Haydn: Symphony #92, "Oxford"
Alvvays: Antisocialites

Third-rate Atheism

I saw this some while back in the comments on some web site:

When religious laws surmount mercy & reason , we must remember that religion was written thousands of years ago, when knowledge was in it’s infancy.

I thought it was striking in the way it illustrates the vast gap, more vast than usual, between the writer's estimation of his own grasp of the subject and the reality of both the subject and his grasp of it. I mean, not only does he not know, but has no idea at all that he doesn't, but is quite sure that he does. The apostrophe is a nice finishing touch.

It's been apparent for many years now that the association of atheism with education and the use (however mistaken) of reason no longer exists. Atheists are just as likely as believers to have come to their views without much thought--to be merely following the crowd, for instance. It's just a different crowd. 

It occurs to me now to wonder if English is the commenter's second language. "Religion was written"?? Even if that's the case, it wouldn't improve the remark much. 


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One of my long-time friends is a secular Jew, and atheist, and is always posting items on Facebook supporting his "cause". The latest today was about all of the ails of the world being the fault of religious people. Muslims as the worst (according to him), but all basically bad. I felt like writing a note stating that since most people are religious in some way then of course most unfortunate events will be linked back to them. I quickly decided against adding to his post for obvious reasons.

Atheism is interesting to me because it is such a firm stand, in a way impressive, as agnosticism for instance is not (too wishy washy). But it does bring up the question of "why"? That same certainty an atheist asks of us is also not apparent in their non-belief. If that makes sense. I usually say something about faith versus belief in order to end the conversation.

I'm a little bit of a connoisseur of atheism. :-) There's the third-rate type, like this guy. There's the second-raters, like Richard Dawkins. They're naive materialists who think the Flying Spaghetti Monster thing is clever. They say "I don't need God to be good" (which is at least half-true) but just look blank when you ask them how we can know what's good. "We just know! It's obvious!" No it isn't.

The first-rate ones are those like Nietzsche who really see and face the implications of atheism. I like them and have some admiration for them.

I agree about agnosticism. Among other annoying things it's a little dishonest, in that it's practical atheism without admitting it. Nobody ever says "I'm an agnostic. I don't know whether God exists or not, so I'm going to become a Muslim."

I'm sure you were wise to refrain from commenting on your friend's remark.

There was a longish comment posted on Dreher's blog yesterday in which the writer said basically the same thing you quoted, but in long drawn-out form with examples. Like you say, the guy doesn't know what he doesn't know, and like your "it's," his writing was extremely poor. The old English teacher in me was tempted to say that he should seek out whomever taught him to write and get his money back, but instead I just pointed out a couple glaring examples of his incoherence and left it at that.

Speaking of atheism, I just finished reading the "new" Del Noce, The Problem of Atheism. Compared to the two previous books I found this one more challenging, primarily because it's more expressly philosophical than the others. Still definitely worth a read however, even if you have to skim some of the more rarefied sections.

His thesis, if I can sum it up without doing too much damage to it, is that 20th century postwar atheism is fundamentally different than previous atheisms, in that it was birthed in the crucible of the collapse of 19th century liberalism, the atheism of which tended to be more based in skepticism, and in the rise of the affluent society after WWII, which made belief in God seem less necessary. His argument is that post WWII atheism is philosophically rooted in Marx, because even though Marxism lost out economically in Europe, it won culturally, and the rise of the affluent society which doesn't really "need" God is the mark of that pyrrhic victory.

The key foundation of his argument is that Marxism is fundamentally and inherently atheistic, and that its economics and politics cannot be considered in isolation from Marx's philosophical atheism. As evidence of this he notes the history of the European Catholic left, which fell into incoherence in both France and Italy. Their attempt to merge leftist economics/politics with Catholic social teaching simply could not work. (Recall that Del Noce was the only prominent anti-Fascist writer in 30's and 40's Italy who was not a Leftist.)

"the rise of the affluent society after WWII, which made belief in God seem less necessary"

I've been thinking lately that affluence is at least as big a factor in our cultural craziness as all the philosophical and religious wrong turns we've taken over the past couple of hundred years. Only freedom from serious material want and the associated work required to overcome it enables the cultural circus.

"The key foundation of his argument is that Marxism is fundamentally and inherently atheistic, and that its economics and politics cannot be considered in isolation from Marx's philosophical atheism. "

In the end the atheism is more important. Most leftists have quietly dumped explicitly Marxist economics, but the atheism and the urge to build a better world without God remain. I know a guy who talks about the class struggle but it sounds pretty quaint in the current leftist context. He would say that it's not actually leftist without the class struggle but that's a losing rhetorical battle.

Speaking of Dreher, I just read this from him: "The Left doesn’t really have to worry too much about what it means to be Left, because the answer is always: further destruction of tradition..."

The sentence continues with examples but I think that part stands alone very well.

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