubters. We must really be able to see that people who find very different answers to these questions are capable of living their lives with the same insight, dignity, and depth of experience that we hope to do.

Ross Douthat, in a deeply-felt but I believe mistaken essay memorializing Hitchens, writes: “Rigorous atheism casts a wasting shadow over every human hope and endeavor.” That’s not the way I experience things. I feel no less joy at my daughter’s dazzling smile, no less pain at the sight of the wrinkles on my mother’s beautiful face, than any religious believer. There’s no need to accept or reject any particular religious view to be moved to action at the sight of a cancer patient going medically bankrupt and losing her home.

There’s plenty to find meaning about in our short stay on this earth. Finding and pursuing that meaning is a challenge for everyone, regardless of one’s religious metaphysics. This is true whatever God is up to, and whether or not he is even there.

We atheists could express the most important and humane messages simply by living worthy lives. We could lower the dose of bullying polemicism and set a better example of humility and empathy, too. Saint Francis instructed: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Not bad advice, even for us.


Harold Pollack said...

Thanks for noticing my work.

Counterlight said...

I must confess to feeling exasperated in finding myself in the middle of so many flame wars between rigid fundamentalists and hostile atheists, and I'm sure there are many others who read this blog who feel the same way. I found Mr. Pollack's essay refreshing in its humility and generosity, qualities not found in fanatics of any persuasion.

IT said...

Harold, thanks for coming by. You will see from the post prior to this that we often discuss these issues here!

Counterlight, I agree, and hope I live up to that! Though I admit at being rather annoyed at the quote attributed to DC Bishop Budde (via the Lead):

"We live in a society today where it is acceptable now to say that they have no spiritual curiosity. At almost any other time in history, that would have been unacceptable," Budde says.

She finds this "very sad because the whole purpose of faith is to be a source of guidance, strength and perspective in difficult times. To be human is to have a sense of purpose, an awareness that our life is an utterly unique expression of creation and we want to live it with meaning, grace and beauty."

The implication that you cannot have a sense of meaning, grace, and beauty with believing in God or some form of spirituality is quite arrogant, as is the idea that you don't have a source of guidance, strength, or perspective if you are not a believer. I hope this quote was incomplete or that I am mistaking it because I'd like to think better of her than that.

Erp said...

Trying to live good lives is a worthy prerequisite but being outspoken even if perceived as bullying is also necessary. Note there are two issues often confused. One is the legitimacy of atheism and of being an atheist, the second is church/state separation (secularism). The latter tends to be supported by people in many religions and not just atheists though opponents often smear all supporters as atheists.

I'm certain the Chicago bishop considers the pride march as bullying. Or the veterans groups that were told they must have the family's permission to use religious language at a burial service at a military graveyard before using it. Or military chaplains who consider 'atheist' or 'none' on dog tags as meaning the soldier is fair game for evangelism being told no.

Are some atheists bullies? Yes though some of the worst vitriol is against other atheists (especially women).

MarkBrunson said...

That is arrogance on Bp. Budde's part, IT, and I would've expected better of her. Then again, once "Bishop" gets tacked onto a name, the person's focus seems to become preservation and expansion of the company market share in defiance of all decency.

JCF said...

"no spiritual curiosity": that LACK is what Bishop Budde is lamenting. NOT that she's prescribing The Answer!!11!1 to curiosity's questions.

Sheesh, hammers see nails? O_o

MadPriest said...

Worthy of what?

Counterlight said...

If there is a lack of spiritual curiosity out there (I'm not entirely convinced that there is), then it's not the atheists who are to blame for it.

MarkBrunson said...

It is still arrogance, JCF, and she quite clearly goes on to prescribe "faith" as The Answer!!11!1 At the very least, her expression was clumsy and infelicitous - she's a bishop, not Susie the schoolgirl who's just been asked what Santa brought her.

JCF said...

@Counterlight: agreed.